The Ethics of Slacking in the Workplace

No…not that Slaking!

While at work last night a thought occurred to me and I had thought of this issue before but it seemed obvious to me that this would be a good fit here at the site: what are the ethics of slacking in the workplace?

In other words; is it always going to be ethical to slack? Sometimes? Most of the time?

I ask this because, whether us slackers like it or not slacking in theory and in our minds may sound pleasant but sometimes this means that there are consequences to our slacking. Sometimes that means that the work and energy we would’ve had to have done that we are now not doing gets passed on to someone else even if they don’t want to do it. Is this a fair scenario? How can we minimize this from happening if it isn’t?

First I want to emphasize that the following considerations and concerns only really matter if you care about the consumer and your fellow workers. If most of your fellow workers are assholes or the customers are typically annoying then the following questions may not interest you. But even if that is so hopefully this will give you some ideas about how to slack better, if not more ethically.

Part of the reason this issue came to my mind last night was because during work I was (naturally) slacking off and on. I’d go really slow during my assigned task or I’d take a lot longer than was necessary. And this was fine for the most part. Even in the beginning when I was taking a little longer than I should’ve and someone else was doing another part that I wasn’t doing, it didn’t seem like he was doing it to pick up the slack. He was assigned that task independently of my speed (that is the impression I got anyhow) and there was so much stuff to do that it wouldn’t have been reasonable to put it all me in any case.

But later on I started to notice that other people were doing similar tasks to me as I had barely moved on from the first one (again, mostly on purpose). And I felt bad, felt like I was just putting my lack of effort on others and I definitely don’t want to work less just so others can work more.

So what is the solution?

One idea is to just move on and ignore it. This is, admittedly, sometimes what I do in terms of the customer when I purposely mix up clothes or put them in only the general area of where they go. Though to my credit this is usually only when my laziness will only be a minor hindrance to people’s experience in the store. And besides, the store is pretty notorious for being mostly out of sorts and messy in general so it isn’t like most customers would be surprised or caught off-guard and buy the wrong thing most of the time. That’s obviously a little bit of speculation on my part but I think that through working at this store for more than six months I have the experience necessary to justify it, at least in part.

But when it comes to the larger jobs or passing on the effort I am not doing it becomes another story for me. I don’t want to work much but I don’t want my coworkers to work more either as I said. And one good reason why in some ways this may happen even if I don’t want it to (and try my best to minimize it sometimes) is that the structure is built around us not as unique individuals but as cogs in the business. Each of us and our respective abilities, inclinations, habits, moods, feelings, beliefs or whatever usually aren’t taken into consideration when it comes down to it. Its our station, our assigned roles in the corporation our as subservient position as a worker in general that is used to designate us to certain areas or tasks.

This means that when one of us fails in our duties, doesn’t carry our side of the burden or something else, someone else is going to pick up that slack, whether it was intentional or not. This also means that idling or slacking individually isn’t going to do much to affect the structure more broadly in any significant way. The fact of the matter is that you as an individual worker are replaceable and easily so. This is usually referenced to firing and hiring but it can also easily apply to inner-workplace dynamics too as I have learned.

So to some extent then our slacking is going to pass on costs to our fellow workers. And this is something important to keep in mind. However the intent behind the slacking also means that we should pay more attention and keep our slacking more contextual. If you care about your fellow workers then it may be a good idea to slack only when you are individually assigned a given task and that responsibility is on you. For larger collective tasks it may be better to give a little more effort just so the weight of it isn’t so unevenly distributed among everyone.

But even then we all makes our own decisions about how we work and slack and when to do so and when to not. I don’t have any terrific answers for how to both slack and not pass some of the side-effects on to our fellow workers. But then again the best idea may be to just bite that bullet and try to make the best of the situation. For example, lending a hand to the person in question who may have gotten more work.

Another thing to consider is that even if you weren’t slacking and the burden shifted to other parties the boss would most likely still have other work for the other workers to do. So sometimes the difference in burdens between what they are doing because you are slacking and what they would be doing anyways is negligible. In that case perhaps it is possible to feel a little bit better about things. As long as they aren’t now expected to do both things now. Then that’s something worth feeling bad about (in my opinion) or something at least noting.

For myself, when I see that some people have gotten the burden of work that I didn’t end up doing I am still puzzled as to what I should do. Should I give more effort for a job hate so I make others have to work less? Should I give the same amount of effort (read: very little) and try to hope that the bosses are kind to the other workers in the store that I work?

I must admit that I picked the second option last night and may continue to until I can find a better option.

3 thoughts on “The Ethics of Slacking in the Workplace

  1. Pingback: Italian Miner Avoids Work for 35 Years, Retires at 52 and Generally Kicks Ass | Abolish Work

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