Posted by: Bill von Achen | February 4, 2011

Weasels, Sandbaggers, and Other Slacker Types

According to a recent study by a California-based consulting firm, 44% of employees are not committed to performing their jobs well, even though they know what to do.  Such a statistic is a sobering reminder of the challenges of effective management, especially at a time when employers need a 110% effort from every employee.

Writing in a recent issue of HR Magazine, contributing editor Adrienne Fox provides an illuminating taxonomy of the slacker.  A slacker is an employee who engages in counterproductive work behaviors, impacting the organization not only through his/her own personal behavior but through the negative influence their behavior has on other employees.  For Fox, the ripple effect created by a single slacker can have devastating consequences. if left unaddressed.

Here’s how slackers break down, according to Fox, and the steps that effective managers can take to mitigate their impact:

Sandbaggers (engaged, but unproductive):  Sandbaggers appear to be involved, but it’s all about appearances.  For example, sandbaggers may serve on volunteer committees while neglecting the primary responsibilities of their job.  One way of dealing with sandbaggers is to create a reward system that re-channels their attention toward the desired outcomes. 

Weasels (engaged and productive): This is the category into which the majority of slackers fall.  Weasels are moderately committed to their job, and do a reasonably good job.  But they learn how to keep expectations low.  Managing a weasel might include offering incentive compensation for meeting a goal that exceeds their productivity level.

Parasites (unengaged and unproductive): Parasites drain everyone by putting in the least amount of time and energy, and freeloading off of the work of others.  Other employees take up the slack, but feel resentful that no one holds the parasite accountable.  One approach with parasites is to have them set their own goals, and gradually increase their difficulty. 

Mercenaries (unengaged, but productive):  Mercenaries have little or no commitment to their job.  More problematic, they arrive late for work and joke around excessively with other employees.  The best approach is to put them to work in self-managed teams, where they can compete with other teams.

However, according to Fox, it’s important to distinguish true slackers from employees who could succeed in another position or those who are genuinely unhappy about a specific situation at work.  “True slackers cannot be reformed,” says one HR professional quoted in the article.  But some apparent slackers can thrive when placed in a situation better suited for their skills and abilities, or when the root cause of their unhappiness is addressed.

If you’d like a copy of Fox’s article, entitled “Taking Up Slack,” drop me a note and I’ll be happy to send it along to you.

What types of slackers do you encounter in your company?  How do you deal with them?  And what personal behaviors of yours (if any) might be perpetuating a slacker mentality?  Post your comments and ideas here.  Thanks!


  1. Ok I’ve met them all- the question is: Will I know enough to manage them the next time I meet them?

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