A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
September 15th, 2013 by William

Cognitive Tempo Disorder

Ever been assigned to a team, or been part of any organization that’s supposed to act like a team, and there’s one, or a number of, individuals that just don’t seem to be pulling their weight? I don’t know about you but I’ve been on many teams that had numerous dysfunctional people that were there to play an important parts of the team’s success yet they proved to be duds. Actually I’m talking more about lazy people than dysfunctional. Lazy people just don’t contribute, however dysfunctional people most often over-contribute unfortunately most often in a negative way. Dysfunctional people are disruptive when present in a team while lazy people just attend the meetings. In my book Puttin’ Cologne on the Rickshaw I present in great detail how dysfunctional people upset both meeting and teamwork.

This post however is not about dysfunctional people–it’s about lazy people. Lazy people can be found everywhere you look in the typical workplace, but they’re usually not quite so exasperating until you find yourself relying of them to do their job. In any organization we’re all part of the overarching team that is the company as a whole; however lazy people usually don’t stick out like a sore thumb when looking from this vantage point. This is why every organization has them. Somehow they’ve managed to position themselves where they don’t need to contribute yet never get called on the carpet for it–they sort of hide in the wallpaper. They do however stick out when included in a small team atmosphere that’s entrusted with a crucial task to accomplish.

Laziness in the workplace is an interesting malady. The dictionary definition of lazy is: disinclination to activity or exertion, unwilling to work or use energy, idle, indolent, slothful, work-shy, shiftless, inactive, underactive, sluggish, or lethargic. That’s all fine when away from the workplace on your own time, but the problem is that many people act like that at work. When someone is lazy they are suffering what’s called “Cognitive Tempo Disorder.” Cognitive Tempo Disorder is scientifically defined as: passiveness, dreaminess and sluggishness–traits that could easily be confused with laziness.

Keep in mind laziness shouldn’t be confused with procrastination. Procrastination is defined as: delay or postpone action; put off doing something, defer action, be dilatory, use delaying tactics, stall, temporize, drag one’s feet/heels, take one’s time, play for time, play a waiting game. The key difference is that lazy people get little useful work done while procrastinators do eventually accomplish useful work, albeit late and not without much ridicule from management and co-workers.

Another key to remember is that medically speaking laziness is not an illness or a mental illness, but it can be a symptom of one, including: depression, chronic fatigue or schizophrenia. The causes of these maladies are obviously all medical in nature, however laziness can be caused by factors outside the individual–it can be also be caused by a dysfunctional workplace. A dysfunctional workplace can sap the strength of, or burn-out, people in a hurry. An example would be a person whose ideas are constantly ignored at work may decide there is no point in trying thus they’re seen as lazy. Another motivation for being lazy is a workplace in the grasp of blamestorming.

The good news is that a lazy co-worker does “stick out like a sore thumb” when you’re down in the trenches relying on them to do their job effectively. Remember the true meaning of teamwork is that “you get your job done so someone else can do theirs.”

Downright laziness is but one problem for the modern workplace that relies of teamwork to accomplish its goals. In the work environment there’s another phenomenon at work: “social loafing.” Social Loafing is a valid psychological term used when talking about the behavior of groups of people. It’s the phenomenon of people deliberately exerting less effort to achieve a goal when they work in a group than when they work alone. This is one of the key reasons that groups (teams) are many times less productive than if you were to just combine the performance of the people as individual contributors. The difference between this and downright laziness is that even good workers get caught up in social loafing behaviors.

Social loafing is also associated with the concepts of the “sucker effect,” which is an individual’s purposeful reduction in effort in order to avoid having to pull the weight of fellow group members.  It’s also been called the “free-rider” theory for obvious reasons. Many of the causes of social loafing stem from an individual’s feeling that his or her effort will not matter to the group.

Clinical research on social loafing began with rope pulling experiments by French agricultural engineer, Maximilien Ringelmann, who found that members of a group tended to exert less effort pulling a rope than did individuals when pulling alone. Hence it’s called “The Ringelmann Effect” and it’s “the tendency for individual members of a group to become increasingly less productive as the size of their group increases.” Don’t confuse this with “groupthink” which is another frustrating fact of organizational life.

Ringelmann found there to be an inverse relationship between the size of a group and the magnitude of group members’ individual contribution to the completion of a task. As the number of people in the group increase, people tend to feel “de-individuation.” This term defines both the dissociation from individual achievement and the decrease of personal accountability. This then results in lower exerted effort for individuals in group environments.

Also, people could simply feel “lost in the crowd,” so they feel that their individual effort won’t be rewarded even if they put it forth. This idea can also cause people to feel as though they can simply “hide in the crowd” and avoid the adverse effects of not applying themselves. Again a blamestorming type work culture can exacerbate this behavior.

In the interest of fairness there’s also a flipside to social loafing. It’s called “The Collective Effort Model.” In social psychology this means that individuals who are more “personally motivated” are more likely to engage in group facilitation (that is, they increase their efforts when in a group setting) which is the opposite of those who are less motivated who are more likely to engage in social loafing.

It should come as no surprise that “motivation” would come into play when talking about social loafing, or plain laziness.

The researchers of the Collective Effort Model have determined that there are two factors that go hand-in-hand to determine an individual’s motivation, and subsequently whether or not they will resort to social loafing or collective effort. These are when an individual believes that 1) the chances of attaining the goal are high, and 2) the perceived value of the goal is positive. Thus, a person’s “attitude” toward the task at hand influences his or her motivation level and subsequent group behavior (and overall job performance.) Research found that job motivation was highest when the individual believed that their goals were easily attainable and very valuable. On the other hand, motivation was lowest when the goal seemed impossible and not at all valuable.

Unfortunately, the presence of a group can influence one’s perception of these two factors in a number of ways. For instance, working in a group may reduce a person’s expectancy of attaining a goal. That is, depending on the qualities of the other members of the group. For example an individual may find themselves in a group of high achievers who work hard and are guaranteed success whereas another person may find themselves in a group of lazy or distracted people, making success seem unattainable. Therefore, the link between one’s personal efforts and success is not direct. Unfortunately a person’s work success is heavily influenced by the work of others. This shines another light on the absurdity of the performance review process which is focused solely on the individual.

Similarly, the value of the goal may be contingent on the group members. For instance, if we must share the success with all other group members than the value of the goal is reduced. Hence, the dynamics of the group are an important key in determining a person’s motivation and the likelihood of social loafing or collective effort.

That said, I believe the biggest impediment to attaining true teamwork is what I mentioned earlier; “The Sucker” Effect.” This happens when people feel that others in the group will leave them to do all the work while they take the credit. Because people do not want to feel like the “sucker,” they wait to see how much effort others will put into a group before they put any in. If all the members try to avoid being the sucker then everyone’s effort will be significantly less than it would be if all of them were working as hard as they could. If you’ve ever worked with a sociopath you’ll understand perfectly the sad fact that there are people out there who will take credit for the work of others.

Of course maybe the lack of teamwork isn’t due to laziness, social loafing or the sucker effect after all. Maybe the effect is what is described as “Albrecht’s Law.” As billionaire German entrepreneur Karl Albrecht once said: “Intelligent people, when assembled into an organization, will tend toward collective stupidity.”

Maybe that’s why it’s called Cognitive Tempo Disorder.


2 Responses to “Cognitive Tempo Disorder”
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