Laziness and Incompetence Bother Me – A Lot

Why Not Reframe What Your Money is Worth?
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Laziness and Incompetence Bother Me - A Lot

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Recently I’ve had several run-ins with laziness and incompetence, which could also be referred to as a lack of conscientiousness. And boy-oh-boy does it bother me! I’ve seen it at work, in my volunteer community, in dealing with contractors and with service providers. There seems to never be a day that goes by where I don’t have to deal with laziness and incompetence at some point, to some degree.

And I’m not alone in my observations. A recent survey of Dropbox employees found the following:

Nearly three-quarters of the 2,000 people interviewed said that they don’t work to the best of their ability even once a week. Respondents added they think only 68% of colleagues are good at their jobs.


When I come across a situation where someone ought to know what they’re doing but they either choose not to out of laziness or they are simply incapable of doing their job properly, I get very, very frustrated. Maybe it’s because I think I could do better. Maybe it’s because I have high expectations of others. Or maybe I’m just conceited…?

Let’s get one thing straight before we carry on: I make no profession or illusion of perfection. Quite the opposite, in fact: There are many, many things that I am not good at. Fortunately, though, there are a few things that I am very, very good at that hopefully make up for my shortcomings. The key here is to know which is which and to be able to set up my customers’ expectations appropriately. (Customer in this sense means anybody I’m doing a task for, be they a co-worker, boss, neighbour, volunteer, business client, etc.) In other words, be aware of and communicate to your customers your own abilities or lack thereof.

Be aware of and communicate to your customers your own abilities or lack thereof.

What’s interesting, though, is how those abilities change with time. As one ages, one gains experience and knowledge, but one also at some point begins to lose mental and physical acuities. That’s pretty obvious. What’s perhaps less obvious is how those experiences, knowledge, and abilities change over the extremely short term. As in minutes and hours. For example, if you’re a morning person, then your list of things you don’t do well probably grows when you stay up too late; vice versa for the night hawks before your morning coffee.

But what about emotion? You could be the best fill-in-the-blank in the world, but if you succumb to blinding anger or worry or distraction, your abilities will suffer until you control yourself again. This is why emotional intelligence and self-awareness are so important! They let you figure out what’s happening moment by moment so that you can course-correct before too much damage is done.

…Which brings us neatly back to my rant about laziness and incompetence.

When I talk about incompetence, I’m not referring to someone who is expected to be a lower performer. There’s a reason all sorts of companies make new trainees wear the word “trainee” on their name tag – it helps to manage customer expectations! I’m also not referring to people making normal mistakes. This is part of the learning process and is necessary if you want to excel. If you’re not failing or messing up at least occasionally, then you’re not pushing yourself far enough or hard enough. We should be congratulating and encouraging people for making these kinds of mistakes.

No, I’m referring to people who are apparently trained and/or experienced in the task at hand, and yet somehow continue to repeat the same mistakes, take the same shortcuts, or just can’t seem to figure out how to do the job properly.

Ok, now what about laziness?

Again, I’m not talking about occasional laziness, or the need to relax and unwind, or the inability to put in 100 hr work weeks month after month. I’m also not talking about the “smart and lazy” people who develop systems to automate key elements of their business or personal lives. I’m referring to the deliberate act of not doing what you know needs to be done, even though you’re fully capable of doing it. This is kind of like procrastination taken to the limit of time.


This could arise literally from pure laziness and a willingness to get something for nothing, such as getting paid for doing a poor job. But it could also be a symptom of an overworked person who simply has too much on their plate to pay attention to this particular task. Either way, it is very frustrating when you’re sitting on the receiving end of perceived laziness.

Solution Time…

So what do you do if you’re faced with incompetence and/or laziness? Well, that depends on whether you’re the customer or the supervisor (or both). If you’re the customer, you could always ask to speak with the manager, leave a bad review or complain/elevate in some other way. Or perhaps even take your business elsewhere if that’s possible. If you’re the supervisor, you should probably start with a private conversation with your subordinate. (By the way, do this soon. Don’t wait for the year-end review cycle! Feedback is always more effective when delivered in a professional and timely manner.) If behaviour doesn’t improve, then more disciplinary actions might be necessary.

But there’s another option: What if the person is simply a poor fit for the role? This could manifest as incompetence or even a lack of interest that translates into laziness and a lack of motivation.

For example, an acquaintance of mine we’ll call James is a great guy, but was performing poorly at his job. People said mean things about him behind his back. His work output was terrible, both in terms of quality and quantity. Thankfully someone in management recognized that the issues were not necessarily from lack of trying, but perhaps a simple job vs. skills mismatch. So they moved him to a completely different role on a different team. And you know what? He’s now a top performer! People enjoy working with him and speak highly of him. I love to see examples like this of management doing the right thing and of people reaching their true potential.

Have You Looked in the Mirror?

Unfortunately, incompetence and laziness are prevalent in our society. We have an instant gratification, me-first culture that demands being catered to at our every beck and call. And correspondingly, this means we often despise “being the beck and call”.

When was the last time you looked in the proverbial mirror? What if you recognize some of these tendencies in your own performance, either on the job or in some other non-job-related activity? Well, that’s part of what™ is all about: figuring out how to live a purposeful and meaningful life, in particular by making smart lifestyle and financial choices. When you find yourself failing in some aspect of life (you’re lying to yourself if you think you aren’t), I implore you to figure out the real reason(s) why and take steps to move in a better direction.

We can all work together at it, through this blog and other opportunities to connect! We need to work hard to build our teams, networks, advisors and influencers to reject laziness and incompetence so we can focus collectively and collaboratively on driving forward towards our goals!

Pencil with ShadowYour Turn Now!

How do you handle other people’s laziness and incompetence? And how do you deal with these tendencies in your own behaviour? Do you have any other tips or ideas to share?

Why Not Reframe What Your Money is Worth?
What’s Your Plan, Anyway?


  1. I also believe the corporate culture breeds laziness and incompetence. As a small business owner/employee I feel the immediate consequence of laziness through a lost customer (or a least being yelled at)… but in a corporate culture of meetings, committees, policies, etc,. there’s room for lots of deflection.

    For example, I sent a spreadsheet to a worker at a large corporation yesterday. She complained that it had too many columns, and I couldn’t expect her to scroll across because she’s… quote… “only human”. Then, she wanted to have a conference call to brainstorm how we can solve this problem of not all the columns fitting on her monitor at the same time. The lack of consequence of wasting time with a conference call gave her no reason not to be incompetent or lazy.

    How did I handle it? I said “no” to the conference call and told her to use that time instead to actually do the work. I’ll probably now be asked to attend sensitivity training 🙂

    • Chris Urbaniak says:

      Good point about the corporate culture. “Decision by committee” tends to accentuate the negative impact. Good for you for setting boundaries and saying “no” when appropriate.

  2. Just a couple more thoughts…

    “What if the person is simply a poor fit for the role?” Sometimes that’s a case of someone being too good at a job and getting promoted to a job they aren’t capable of performing. This explains every bad boss ever 🙂

    A wise person once told me that the world rewards the lazy and punishes the ambitious. He explained to me that if an ambitious person and lazy person are forced to work together, the ambitious person will be done early with the goal of taking a break AFTER the work is done… but the lazy person will take the break FIRST and then ask the ambitious person to help them because the ambitious person is already finished. Not wanting the project to fail, the ambitious person agrees. So the ambitious person does 75% of the project (punishment) and lazy person only does 25% of the project (reward) 🙁

    • Chris Urbaniak says:

      We’ve all seen that 75/25 (ish) split starting way back with grade school and high school projects. Always remember that “good work often results in more work”, so choose your work carefully 🙂

  3. I think our corporate culture doesn’t reward performance enough in certain industries which leads certain people to simply fall into a level of laziness that they might otherwise not. If there’s a 2% raise pool and going all out will get you 3% then the conventional wisdom might make you think it’s not worth it. That belief can compound on itself year over year and can turn a high performance employee into a lazy one.

    If I put in 100% and get a 3.5% raise while busting my butt but can also take it super easy and get a 1.8% raise, I may simply choose to get the 1.8% raise and not worry about it. This obviously isn’t the case in every industry as some reward high performance very well but certain industries simply don’t. It’s very easy to put in 20% of the effort and get 80% of the results and skate by in your career.

    • Chris Urbaniak says:

      That’s an excellent point and makes a lot of sense. It certainly helps explain why some former high performers may drop down the performance scale. (That, and burnout, I suppose.)

      If you haven’t yet, you might wish to read through the Netflix “culture document” available all over the place via Google. They talk about how they keep their company full of high performers. It’s maybe not for every industry or company, but there are many good points applicable across the board.

  4. Douglas says:

    i found you article interesting best way to solve issues is to have proper scientific understanding why person this way maybe he unfit for job or perhaps just not interrested in it. It gets frustrating but i tend to think why this employee like this before getting upset judging their behavior as immoral or wrong the more we understand this better we can work as a team. Theres no me in word team we need to work together to make profitable effient buisness.


  1. […] But let’s take that a step further. Most parents (and we’ve been guilty, too) are simply in too much of a rush. Maybe it’s getting to work or an appointment after drop-off. Or maybe in rushing to school after work. And thus, almost every day is absolute, utter chaos because of our me-first, my-kid-deserves-better entitlement society. […]

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