Incompetent, Unproductive Employees: They’re Pretty Easy to Spot

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© igor -

Spotting incompetence is simple. Look for the people who know full well what they need to change about themselves to be more productive but refuse to do so.

We all have flaws and areas in need of improvement. That’s normal and healthy. Moreover, sometimes these weaknesses remain for a time in our blind spots.

But the moment an employee’s awareness has been raised, he has an obligation to begin remedying the flaw, not celebrating it. Those who do single themselves out as such are incompetent.

A few examples of incompetence

You know the ones. Here are some unbelievable but true examples:

1. “Yeah, I know I need to organize my files, but that’s just how I am. Always been this way. You should see my clothes closet at home!”

Gee, now there’s an advertisement to broadcast!

When employees telegraph their areas of improvement, almost as if to brag about their inefficient habits, that’s when you know you’re dealing with an unproductive person. Handle them with kid gloves and don’t give them anything important to work on.

2. “My style is to put things off until the last minute; when I procrastinate, the adrenaline rush helps me work better. I’m actually better under pressure.”

This is not impressive. It’s laziness. Laziness can spread through a company’s culture like kudzu.

Managers who want to maintain a productive team must kill laziness at the root.

How? By making public examples of poor behavior. Not in an angry tone, not in a derisive tone, but in a humorous tone marked by razor sharp insight.

Nothing will zap a company’s ability to cultivate an efficient workforce as fast as a chain reaction of laziness. It spreads and sprawls at blinding speed.

Why? Well, because it sets a new standard of what is tolerable — a lower standard.

Laziness is antithetical to productivity, and it’s contagious. Yank up the lazy ones by the root lest they spread.

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People work long hours because they choose to

3. “I spend so much time at the office that I should just sleep and shower here.”

When you hear colleagues whining and complaining about the grueling and grinding hours they work, you are witnessing incompetence.

Whining about long hours is code for “has no life.”

Here’s the dirty truth: the reason most people work long hours is because they choose to.

Why? Well, who knows? Maybe they lack friends, or hobbies, or any semblance of how weak and impotent their endless protestations sound. Put another way, they are purposefully failing at “work/life balance.” They ramp up the former because they don’t have the latter.

Those who launch off on endless diatribes about how many hours they’re logging or how many extra weekends they’re working are often seeking attention. They sacrifice productivity on the altar of sympathy.

They think doing so makes them sound like hard workers. It doesn’t. It makes them sound weak and impish.

This was originally published on Laura Stack’s The Productivity Pro blog.

Aaron Fausz joined Kronos in 2003, bringing a wealth of functional and consulting experience to his role as an Organizational Transformation Consultant. With over 15 years of experience helping organizations align their personnel and technical system to accomplish strategic business objectives, he has a diverse background in healthcare, financial services, manufacturing, and service industries as well as in government and higher education. Contact him at


5 Comments on “Incompetent, Unproductive Employees: They’re Pretty Easy to Spot

  1. I agree (ofcourse) that laziness, procrastination and lack of motivationare most of the time are not a catalyst for productive behaviour. But it is one thing to spot or to judge behaviour, it’s another to find the rootcause of this behaviour.

    I personally don’t believe that ‘laziness’ exists. Every employee has an intrinsic drive to be productive, to make a difference, to engage. In my experience less productive behaviour most of the time finds it’s root in the culture of workplaces. So when you just focus on the leafs (unproductiveness), you won’t solve the real problem (leadership, autonomy-issues, personal development, expectations, rewards, vision, goals etc.).
    How unproductive is that?

    1. I wish that I could agree with you, but I’ve worked with my share of people who were perfectly content doing the absolute minimum that they possibly could. I fact, I can think of multiple cases where people spent more effect getting out of work than it would have cost them to do the work in the first place.

  2. “has no life”. Haha did not know this was high school. This person probably does more work than in anyone in he office. Has no life just means that they are too busy to give a damn about all those stupid TV shows and childish nonsense impulisve and brain damaged modern humans partake in. In times of yore these people would have starved and their crops would have burned.
    It is going to be fun when the power goes out, the supermarkets run out of food, and those people that had a life are up shits creak without a boat or paddle.

    1. I noticed you weren’t brave enough to attach a name to that claim.
      Perhaps the complaints above sound familiar…

  3. In some companies there is pressure to work long hours. The worker has only two choices: do it or get let go.

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