Lazy Government Employees

Several years ago, about 6 months after I started working for a new employer, my supervisor called me in to his office to give me feedback on how I was doing. During our conversation, he told me, “I only hire people who are lazy.”

Not wanting to be tagged with that moniker, I figured I had to defend myself! So, with all the gumption I could muster, I told him I took exception to his comment because I didn’t consider myself lazy and I didn’t appreciate being lumped into that group of “lazy employees” he was proud to have hired!

He laughed at my disapproval and said, “You’re at the top of my list! You’re one of the laziest people I’ve ever hired.”

Not wanting to get pulled into an adversarial conversation, I decided I’d better hear him out and learn why he believed I was lazy; here’s what told me:

“When I find qualified, capable candidates for employment, I like to hire the laziest among them because these are the people who find better ways to do their jobs, ways to do them more efficiently without sacrificing effectiveness. These are the people who figure out how to shorten up the time they need to accomplish their work by identifying workable, functional shortcuts that also add value to their work products; these people are the most resourceful at finding the best and most efficient ways to accomplish their assignments. So, when I hire the laziest of the best candidates, I’m able to assign more & more work to them, I’m able to delegate greater responsibilities to them, and ultimately, I’m able to relax in the knowledge that volumes of work are being accomplished, assignments are being finished quickly, and work is getting done with a high degree of effectiveness.”

What could I say? When I heard the term “lazy”, I naturally presumed he meant I was someone who wasn’t easily aroused to activity or who was disinclined to work. But this guy was telling me I was doing a lot more with less, and he was actually pleased with my performance!

In hindsight, I understand his logic and believe this also holds true for most Government employees. It isn’t natural for people to spend hours at work trying to do nothing or to be “inactive” every day. That would be incredibly boring and it would make for many long and mind-numbing hours. But, when you’re on the outside looking in, such as taxpayers are, it’s easy to point to someone sitting idle at their desk in the Social Security Office, or to jump to a conclusion when you see several government employees chatting in the back room at the Office of Motor Vehicles since they’re not doing something to shorten that long waiting line you’re standing in.

The real truth is that none of us really knows what other people are doing unless we spend a great deal of our own time observing them (which also diverts us away from our own work). Taken one step further, how many times have you, as a customer, spent several hours watching someone do their job at a store, in an office, on a road crew, etc.? For me that would be like watching grass grow & I don’t generally have the time nor do I want to spend that kind of time unless my job requires me to do.

Just be aware: “Perception is Reality”. When it comes to taxpayer dollars, be conscious of how you do your jobs. Taxpayers are vocal, especially these days, and we need to be ever vigilant especially with our non-verbal messages, about how we perform our jobs. Doing more with less is great; the days of doing less with more are over.

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A unique way of saying it but I like his idea of hiring people smarter than yourself who are the types that have to improve the system

Kaye Carney

So lazy is process Improvement with an awful label. I believe the message is ‘Surround yourself with competent people’ and ‘Work yourself out of a job.’

tony joyce

You might have found a smart supervisior. Sounds like he got your attention, engagement and dialogue. On the other hand, if he didn’t actually acknowledge your performance, then shame on him for leaving you guessing. It is hard to talk about performance. I hate it when it turns into a confrontation, but this off-hand approach also seems pretty weak.

Yun-Mei Lin

I’ve been saying this for years. I think the height of efficiency is driven by laziness, but it’s a form of laziness that doesn’t lend itself to making you sit around doing nothing. It’s the kind of laziness which abhors doing something if there’s a better way to do it.

When I was first hired at DCAA as a voucher processor, I had ten hours of work each day, routing vouchers to the right people for review and approval. After working long hours on creating a database tracking system, I cut those hours of work down to an hour after arrival and morning mail drop and an hour after the afternoon mail drop. This freed my time for other activities, such as learning new skills, and taking on more responsibilities, and yes, even to chit-chat with my co-workers and shake off that undeserved “aloofness” tag.