Project Description




  1. unwilling to work or use energy.

I find it fascinating when teaching leadership classes that a common complaint is how lazy employees are….Sometimes this is positioned in a slightly more politically correct manner (e.g., they are not as “engaged”, or “productive”, etc. as we need them to be) but none the less, the sentiment and frustration is the same.

But are people really lazy? Unwilling to work or use energy? It’s important to not only answer this question, but to look further and examine the potential cause of this disconnect.

Because employees not expending energy or completing their work in the right way (aka, lazy, unengaged, don’t care) is on us. As managers. And the remedy is on us. As managers. SAY WHAT?!

I remember very vividly as a fist time manager being frustrated by what I perceived as a lack of work ethic. Because in our family, we were raised to work. From an early age we worked on chores around the house, or at our family business (growing up my parents owned a local hardware store). When we were in high school, we all had jobs, jobs that came before extracurricular events. It was an expectation. But not only an important expectation, it was a clear family value. You earn what you get. You are not entitled. Work before fun.

These messages, though sometimes very nuanced, were very consistent and had a significant impact on my life. So, as I entered the workplace, this too was my expectation for everyone around me. Of course, you work hard. Of course, you earn what you get. No, you are not entitled.

Which may not be a problem to the extent I share my values with others, or I clarify my expectations of others. But of course, I did not. So frequently I was frustrated and irritated. I just worked harder myself (after all, I needed to be a good role model, and who else was going to get all the work done?!).

So many pitfalls with this strategy.

Are you falling into this trap?

You have values. You have expectations. Your employees do as well. And quite frankly they may not understand your expectations or equally important, share your values.

I am certainly not advocating for accepting anything less than what you need to meet company goals and expectations. Rather to understand and accept your part in what we commonly perceive to be an employee’s problem. When we quickly label an employee as lacking in work effort, we miss the opportunity to examine what might be a contributing factor. Us.

Ask yourself:

  1. Have I been clear and consistent in communicating my expectations for work output, quantity and quality? If yes, have I provided feedback to my employee on the gaps I’ve observed?
  2. Am I creating an environment of accountability, meaning not only addressing gaps in work quality/quantity/performance but for those who are meeting and exceeding expectations? Am I consistently and intentionally reinforcing positive behaviors?
  3. Have I provided all the necessary tools, resources, skills and knowledge to employees for them to meet my expectations? If not, why not?
  4. Do I know my values? Values guide our behaviors whether we realize it or not. Being clear on your values and being intentional in sharing them with your employees (and understanding theirs) is a helpful ingredient to creating a stronger and more trusting working relationship. (Go to Free Resources area for a sample Values Inventory.)

Being an intentional leader means self-reflection, asking ourselves the tough questions. It means examining our behaviors and actions to see if they are aligned and producing our expected results. Let’s take accountability to set our employees up to produce at the level we want and need. This means eliminating labels and generalizations that detract us from self-change.