Idle hands are the devil’s tools, or so the saying goes. And they’re certainly no good for a company’s bottom line.

Now a study suggests idle hands aren’t even fun for the idle.

Researcher Christopher K. Hsee of the University of Chicago says his study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, shows that workers who stay busy are happier, while lazy workers are dissatisfied. This certainly bucks the conventional view of office life, which is that many workers would rather shirk than work.

Hsee’s study was relatively simple in design:

Hsee and his colleagues tested this idea in a study where volunteers were instructed to complete a survey and wait fifteen minutes before another survey began. During this fifteen-minute period, respondents could choose to sit and wait for the next survey to begin, or walk to a nearby location, drop off the survey that they completed, and then walk back to the testing area—a walk that took fifteen minutes to complete. Hsee questioned all of the participants and found that the ones who took the walk were happier than the ones who stayed put.

Hsee says the study shows a deep-seeded need in people to avoid idleness. And apparently, he practices what he preaches:

“If we can devise a mechanism for idle people to engage in activity that is at least not harmful, I think it is better than destructive busyness,” he says. Hsee himself has been known to give a research assistant a useless task when he doesn’t have anything for them to do, so he isn’t sitting around the office getting bored and depressed. “I know this is not particularly ethical, but he is happy,” says Hsee.

So if busy workers are the happiest, what can be done to combat laziness in the workplace? suggests that employers need to take a hard look at what specifically the problem seems to be:

To begin with how have the employees become lazy? Is it in the work they do for the company? Is it in the time they keep for the company? Like always being late. Is it the way they never go the extra mile for the company? Is it the way they use others to get out of the work they are assigned to do? Is it the length of time they take to do assignments and jobs that they need to do for work? Or is it another reason? Any of these reasons are enough to make an employers upset at the laziness of the employees and something needs to change.

Adjustments can go from there, from scare tactics to positive reinforcement. There are many theories on how to best motivate an underperforming employee. But if Hsee’s study is correct, then eHow’s suggestion may be the best idea:

Give him work to do. Employees get in the habit of being lazy when they have a lot of downtime. When they finally are handed a project, inertia has already sunk in. Keep him busy with projects that call upon his skills.

04 November 2010

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