Dealing with lazy employees

Do you have lazy employees? Yes? Are you sure?

The reason I have to ask is that many employees might appear lazy but are actually just disinterested, bored or unsure of what to do/how to do it.

Think for a moment about your kids or your grandchidren. They can appear lazy or highly focused, motivated and energetic depending on what you ask them to do ... and their ability to do it.

So, ask them to do something for which they (think they) don't have the skills .. and they will shy away ... and act lazily.

Ask them to something which they know they can do - and do well - and their enthusiasm returns.

Ask yourself if this is true of your staff. Are you undermining them by not providing proper training or by not encouraging them.

Perhaps you have been getting lazy?

Or, of course, you could be right. You do have some lazy staff.

In this case (or if you or not sure which of the above scenarios applies), you have to talk to the staff. You might do this gently … by saying that they are giving the appearance of being lazy … or tackle it head-on and be more direct. This will depend on the staff and your relationship with them.

(It might help if you have some documented evidence which shows they are getting through less work that others … or than they used to … or they are taking longer breaks … or ….)

Try to move positively forward. Try to encourage them to see your point of view. Get them to commit to some forward targets – behavioural or, preferably, outcome and output related. Remembering what we said earlier, make sure that they have the tools and equipment to do the job … and that they feel competent to do it. If not, they might need some refresher training.

Try to make the changes they have to make relatively small … and the time period for review relatively close. … and during this period, offer words of encouragement (assuming they are deserved).

Then, at the scheduled time, hold a formal, review meeting. Point out their successes and any failures and talk through both. Establish another set of targets and another review point … perhaps more stretching targets and a longer time period to show they are regaining your trust.

Throughout all this process, maintain records of each meeting, and of each agreement.

If this process fails, you will almost certainly have to go through a formal, disciplinary process … make sure you check what this is … you don’t want them ‘escaping’ on a technicality.

Whatever it takes, you have to end up with a fully-functioning employee … or one less employee. Anything else is too damaging to the morale of the other employees … and to your business.


Productivity is my 'bag' ... it is what I know about. I am President of the World Confederation of Productivity Science - and Director of the National Productivity Centre in the UK - go to this site for some good free resources and some (paid for but low price) e-learning on productivity. I also edit the International Journal of Productivity & Performance Management. My views on productivity and on learning (which I think are related) are su...

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