Managing and Motivating Lazy Employees

Download – Complete Checklist for motivating lazy employees

You’re only as good as the company you keep–at least that’s how the old saying goes. The company you keep is also the company that you build when you’re a small business owner. If you’re lucky, you’ve found good employees and hired them. You may have had to deal with a toxic employee in the past if you’re not as lucky. But what about those employees that aren’t toxic yet still underperform? How to deal with lazy employees? Dealing with Lazy employees can be exhausting!

Types of Lazy Employees

We don’t particularly like the term ‘lazy,’ because laziness comes with an implied meaning of someone who is contributing less than what is expected out of sheer choice and lack of consideration for others. A lot of times a so-called lazy employee is someone with good reasoning behind underperforming. We recognize that. But sometimes employees are down right lazy. Below are types of underperformers that you may have experienced in your time as a manager.

The Vanishing Act

‘Where’s Jason?’

the vanishing act lazy employee

The Vanishing Act is that lazy employee who seems to not show up at inconvenient times. They’ll call in sick on days in which they have been asked to do a big proposal. They disappear to the bathroom with their smartphone for unordinary amounts of time. They’re known to take two-hour lunches and show up late on days with important morning meetings.

The ‘May I be Excused?’

This employee always seems to have an excuse for calling in late, missing the mark, and falling below your expectations. They have every excuse in the book for their poor behavior and they use each of them frequently. They have car trouble, their pet/kids/parents/neighbor is sick and needs caring for, there are deadly crashes on the freeway that somehow didn’t make the news…one sob story after another. This person isn’t afraid to lie to excuse their behavior and they do it frequently.

lazy employees meme

The Procrastinator

Even the most diligent worker has surely procrastinated a time or two. Yet, for The Procrastinator, this is their way of life. This person waits until the last minute to get anything and everything done, week after week. No one wants to be on a team with this person, in fear of having to rely on them to complete a task before their own work can be completed.

lazy employees sleeping on the job

The procrastinator’s day-to-day is filled with non-essential tasks while major projects are put off until a later date. This is a heavy burden and adds undue stress to the rest of the team.

The Drama King

This person isn’t only not fulfilling their work responsibilities. They’re also filling the time they would be working with workplace conflict. They love to gossip, and when they aren’t at the water cooler, they’re going from desk to desk, stirring things up or engaging in small talk. Some Drama Kings don’t even bother getting up from their desk to cause trouble and distract other team members–they’ll do it through email or your business’s instant messaging program.

The Delegator

This underperforming worker is quite crafty and often easy to miss. The work always seems to get done but it rarely has the signature of the person it was initially assigned to. Why is that?

sleeping on the job lazy employee

The Delegator isn’t a supervisor, but acts like one. They’re quick to push their work onto other people on their team and even clients. This can have a hugely negative effect on your reputation.

The Bare Necessities

These are your employees who frequently meet criteria that you set forth for them but barely. They fall just short of your expectations, never exceed them, and there aren’t any pleasant surprises being sent your way from their desk. This type of performer is always looking to cut corners.

This employee is also one that’s harder to confront. Can you complain that someone is doing exactly and only what they’re told? What’s up with these guys, anyway?

The Problem With Lazy Employees

Studies have proven that when an employee believes that others are slacking off, they’re more likely to begin to exhibit the same behaviors. Individual outcomes are highly correlated with group average outcomes. This monkey-see-monkey-do behavior is a phenomenon called peer effects.

In sum, the bar becomes set too low at your place of business. You then set yourself up for good apples to go bad when you have a lot of the aforementioned types of lazy employees in your work place.

How to Give Feedback to Underperforming Employees

Usually the best thing to do about an issue is to address it head-on. If you’ve decided you need to speak with an underperforming employee, you may still be a little hesitant. You’re likely aware that the employee may feel defensive and it is your job to do your best to avoid confrontation. No one wants to admit when they have been lazy, especially when their paycheck is on the line.

Receptionists are important - imagine what a group of receptionists could accomplish.

Have specific incidences documented ahead of time to avoid arguing about details about their work behavior. Use time sheets as a record of time in and out if the issue is with consistent lateness. Complaints from coworkers should be documented but when referencing them to the employee make it vague enough so that they will not know who it was that complained about them.

Express to this team member the important role that they play in your organization. Sometimes lack of motivation stems from a feeling as if their contribution is too small for what they do to make a difference. Then discuss plans that can be made in order to make change happen

How to Deal With Lazy Employees

Feedback should help your problem with an underperforming (or downright lazy) employee. But what if it doesn’t?

Be More Visible

There will be some employees that need more attention than others. They thrive when there is someone that can supervise them directly and hold them accountable. Whether it’s lack of self-discipline, a need for outside accountability, or a diagnosable chemical imbalance in the brain is up for debate. Regardless, you may need to spend more time with your staff if you have a lazy employee on your hand.

lazy employees

Frequently touch base with people on your team. Discuss current projects and deadlines. Make sure that they have all the resources, tools, and connections to make things happen according to plan. Keep closer contact with the entire team rather than singling out the employee for the desired effect.

Document it

Of course you’ve already documented the incidents prior to giving your unproductive employee feedback. But the documentation doesn’t stop there. You should always document whenever you’ve approached an employee about their performance.

Ideally, this will be a one-off issue. You’ll find some coping methods to share with the employee and then you’ll learn to be a better manager so that these situations are less likely to occur. But that won’t always be the case. Sometimes you’ll need to build a paper trail so that you can do what is best for the company overall. Which can mean letting an employee go.

Make a Plan

You may need to make a plan that is relevant to the specific issue with this employee.

Set clear goals for underperformers. Sometimes people on your team aren’t hitting the target because they aren’t quite sure what the target is. So give them clear and precise guidelines and deadlines, then hold them accountable..

Recognize and Reward

Grandpa may have always told you that a job well done is its own reward, but that won’t work for every employee. Sometimes some employees are more motivated by incentives. It doesn’t have to be monetary.

But watch out for this tool! If an employee that regularly does a good job feels as if you’re more receptive to newly productive employees than those who are consistent, they may build animosity.

lazy employee rewarded meme

How to Motivate Lazy Employees

There are different types of underperformers. There are those who you may need to find a way to show to the door and there are also those that just need the right coaching or the right environment in order to become top performers. What can you do as a manager to better facilitate high production in your workplace?

Give More Responsibilities

A formerly productive worker can begin to lose their spark after some time when monotony sets in. Highly intelligent, creative and goal oriented  people often resent repetition. Adding new job duties periodically can make employees feel as if they are making a growing contribution.

This can’t be busy work if you’re using this as a method to generate more interest in a lazy employee’s work duties. It needs to be value-adding work that will make the employee feel like an asset to the company. People can smell busy work from a mile away and it is devaluing to their time. Lazy employees should instead be given tough projects that will allow them to tap into hidden creativity.

Internal Audit

An anonymous employee survey may expose that this issue isn’t with a single employee, but rather organizational structure. The only way to truly know how people are feeling is to ask the right questions.

Offer More Training

It shows that you’re committed not only to your company’s goals, but also the individual worker when you offer employees more information and learning. Refresher courses can reignite passions for ta job that have dwindled over time and encourage workers to brainstorm ways to improve the company.

Opportunities for Advancement

There’s nothing that can slow a good worker down faster than the realization that their job is one with a dead end. Knowing promotion is possible can be a game-changer in motivating workers to work to their full potential. But don’t just offer this to those that are struggling, of course. Let it be known company wide that there’s potential for growth. You don’t want to reward bad behavior.

Consider Non-Job Factors

working from home tips and working from home successfully with kids

This is often a bigger contributing factor than most managers are willing to grasp. That ‘may I me excused?’ underperforming worker may be full of excuses because things in her life have become unmanageable. Remember that an employee is more than just a worker, he or she is a human being with ups, downs, and rough patches that can’t be avoided just by going to work. home life, mental health, and low quality sleep can have a huge impact on someone’s productivity.

Notice When They Excel

Surely this employee isn’t lazy in every aspect of the work that they’re expected to do. Pay attention to the times in which this team member does work quickly and with enthusiasm and look for opportunities for this employee to do more of that or integrate that type of work into the duties that they are consistently lacking.

Rethink ‘Lazy’ Behavior

Is this person actually lazy? Or do you need to readjust your expectations? Sometimes it can seem like an underperformer isn’t a good fit for the company when you’re using the wrong measuring stick.


A small business owner asked Reddit what to do about a high performing worker who consistently took long bathroom breaks that accounted for 1/5 of their paid working time. While the original poster saw this as the actions of a lazy employee looking to skip out on work, commenters brought light to the fact that this person could be dealing with an embarrassing medical issue. They instead advised to not focus on small things outside of the quality of work.

Colleen Francis of writes that she was once categorized as an underperformer at a previous position because the management was using the wrong measuring stick to define her success. She wasn’t meeting targets, but she was progressing quickly. She has this advice for managers like yourself:

rethink lazy employee behavior

Embrace a Little Bit of Lazy

But not a lot! Take in consideration the way that ZenHabit’s Leo Babauta views laziness as the ultimate simple productivity. He looks at doing less as a means of being more productive when it comes to efficiency.

Apply this to your small business

Laziness can be catastrophic for your small business or it can be a red flag that some things need to change within your organization. Don’t assume that someone who is acting lazy is doing so out of character flaw. Consider ways that you can facilitate improved behavior instead.

Now, try this...

Find ways to motivate all types of employees. Not just the lazy ones. And if your issue is with a lazy receptionist, consider hiring an answering service. A receptionist is too important of a position to slack around with.

Download – Complete Checklist for motivating lazy employees