What is laziness?

One of the misgivings expressed about the four-day week that I wrote about in my previous entry is due to the perception that workers on reduced hours might be lazy. This criticism may not even stack up on its own terms, if Versa’s employees still work a standard 37.5-hour week (as the article says they do) and/or the claims of improved productivity hold up. But here I want to look at what “laziness” or otherwise might mean more generally.

A friend of mine who moved to Australia from another country once said to me that Australians seemed lazy given the number of hours they worked compared to those in the country in which he had come from. This seems to be more or less the position of critics of “lazy” no-work Wednesdays: workers who don’t devote as many hours as possible to paid employment are presumed to be lazy. The view implicit in this position is that only paid work counts as “work” and that everything else is indulgence.

I said that I didn’t think of shorter hours at work as being lazy, but as giving me time and energy to do something other than (paid) work. In this view, whether or not one is lazy depends not just on what one does for paid employment but also on what one does the rest of time: someone who spent unpaid time looking after children or performing emergency services work might in fact be quite industrious, while few would say the same about someone who worked a bullshit job for forty hours a week then spent the rest of the time drinking beer.

In normal conversation and normal writing, though, I often use the word lazy to describe something done in a superficial or sloppy manner that ignores important details or otherwise fails to give proper consideration to the task at hand. In this usage, lazy is more about the manner in which something is done than the amount of time spent doing it. Dilbert’s Wally character is an exemplar of this sort of laziness: he’s in the office for as many hours as everyone else, but he doesn’t achieve much while he’s there.

Of course doing things properly takes time, and I presume that advocates of long hours also advocate industriousness and conscientiousness while undertaking said hours. The point is that laziness and industriousness might look somewhat different when viewed from the perspective of a whole person as compared to the perspective of a particular job. And from the perspective of my last usage of the word, perhaps decrying shorter working hours as lazy is itself lazy.

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