It is interesting to study what people notice and what people do not notice at work. In 1974, my fiancé, Bob, agreed to go on a field trip with my college class to Mud Lake Bog. While I still maintain that the learning experience was worthwhile, to physically understand a kettle lake, land progression and an acid bog, it turns out some people can get poison oak through mud. Bob is susceptible to poison oak. In any event, Bob had to go to work the next day in a suit and tie but he couldn’t wear shoes because of the blistering of his feet. So, he wore flip flops. The interesting thing was that no one noticed! If you act like everything is normal most people do not notice the abnormal.
I have always maintained that most people go to work each day planning to work. It turns out that are a few outliers who go to work planning not to work. If they are any good, they are able to not work and most people will not notice it, because it is not fathomable that someone would do absolutely no work. I had a boss once who came to work an hour late, left an hour early and gossiped with others in the building during the rest of the time. She had managed to cut back on her work load to the point that what was expected to get done could be accomplished by her two full-time assistants. Most of her employees were part-time, and while I was a part-time employee I had no idea what she was doing. It was when I became full-time that I discovered it. She was able to not work and get paid for it for years.
Bob had a boss once who didn’t want to work, so he just found meetings to attend all day long, which is easy to do in most moderate-to large-sized organizations. When a staff member found him and asked him to make a decision he would sagely say something like, “We are going in a different direction from that.” The staff member would be left thinking that the more important people, who were at the meetings, had decided something different, and that the boss was working at a higher level than the questioner.
Unfortunately, I once hired a person who was skilled at not working. She would carry around a pile of papers and briskly walk from room to room in the office. After she ceased to be employed by me, others on the staff pointed out that if I pressed her about a deliverable in a meeting, she would have a coughing attack and have to go to get a glass of water. By the time she came back to the meeting, I would be on a different topic. If a big deadline was looming, she would become very ill and have to go to the hospital, leaving others to do the work.
These non-working people are hard to catch, unless someone who can do something about it observes them and discovers what they are doing.
Here are some characteristics of a person who does not work at work:
• They are hard to find at the office, sometimes when they are searched for they are found at home.
• They might be in a room, but then they slip out without people noticing.
• They have vague answers to pointed questions. The answers make the questioner have to do research in order to respond.
• When pinned down, they become upset or angry, often making the questioner feel guilty. This causes others to accuse the questioner of not being sensitive.
• If an important deadline is looming, they become ill, sometimes going so far as to go to a hospital, or at least they tell you that they have gone to the hospital.
• When their work product is assessed, nothing has gotten done.
If you notice that nothing is being accomplished, you should ask yourself, “It is because the person is not working?” Have fun looking for this.