How to Turn Lazy Employees Into Valuable Contributors

By: Andrea Lotz Wednesday April 8, 2015 comments Tags: employees, productivity

Small businesses need all hands on deck to run smoothly and grow.  There’s no room for lazy or under performing employees, who sap resources you can’t afford to waste.

So what’s the best way to deal with employees that aren’t living up to their potential?

Though it may be tempting to cut these employees off and terminate employment, you should save that option as a last resort.  Just as it’s cheaper to keep an old customer than convert a new one, it’s cheaper to revitalize a lazy employee than train a new one.

Here’s how to get past the excuses to uncover the real problem, so you can start turning that lazy employee into a top performer.

Identify the Core Issue

The first step in addressing the issue of a lazy employee is to determine what type of lazy employee you’re dealing with.  There are three basic types:

  • The “blatant offender,” who simply doesn’t get tasks done, produces mediocre work, and visibly wastes time
  • The “nervous avoider,” who falls behind on difficult tasks and rarely takes initiative
  • The “lazy performer,” who gets good work done quickly, but then fails to look for more ways to contribute

Each of these types is dealing with a deeper issue, and the only way to really find out what’s going on is to initiate the conversation. 

  • Speak with the employee in private
  • Be direct and firm
  • Avoid confrontational language that puts them on the defensive
  • Address problems and express disappointment
  • Never say “It’s OK” if it’s not
  • Try to be specific and provide recent examples
  • Make it clear you’re looking for a solution

They’re likely to start with a rush of excuses.  A good way to clear these up is to ask a lot of questions.  “When was that project assigned?”  “When did you start working on it?”  Excuses are just defense mechanisms guarding the real explanation – likely a source of great pain or frustration to the employee.

If you have the patience to dig deeper, you’ll eventually reach the emotional core of the issue.  The “blatant offenders” are often deeply frustrated, feeling powerless under their carefree demeanor.  “Nervous avoiders” are usually terrified of failure, afraid to ask for help, or shy of initiating confrontation.  The “lazy performers” are likely bored and feeling undervalued.

Even if your employee doesn’t fit neatly into one of these categories, figuring out the emotional or mental “blocks” that are preventing efficient work is key to addressing the problem.

Evaluate Your Management Style

Although I’m not a fan of the “blame it all on the management” theory of lazy employees, you can often alleviate many of the problems by putting certain systems and processes in place.  Lazy employees show you where the weak spots are. 

Many employees under perform because they feel directionless.  Express to them where they fit into the company’s systems.  Tell them about the impact their behavior (good or bad) can have on the team.  Then, work together to reintegrate them.

Top priority is creating and enforcing a system of accountability.  For example, we at AllProWebTools use a different style of timecards, which we also offer to our users.  Instead of clocking in at the beginning of a shift and out at the end, we clock out and back in every time we change tasks.  Each time we clock out, employees write down exactly what they accomplished during that time.

This helps you make sure your employees are getting tasks done in a reasonable amount of time, but when I started here I quickly realized that it serves another purpose as well.  As an employee, it makes progress reports much easier and less stressful, so there’s less chance of “bomb drop” missed deadlines.

These employees also can benefit from prioritizing tasks.  Our tasking system, for example, has a ranking system: Urgent, High, Medium, and Low.  Something as simple as this can provide much-needed clarity.

Finally, it’s very important to give “nervous avoiders” in particular clear guidelines for how and when to ask for help.  Stress that you value initiative over perfection.

Lay Down a Challenge

The last step of successful employee realignment is to lay down a challenge.  Simply putting processes and systems in place isn’t motivation.  Rather, it can encourage lazy employees to get more creative about subverting accountability.  You need to address the core issue – which means going back to the emotional “blocks” you identified by talking to the employee.

People only grow when they are challenged.  If you can challenge your lazy employees in such a way that they grow from the experience, you’ll reap the rewards in loyalty and hard work.

For “blatant offenders,” try to find out what aspects of their job they do find fulfilling, what skills they would like to utilize more, and what they would like to learn.  Look for ways they can make a meaningful contribution and increase responsibility.  If they express no interest, they’re not worth the effort.  But if the conversation results in progress, don’t slam the door on a potentially valuable contributor.

“Nervous avoiders” can be encouraged to take small steps out of their comfort zone.  Make yourself available on a one-on-one basis, and encourage acts of initiative.  Don’t push too hard, or you’ll lose a detail-oriented, sensitive employee. 

Finally, “lazy performers” likely need to work on time management skills.  This will give them time to produce more good work in the same amount of time.  Making a fundamental shift in the way you understand productivity is a major life lesson.  An employee who makes that change is someone you want on your team.  Plus, “lazy performers” have something to teach you – ways to get things done fast.

In all cases, it’s important to reward exceeded expectations.  Making these kinds of changes is very difficult, and deserves recognition.  You may think these are “personal issues” that an employee needs to sort out alone, but the workplace is one of the best places to learn these lessons.  Employers who know how help their employees overcome personal challenges will be rewarded with loyal, hard-working employees.

Andrea Lotz

About the Author: Andrea Lotz

Andrea is the resident writer for AllProWebTools. She loves to write about just about anything, especially small businesses, sustainability, and whatever is new and upcoming on the horizon.  She lives in Fort Collins and spends her free time cycling, welding, cooking, and playing ukulele. 

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