On your bad days you find yourself thinking it. Stressed out, you glare at co-workers and wonder why, when you feel so overwhelmed with work, others seem so calm. What are they doing with their time? Why are they leaving early? Why, you vent, is everyone so lazy...except for me?
First, the notion that everyone is lazy except for you is, as the Dude would say, "like, your opinion, man." And that's a problem. Recognize that notion is detached from reality.
Second, the moment you start asking those questions above you’ve become what Jody Thompson, co-author of Why Managing Sucks and How to Fix It and proponent of results only work environments, a “sludger.”
What is sludge?
Sludge is a term coined by Thompson to encompass any statements we make about how another person spends their time. In work environments where results are what matters (not how long your butt is in the seat) sludge has an extremely toxic effect on office culture.
“Sludge makes people feel guilty, resentful, stressed out, anxious and defensive,” says Thompson. “It makes people feel small and has nothing to do with results. It’s all about me being jealous, envious or thinking that something isn’t fair.”
Examples of sludge might include saying things like:
“I wish I could arrive every morning at 10 a.m. like her.”
“People with kids have it easy--they always have a convenient excuse to leave early.”
“Look at him, he’s leaving early again. Can you believe he’s getting promoted?”
According to Thompson, there are three kinds of sludge within an organization--and a simple strategy that can help eliminate it from yours.
1. Sludge Justification
What it is: Justifying how you spend your time when someone sludges you.
Sludger: “I noticed you just got in. Why did you come in an hour late?”
You: “I don’t usually come in this late but my daughter was sick this morning. I’m going to stay late to make up for it.”
Solution: Thompson advises that you don’t answer the question with an excuse. By justifying how you spend your time you’re enabling somebody to sludge you in the future. If you want to eliminate sludge from your life, and your organization, simply ask the sludger, “Good morning! Is there something you need?” It’s polite, cordial and also brings the conversation back to results.
2. Sludge Anticipation
What it is: The act of telling people how you’re using your time in anticipation of a sludge comment.
Sending an email to your entire team to let them know you have a dentist appointment so that nobody asks where you’re going when you leave.
Practicing an excuse to justify how you’re spending your time.
Solution: Thompson says if you find yourself crafting the perfect excuse ahead of time, don’t use it. Instead, ask the person who’s questioning what you’re up to, “Is there something I can help you with before I go?” Again, polite and results focused. If your work is done and nobody needs anything from you, don’t feel pressured to stick around or do your work from the office just to get points for being around.
3. Back Sludge/Sludge Conspiracy
What it is: Talking behind someone's back about how they are using their time.
Anytime two or more co-workers meet to gossip about how somebody else uses their time.
Solution: This one is a bit trickier, acknowledges Thompson. “If somebody comes up to you and starts talking about somebody else, it’s kind of like high school,” she said. “You feel like if you don’t talk shit about this other person then you’re going to be the one they’re going to talk about.” You have to put those fears aside. If somebody starts talking about how Lisa is lazy, you should respond “Is there something you need from Lisa?” If they don’t have a need, respond, “Shoot her an email if you need something, I don’t have any trouble getting what I need from her.” Maybe you won’t be the coolest kid in the office, but you’ll have done your part to make your office a better place to work.
Ultimately, this urge to put co-workers down, to question how they spend their time, has nothing to do with the work. “It really comes from inside of us and it’s because the culture of work is based on the 8 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday - Friday mentality,” says Thompson. “Office cultures fight back against anybody who gets something different and sludge is a way to keep people in their place.”
Learn more about Thompson's approach to managing workplaces on the Excellence in Government Podcast: Why Managing Sucks (And How to Fix It)
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