For some of us, taking a quick break between tasks is a chance to come up for air before diving right back into work. But for others of us, multitasking between work responsibilities and leisure can quickly turn into binge-chatting on iMessage or adding items to your Amazon cart.
It can be difficult to avoid distractions at work — especially if the distraction is yourself. So, we whipped up this article to clarify what it means to slack off at work, share tips for approaching lazy colleagues and to offer healthier break alternatives for the attention-waning worker.
What constitutes as slacking off at work?
Let's start with the main telltale signs of slacking off in the workplace:
- You keep checking your phone between tasks.
- You keep checking the time.
- You're constantly browsing the internet.
- You take excessive kitchen and bathroom breaks.
- You're actively instant messaging friends and colleagues.
- You spend more time documenting tasks than completing them.
- You take longer lunch breaks than necessary.
- You consistently arrive late or leave early.
- You take personal days frequently.
- You're falling asleep while you work.
- You abuse your unlimited vacation time.
- You're underperforming or decreasing in performance.
- Your coworkers have to remind you to get things done.
- You book meeting rooms for unnecessary reasons.
How to reinvest yourself in the job
Many factors contribute to why you may lose investment in the first place: you complete the same task all day, you're waiting to hear back about a promotion or raise, you're juggling other duties outside of work — you name it. But reinvesting yourself in your job can start as simply as realigning with your company's mission. What drew you to the company? Was it the company's culture? Your compensation package? Or, the fulfillment of your work — even if you don't feel its reward right away?
Journaling your answer to some of these questions could be a great self-discovery tool. You might reignite your passion for the work you do, which is the first step to rising to its expectations. On the contrary, you might discover that you actually don't enjoy your role, your company or the field you're in. If any of these are the case, you should schedule a meeting with your supervisor to express your concerns or consider a career pivot with these helpful tips.
Ways to keep employees on track
Here's what employers can do for employees showing signs of decreased performance:
Schedule regular check-ins.
A regular check-in routine allows you and your employees to get clear about the company goals and will hold them accountable for doing their part to reach them. Set a recurring time in your calendar to hold one-on-one meetings with your direct reports. Both of you can have notes ready to discuss during the meeting and one of you could whip up a quick summative email afterward. In the meetings, discuss their personal and professional goals with them, and give them an opportunity to share their plan of attack and the results they hope to gain from both.
Set clear and measurable expectations.
Employees should always be clear on what's expected of them which can be gauged and clarified during your regular check-ins. But, not as obvious is how often or how well they should be doing it. Measurable expectations double as deadlines in that they set the pace for getting things done. They can also be reviewed at the end of a quarter in order to evaluate the employee's performance and inform your next set of objectives moving forward.
Ask about their ideas.
Another way to hold employees accountable for getting to work is trusting that they will. Ask them, "What are your ideas for... ?" and "What's your plan to... ?" in order to get a feel for where their head is at. Worst case scenario — your question will be met with a puzzled reaction and raise a red flag that will call for immediate troubleshooting or escalation. But in the best, your employee with be able to share their plan for completing a task.
How to address a lagging coworker
If you notice a colleague is falling behind, here are some actions you can take:
A lagging coworker could very well be a lazy coworker or they might be a confused, overwhelmed or distracted one. Maybe they're unclear about their assigned tasks, or perhaps they're overwhelmed by the demands of the job. They might even be distracted for a personal reason. Regardless of the root, try casually asking them what they have going on this week and offer ways to help, if you get the sense they're struggling.
Hold each other accountable.
Some job responsibilities overlap or depend on one another to get done. That could make working with an underperforming coworker particularly tricky. If you find yourself in this predicament, start an email thread or set up a one-on-one where together, you identify upcoming dates and delegate tasks and deadlines for completing them. That way, if your coworker is lazy, at least you won't have to go down with them.
The last thing you want to do is have a "this isn't fair" attitude toward your coworker. Any time or energy spent feeding this comparison can make you susceptible to underperforming as well. If you don't want their performance to negatively affect your own, then it's in your best interest to nip those toxic thoughts in the bud and refocus. And who knows? There may be an opportunity for growth or a professional reward just around the corner.
Break ideas and ways to refocus
Whether you need to a whole break or a simple snap-back, here are some things you can do:
Go for a walk outside.
If you work indoors or at a desk all day, step outside for some fresh air and sunshine. Take a walk through a nearby park or head to the rooftop of your building if you have one. If you're a leftover-lunch-packer, try changing up your routine by grabbing a bite to eat outside, instead.
Refrain from working lunches.
Your lunchtime is a chance to reenergize both nutritionally and leisurely. Actually use this time as a break — check your social media accounts, read a few pages of your book and start a kitchen conversation if you'd like. If you need to do any work, then prioritize catching up on personal admin tasks like booking your next appointment or paying an online bill.
Create a schedule and leave room for breaks.
When you plan out your days in advance, you set yourself up for a smooth transition back into the workplace. Incentivize yourself when creating your agenda by blocking off increments of downtime throughout the day. Who says you can't work and play hard?
Snack while you work.
Munching while you work keeps you alert and gently moving. Protein-packed foods (like nuts), fruit and granola are not only nutritious, but are also less likely to disturb your concentration while you work since they can be held with one hand.
Hit the gym on a workday.
A morning or mid-day workout are an excellent way to break yourself into the day. Your routine doesn't need to be hours long, either. The goal here is not to build muscle (although it can be), but to get yourself moving and vitalized so you can complete the rest of the day's tasks. Don't forget to drink plenty of water while you're at it!
Plug in your headphones while you work.
Pop in your headphones and turn on a podcast or playlist while you work. It's natural to lose energy if your work is tedious or involves staring at a screen all day. Some fine words or good jams could be all you need to get back into the rhythm of work.
All in all, slacking off at work may very well be a problem, but it's often indicative of a bigger one. If you feel yourself disconnecting from your job, turn inward to get to the root of the problem, then outward for solutions and support.