Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

Why Everyone is Lazy (Except for You)

Image via Bplanet/

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)

Image via Bplanet/

Mark Micheli is Special Projects Editor for Government Executive Media Group. He's the editor of Excellence in Government Online and contributes to GovExec, NextGov and Defense One. Previously, he worked on national security and emergency management issues with the US Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security. He's a graduate of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and studied at Drake University.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.