How to Convince Lazy People to Work Harder

Jeff Havens
Contributing Writer
The Jeff Havens Company

If you’re at all like me, then you’ll remember group projects from high school with a mixture of frustration and more frustration. Your history teacher assigned four of you to present a report about the Civil War, and you stayed up late three nights in a row sewing a perfect replica of a Union general’s uniform only to find out that Tony didn’t bother to write his part of the report! So now you’re stuck doing his work for him, which you don’t have time for, or else his laziness is going to drag your grade down. What’s wrong with you, Tony?!?! And why did Mr. Berry force me to work with you in the first place???

Ah, high school.

Anyway, the same thing happens in the working world too. Some people simply don’t seem as motivated as the rest of us to do their share or take care of things that haven’t been assigned to them but which everyone knows (including them) should be their responsibility. This can be an enormously frustrating element of doing business with other human beings and probably explains why some people choose to live as hermits.

There’s no guarantee that you can motivate low-performing colleagues or employees to work harder or shoulder more responsibility, but there are a few things you can do that just might get you what you want.


It’s possible that ‘lazy’ people aren’t actually lazy – they just don’t like the work they’ve been assigned to. That doesn’t mean they should expect only to do what appeals to them, anymore than any of us always gets to work on exciting things. But if you ask them what kind of responsibilities would animate them, it might give you the opportunity to say, “OK, I can put you on X, but you need to do Y for me.”


Inertia is a powerful thing, and so the habit of not working hard tends to lead to more laziness. But that doesn’t mean we’re happy about it. Students often complain of boredom during the long summer months when they have nothing to worry about but their own entertainment, because most of us are happier when we’re busy on something. So if you have a lazy colleague or employee who also seems to be unhappy, try talking with them about the things that do make them happy. Odds are it will involve something productive, and that will allow you to transition easily into a conversation about how working harder might just be the answer they didn’t realize they were looking for.


This will almost certainly involve some short-term pain on your end, since things that need to get done will no longer be getting done. But some lazy people have learned that they can count on others to do whatever they fail to do. You might have been enabling their laziness more than you realize. So if you simply stop doing their work for them, eventually someone with the authority to fire people will notice – and even lazy people tend to pick up the pace when they start to wonder if their job security is on the line.

Again, there’s no magic bullet for inspiring a robust work ethic in people who don’t feel like pushing themselves, but hopefully these will help. Something obviously worked for Tony. He’s now a marketing manager for an international company. I just hope that whatever he’s marketing doesn’t involve Civil War paraphernalia, because if it does then I don’t think he’ll ever hit his quota.

That’s right, Tony. I haven’t forgotten.


Jeff Havens is a speaker, author, and professional development expert who tackles leadership, generational, and professional development issues with an exceptional blend of content and entertainment. He is a contributing writer to Fast Company, Entrepreneur, BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal; and has been featured on CNBC and Fox Business. For more information, or to bring Jeff to your next meeting, email, or visit


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