A longtime fan of my column writes to complain about a “smart slacker” in her office. I suspect many of us have known a smart slacker; pushing the limits, just as children often do, to see how much he or she can get away with. The only difference is that they are doing it with their boss instead of mommy and daddy. Steve Albrecht at psychologytoday.com says that a smart slacker is someone who, “Knows how to work hard; just doesn’t want to – missing on duty or retired on duty; works only when it helps him or her. The worst is when they teach other employees to slack.”
This pattern could be subconscious, developed out of flawed thinking earlier in life. Or the slacker might consciously and ideologically resent having to work, as if it’s somehow an injustice created by the mythological “robber barons” who employ them. Clever politicians use this “us against them” mentality to collect votes by encouraging people to adopt a resentful mindset. But no matter what the basis for the slacker’s behavior, his or her motives are not your problem. How you look at them is the key.
Look at such people as you’d look at anyone else who’s wrong, and therefore weak and vulnerable, i.e., they don’t really matter. No, it might not be fair that you’re doing an honest day’s work and they are not, but could you truly live with yourself if you didn’t do an honest day’s work? Wouldn’t it be dull and boring to spend the day slacking off rather than accomplishing something, however mundane it might seem at the time? And more importantly, are you willing to put your livelihood or career goals at risk by not doing an honest day’s work? Sooner or later, this smart slacker will probably earn his or her just desserts. Do you want to live with that kind of insecurity? My guess is that you probably don’t, not if you’re the kind of person who is annoyed or infuriated by the smart slacker in the first place. The best way to cope is to not get caught up in the fact that “It’s not fair.” Of course it isn’t fair, but the fact remains: You are not the slacker’s boss, and you are not in a position to hold the slacker responsible. As annoying as it might be, the slacker does not answer to you.
Remind yourself that you’re doing your job for your own sake. You’re not a child being required to work or to do something your parents demand of you. You’re an adult doing this job because you want to, or at least need to, and it sure beats the alternative. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do your best to plan a way out to a hopefully better work environment or even self-employment, but don’t waste energy being angry about things you can’t control. It’s probably a lot wiser to put time and energy into developing a plan B so you can finally stop working side-by-side with the slacker you so dislike.
When the slacker inevitably tries to convince you to do less work, see it as an attack on you, because that’s exactly what it is. On the surface, such a person (like the faux-entitled politicos referenced above) might appeal to whatever feelings of resentment that he or she hopes you might have over the very act of working. If I were approached in that way, I’d probably say something like, “I like being productive. I’m not angry about it.” Whatever you say or don’t say, just ignore the slacker’s come-on. Create a wall of non-responsiveness whenever such a person tries to intimidate or manipulate you, particularly when you are having a bad day.
Most of the power others seem to have over us is just the power we mistakenly give them. If you stop giving it to them, they will magically disappear, because at that point they no longer matter.
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