RockIt Careers

Working Hard While Others Loaf

Brian Young
RockIt Career Consultation Service

Have you ever been in the situation where one of your co-workers seems to get away with not doing their job? They’re never at their desk. You can’t get a hold of them on the phone. They are slow to reply to an important email. You catch them in the breakroom talking to someone else.

“Why doesn’t someone do something about this?” you’re thinking. Isn’t management paying attention?

This is a pretty common scenario. Here you are slaving away and there they are having a grand old time whiling the day away, getting nothing accomplished. It’s not fair.

Today I’m going to give you a couple hard pills to swallow. The first one is what you mother and father told you oh so many years ago. Most of the time, life isn’t fair. The second one is that you have no idea what that other person you are grumbling about is actually doing. All you know is what you perceive them to be doing, which can sometimes be correct, but many times is completely off base.

The bottom line is that we all need to pay less attention to what others are doing and focus on our own actions and behaviors. After all, unless we were hired to be managers, what other people are doing is none of our business until it affects our own performance. There are a few other good reasons we advise this.

1. Your Manager Already Knows

I’m willing to concede that there are a few clueless supervisors and managers out there who are oblivious to what their team is doing. However, it’s a safe bet that they are far and few between and an even safer bet that they won’t last long in management.

The thing to understand is that it takes time to address situations like these. For most larger businesses, bureaucracy reigns supreme. Unless an employee is completely insubordinate or does something so egregious, managers just can’t up and fire someone. They must collect evidence against the employee to justify punishments, demotions, or terminations. Otherwise, there’s a chance of facing a lawsuit, which can be costly, besmudges a company’s reputation, and they may end up losing because they weren’t able to provide the reasons why the company’s actions were justified.

2. It Depletes Your Motivation

J. Stacy Adams, a workforce psychologist from the 1960s, came up with a famous theory about how people in organizations worked, known as the Equity Theory. Basically, he posited that we all seek to maintain an equal balance amongst each other at work regarding how much we put in to our job (the time, sweat, and effort) and how much we get out of our job (pay, promotion, and recognition). Mentally, we do some math to determine whether or not we are get out more than what we put in, and by how much. Then, we compare this calculation to what we calculate of others around us.

So, if we feel like we’re doing a whole lot of work and someone else isn’t, but they are getting paid roughly the same as we are, well, things are out of balance. When this happens, we react negatively. We start paying more attention to what the other person is doing. We’re not as happy as we once were at work. Many times, we even start to put in less effort on our job to make up for the imbalance. None of which is particularly good for your career. Now your manager potentially has two problems instead of one.

You could have been considered for advancement, but with the way you’re acting now, that’s not going to happen. Additionally, your perceptions and calculations could be way off from reality. That person you think is slacking, could be doing be a lot more than you realize. They might be working on things at home. They could be doing a project you’re unaware of, which takes them away their desk. The work itself might just be easier for them, so while they appear to not be working, they could be running circles around you and you don’t realize it. All of these are real possibilities, which is why it’s better to keep your head down and focus on what you have in front of you rather than looking around and making these comparisons. Otherwise, all you’re doing is getting sucked into self-inflicted drama.

3. It Makes You Look Bad

As soon as you start to voice concern about what others are doing, you are simultaneously making yourself look bad. Complaining, whining, tattle-tailing, and grouching are not good ways to promote yourself as a great employee. If anything, it makes you look petty and negative. Additionally, it can hurt your relationships with other co-workers beyond the person you’re complaining about. People may worry that you’ll turn your sights on them next. So, while you think you’re fighting the good fight, you could be shooting yourself in the foot instead.

Final Thoughts

If this situation is truly intolerable to you, the better course of action is to make yourself better and lead by example. Show your value and continue to make yourself more valuable to the company. The only way to accomplish this task is by not worrying about others around you and keeping a hard focus on yourself.

Likely, if you do this, you’ll make the other person look bad. Who knows, you could even get promoted and take care of Mr. Dudley Doolittle yourself once you’re the boss. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate reward . . . and revenge?