Why it’s hard to separate the shirkers from the workers in your team

There is a big difference between saying how much work you are doing and getting the work done, says Blair McPherson

Photo: Caiaimage/Rex Shutterstock
Photo: Caiaimage/Rex Shutterstock

By Blair McPherson

Some people defiantly work harder than others. Some just give the impression they do. Some managers think they can identify the shirker from the worker. But unfortunately for them it’s not that easy and getting it  wrong could cost them their job.

How much of your work involves telling people what you are doing at meetings, in updates for the boss or reports to the senior management team or overview and scrutiny committee? Its an essential job skill to be able to get across the message of just how busy you are getting the work done. This doesn’t always mean the work is really getting done.

A colleague as the assistant director for adult services was responsible for providing cabinet with regular progress reports on an action plan agreed following a critical inspection report. She in turn met with the relevant managers tasked to deliver each action point. She was able to confidently reassure the overview and scrutiny committee that her managers were busy ensuring the work was being done. Progress in some cases was slower than anticipated due to a range of legitimate reasons but managers were working very hard to get the work done.

Embarrassed and annoyed

Unfortunately six months later when the inspectors returned they found a lot of work had been started but very little had been done. Cabinet and committee members were embarrassed and annoyed they felt they had been misled by their senior manager and no longer had confidence in that individual. The senior manager lost their job having failed to recognise the difference between people saying how busy they were getting the work done and getting the work done.

I worked in a directorate where every policy, every initiative, every pilot was turned into a formal project. The director decided that to ensure the work was being done he would require every project manager to attend a Friday morning project update meeting. His office was standing room only. Often there was nothing much to report since last week but it was unacceptable to say so, and as a result project managers reported how busy they were getting the work done. Needless to say many projects were not completed on time despite this close monitoring by the director.

Suprevision a battle

A colleague was having difficulty with her new boss, the monthly supervision session were a battle as the new boss wanted to question every thing she was doing. If he wanted to know what she was doing she would tell him every single thing in great detail.

She filled the hour long meeting leaving no time for debate. Success was at the end of the session when he would say, “you’re very busy aren’t you?”.

Someone who takes a lunch hour, who clocks off at five and never takes work home is not a workaholic but neither are they necessarily a shirker. It’s not about identifying the shirkers from the workers but the busy from the productive.

Blair McPherson is an ex-social worker, former director of community services, author and blogger. 

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