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:
- The High Cost of Low Trust: I
- We usually think of Trust as one of those soft qualities that we would all like our organizational cultures
to have. Yet, truly paying attention to Trust at work is rare, in part, because we don't fully appreciate
what distrust really costs. Here are some of the ways we pay for low trust.
- Approval Ploys
- If you approve or evaluate proposals or requests made by others, you've probably noticed patterns approval
seekers use to enhance their success rates. Here are some tactics approval seekers use.
- Conflicts of Interest in Reporting
- Reporting is the process that informs us about how things are going in the organization and its efforts.
Unfortunately, the people who do the reporting often have a conflict of interest that leads to misleading
and unreliable reports.
- Holding Back: I
- When members of teams or groups hold back their efforts toward achieving group goals, schedule and budget
problems can arise, along with frustration and destructive intra-group conflict. What causes this behavior?
- Suppressing Dissent: I
- In some groups, disagreeing with the majority, or disagreeing with the Leader, can be a personally expensive
act. Here is Part I of a set of tactics used by Leaders who choose not to tolerate dissent.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 8: The New Virtual Meeting: Digressions
- The bane of meetings everywhere, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, has been digressions. But there are reasons to expect the incidence of digressions in meetings to increase now. What reasons could there be, and what can we do about digressions? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
- And on April 15: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 15.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.