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Slackology 101

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Which breed of slacker are you?

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Let's begin at the beginning. Not the "God created…" beginning, but the 2006 beginning, when Princeton University defined slacking as "the evasion of work or duty." Those New Jersey Presbyterians didn't, of course, coin the term; they just put it on WorldNet 3.0. But are critical thinkers ready to accept that slacking, as it manifests itself in the workplace, is just an evasion of work? Can it be as simple as that?

Take a literal read from IBM's TV spot (circa 2007-2008), in which a room full of Gen-Xers and Millennials lay on the floor in precise rows during work hours. Voices rise from this inert tableau, explaining to the puzzled Baby Boomer boss that they're "ideating."

"Slacking is more like it," goes the boss's inner dialogue. Yet he instead utters, "Good luck," not wanting to be counted among the unhip. Astute viewers fill in even more of the story taking place off screen:

If a dozen or more employees are busy ideating, who's picking up their slack? One would assume they're being paid to do something productive. Ergo, there are likely to be more employees off screen, back at their desks, pulling double or triple loads to compensate for the ideators. This begs the question: are you an ideator or a doer? That is, a slacker or slackee? By definition, you must be one or the other: letting out slack or reeling it in.

Twisting the lens even further, there emerges a hierarchy of slackers – and those with actual work ethics they leave in their wake.

The Sentimental Slacker

"My father slacked off for 40 years under the stairwell at work. I could break his record, but I don't feel like working that hard." This fictitious testimony captures the essence of slacking handed down from generation to generation. Slacking for old time's sake is becoming increasingly common, as slacking stories (and expectations) are passed from parents to children in the "Take This Job and Shove It" culture in which we live.

The ultimate loser in this scenario -- the one who winds up doing the real work the slacker is avoiding -- is often the hard-working slackee; the Eagle Scout who takes the 6:43 train to work in the morning, and the 6:43 in the evening (just in time to catch the kids' soccer game).

City Slackers

Slacking has historically been carried out in secret, behind closed doors or, at least, when the boss wasn't looking. All that changed in the latter part of the 20th century, when slacking became a celebrated sport. On the urban scene, where the talent wars rage fiercely, slackers boast of slacking off right under the boss's nose, and living to brag about it.

It might not be the boss, however, that the slacker needs to fear. A caveat for the slacking-inclined: beware the disproportionate slacker/slackee relationship that might explain why short-ended employees aren't laughing and high-fiving you at Bennigan's happy hour.

Or they won't even be at Bennigan's. They'll still be at their desks, buried in your slack, eating soggy egg rolls from Won Ton Fat's on 50th. But midnight oil-burning, caffeine-inhaling slackees are the ones most likely to be promoted, after which it's pay back – big time.

The Savvy Slacker

Slack your way to success. This politically astute slacker has enough pedigree (or appearance thereof) to convince their manager to not only look the other way, but to join in the slacking. Slacking can be very seductive after all. With the manager and the slacker complicit in slacking on company time -- and on the manager's expense account – mockery of the Western work ethic achieves critical mass.

As usual, the slackee picks up the slack, and works triple duty: his or her own responsibilities, the slacker's duties and the manager's spillover. It's Machiavellian slacking at its best. Note: the higher up the organizational food chain the slacking takes place, the more expensive the restaurants.

The Slack Master

Typically one of the larger males of the species, this Ivy League Neanderthal drags his knuckles in full view of the boss's office, as if to say, "Just try to fire me, peckerhead. I haven't eaten manager tar-tar in nearly a year. Look at me sideways, and I'll be flossing your entrails out of my teeth."

The Slack Master is the undisputed hero of every all other classes of slacker. Whatever reluctance the manager has about confronting the Slack Master doesn't just manifest in additional work for the dedicated Eagle Scout with the 6:43 train to catch; it manifests in additional work for the entire office.

The Sometimes Slacker

Even the Eagle Scout is prone to burn out now and again. There comes a time in everybody's work week when he or she says, "I'm exhausted. Will the world stop turning if every 't' isn't crossed?" And so the slackee becomes slacker, nodding off on the 6:43 train and working fewer than 16 hours on the weekend. Slacking is relative.

The Pseudo-Slacker Perfectionist

Perfectionists can sometimes be mistaken for slackers, and a clueless boss might not be able to recognize the difference. The Pseudo-Slacker can drive his or her managers and coworkers insane with obsessive attention to minutia, resulting in office friction and missed deadlines. Slacking or not, the pseudo-slacker might as well be ideating for IBM.

And You?

Look at your own work habits, and ask yourself which camp you fall into. It might be time to pick up or cut yourself some slack.

Your biggest challenge when managing a mixed population of slackers and slackees is justifying to the slackees why you're not dealing more effectively with the slackers. If you don't deal meaningfully with slackers, it is a tacit insult to those who make up the difference.
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