Of work & perceptions at work

Of work & perceptions at work

For instance, greater number of hours do not make one more productive. Eilene Zimmerman of The New York Times finds out more...

Q. You work with someone you think is lazy and resent him for it. He doesn’t seem to carry his load, wastes time socialising and misses deadlines. Is it possible that your perception of him is wrong?
A. Yes. When we compare our own work with that of others, we can easily overvalue ourselves and undervalue them, said Ben Dattner, an organisational psychologist in New York and founder of Dattner Consulting. That’s partly because we know much more about our own work, he said, and partly because most people have a self-serving bias, believing that they’ve made greater contributions than others recognise.

“How much time you perceive someone is working is not necessarily a valid reflection of the effort they are expending or the results they are achieving,” he said. “They may have terrific time-management skills, stay late or work weekends.” They may also have legitimate personal reasons for their behaviour — for example, the stress of dealing with an ill relative, problems with a spouse or the foreclosure of a home, he said.

To avoid overreacting, ask yourself why you are so angry. “Did you miss a deadline because of this person?” said Rick Gibbs, a senior human resources specialist at Administaff, a human resources outsourcing firm in Houston. “Did you have to stay late because he left early? Your goal is to establish the impact on your performance.”

Q. In these tough economic times, why would anyone put his or her job at risk by slacking off?
A. “Although it would make logical sense to work harder now, we’re actually seeing people’s performance take a dip,” said Paul R Damiano, an organisational psychologist and president of Good Works Consulting, a management consulting firm in Summerfield, N C “People are feeling uncertain and insecure, so they spend more time talking about problems than getting work done.” They may also want to talk about subjects having nothing to do with work because it takes their mind off of job-related insecurities.

Other people simply aren’t aware of their time-wasting tendencies and see their behavior as friendly — until they are confronted about it and made to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, said Libby Wagner, president of a management consulting firm bearing her name in Seattle. “People only change their behavior when that behavior is painful to them,” she said.

Q. If this colleague’s failure to get the job done is also affecting your productivity, what can you do?
A. First, try dealing with it yourself. For the person who continually comes into your office to chat, Wagner advises looking at your watch and saying you have to get back to work, but offering to have lunch or get together later.

“Your visitor is probably in your office to kill time, not to have a serious conversation,” she said. “Chances are he won’t follow up and schedule lunch, and you have established a boundary.”

Focusing on the need to get work done will make it hard for your co-worker to feel personally insulted. “You are staying focused on the client, the customer and the business, so it’s work; it’s not them,” Damiano said.

Don’t stew about the problem and vent to others. “You will wind up spending a lot of time dwelling on the performance of another person, and that saps your own productivity,” Gibbs said.

Q. What’s the best way to handle a direct discussion with this co-worker, so he doesn’t become defensive?
A. Your entire discussion should be a professional presentation of the facts. Don’t be judgmental or accusatory. Damiano advised: “Rather than saying ‘You’re lazy,’ give specific examples of how this person’s behaviour affected business performance, such as, ‘Last week when you were supposed to get the product report completed by Tuesday afternoon and I didn’t get it from you until Thursday, it created a delay and we weren’t able to meet our obligation to the client, who was understandably upset.’”

Sylvia Lafair, a psychologist and a founder of Creative Energy Options, a management consulting firm in White Haven, Pa., suggested looking at the situation “as an exercise in leadership — it’s practice, because you will have to deal with people like this throughout your career.”

Q. When is it time to go to management?
A. If all efforts to deal with the co-worker yourself have yielded no change, you can go to your boss, but always as your last resort, Dattner said.

Q. What if your boss is the one wasting your time?
A. Then you are in a much worse position, Damiano said. If your boss likes to socialise, try gently steering conversation back to work, saying something like, “I know you want me to get this document out, so I’d better get back to it.”
If your boss misses deadlines, talk to him respectfully, Wagner said.

“For example, if he promised to review something by Tuesday so you can move ahead with it and now it’s Thursday, remind him of that previous conversation and just say, ‘It’s Thursday and I haven’t heard from you’ and stop there,” she said. “He’ll get it.”

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