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Cracking down on lazy employees seems to be the No. 1 reason for companies to mandate a return to the office five days a week. It was the most common comment from my last article on the myths of returning to the office, with “why are we paying Ms. Dooley to do her laundry” being a close second. Unless employees are watched, or report into an office, they will do nothing more than sleep in, pretend to be online and, of course, loads and loads of laundry.

Lazy employees, according to some, have been lurking around forever. They’re the ones hiding at the office, always with their door closed or walking around looking busy. Then, once the pandemic hit, the heavens opened for them when they were ordered to work from home. Now, not only can they be lazy in comfort (think pajamas), but they can attract followers.

So, many more people became lazy to the point where entire workforces were going from productive to stagnant – simply because of working at home. Essentially, according to those ‘only work from the office’ believers, a new breed of worker emerged – the “pandemic born” lazy to go along with the pre-pandemic lazy.


Lazy workers were not born during the pandemic. They existed long before, and they were able to get away with it at work really well. Think George Costanza’s Ten Commandments for “Working Hard. Although dated, it holds true today. Ask anyone if they are busy and they will almost always say yes, especially those who are lazy. Location has nothing to do with being lazy. People who are lazy will find any environment to be lazy in.

Now, returning to the office, they are even more hidden because everyone is being watched. Instead of worrying about standing out, they blend in, as everyone is seen as lazy.

As Breaking Bad villain Gus Fring said, the key to not being noticed is “to hide in plain sight.” This is what the lazy employee has been doing for years, and how they get away with it. They are among all of us in meetings, email threads and project teams, strategically being present but cleverly not accomplishing much. They surround themselves with highly effective employees, hoping to get grouped in as such. Being lazy seems actually easier at the office, than from home, especially when all it takes is to be seen with others.

Instead of looking at all workers as lazy unless they can be seen at the office, how about we look at the ones who are lazy, no matter where they work, and leave the vast majority of workers (the productive ones, especially if they can have flexibility) to flourish working the way they work best. Choice and compromise go both ways, and can have a lasting result toward a happy, productive workforce – likely the one employers had during the pandemic.

Back at the office, we can pay people to go for a coffee break. Most coffee breaks I’ve taken take much longer than the laundry break. There’s gathering your coworkers’ orders, then all of the waiting – for your colleague to join you, standing in line to order, getting your customized order (who really orders a straight up coffee anymore?) – then heading back to your office, delivering your additional orders, and finally settling back into work. I’m guessing that’s a minimum 25 minutes. In fact, this is longer than what used to be called the smoke break, and those were usually several times a day. No one complains about paying for that kind of break. And they are certainly not accused of being lazy.

Going back to the lazy worker, who is fine no matter where they work as it has nothing to do with location, the issue is their work attitude. Deal with the lazy workers by singling them out, rather than grouping them with the productive workers. Otherwise, this is giving the lazy worker everything they want – to be seen like everyone else, including being seen as productive, but without being productive.

Let’s stop equating doing life chores during regular working hours with being lazy. Whatever you may think of the mandatory return to the office, it is not going to address laziness. The employer needs to get more creative than that – perhaps taking measures to find the real lazy people and not assume working on-site is the right solution. By making a five-day return to office mandatory, it will likely result in your best people leaving for employers who value flexibility.

Giving people the chance to do a couple of daily items is not paying for laziness, it’s promoting health and well-being, whether that’s walking the dog, starting dinner, or getting that laundry done.

Eileen Dooley is a talent and leadership development specialist, and a leadership coach, based in Calgary.

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