To shirk is to avoid carrying out something such as an obligation, a task, or a responsibility. Motivations for shirking vary, but the simplest motives include laziness, fear, and distaste for work. An example of a more complex motive is reluctance to reveal ignorance, incompetence, lack of talent, or lack of a skill needed to accomplish the task. Understanding the motives of shirkers is important, but even more essential is recognizing shirking when it happens.
To shirk unnoticed is the shirker's ultimate goal. Here's a short catalog of tactics of artful shirkers.
- Pretend you're busy
- Looking busy can conceal the shirker's actual activities — surfing the Web, working on personal projects, whatever can be made to look like real work. But most important, shirkers can use fake work to deflect incoming task assignments, by backing their claims that they're "overloaded already." Ironically, pretending to be busy can be exhausting.
- Schedule check meetings too late
- Check meetings are meetings in which we verify that things are proceeding as planned and everyone understands what work is to be done. When shirkers schedule check meetings, they can time them to occur too late for any mid-course corrections. If what they've done is wrong or inadequate, the deadline is then too close to allow for any significant adjustments.
- Request feedback prematurely
- Asking for Understanding the motives of
shirkers is important, but even
more essential is recognizing
shirking when it happensfeedback early in an effort might indicate earnest concern for doing things right. It can also be a ploy intended to elicit words of encouragement that can later be cited as indicating that the level of accomplishment was adequate for the completed task, when the giver of the feedback was only trying to indicate adequate progress to that point. A request for early feedback can also be a trap for those who feel the urge to demonstrate how to do it right, and who thus inadvertently take on significant chunks of both the task and the associated responsibility.
- Transfer work to others
- Transferring work to others requires chutzpah, especially if the target of the transfer isn't someone to whom the shirker has the authority to assign tasks. The artful shirker just tells the target to do it, while subtly communicating the idea that the target is expected to take on the task. For example, "I need this by Friday," or "We're counting on you to get this done today."
- Exploit ambiguity
- Requests of the shirker that are ambiguous in the most innocent ways can be disastrous. For example, asking that "a communication go out," might actually be widely and reasonably understood to be a request that a formal email notification be logged and distributed promptly, but the shirker can interpret it broadly enough to mean that a casual conversation or phone call would suffice.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- When you're responsible for an organizational function, and someone not reporting to you won't recognize
your authority, or doesn't comply with policies you rightfully established, you have a hard time carrying
out your responsibilities. Why does this happen?
- Management Debt: I
- Management debt, like technical debt, arises when we choose paths — usually the lowest-cost paths
— that lead to recurring costs that are typically higher than alternatives. Why do we take on
management debt? How can we pay it down?
- Impasses in Group Decision Making: I
- Groups sometimes find that although they cannot agree on the issue at hand in its entirety, they can
agree on some parts of it. Yet, they remain stuck, unable to reach a narrow agreement before moving
on to the more thorny areas. Why does this happen?
- Exasperation Generators: Irrelevant Detail
- When people relate stories at work, what seems important to one person can feel irrelevant to someone
else. Being subjected to one irrelevant detail after another can be as exasperating as being told repeatedly
to get to the point. How can we find a balance?
- Way Over Their Heads
- For organizations in crisis, some but not all their people understand the situation. Toxic conflict
can erupt between those who grasp the problem's severity and those who don't. Trying to resolve the
conflict by educating one's opponents rarely works. There are alternatives.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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