Recently, while visiting the ENR Website, I was intrigued by a request to take part in an instant poll addressing jobsite theft. The poll listed specific tangible items such as tools, materials, equipment and the like. As a staff archi- tect for an architectural firm, these items are not in our realm of everyday objects that we encounter in the storage cabinet or workplace. Sure, many of our colleagues make off with pencils, whiteout, paper clips and such, though their disappearance hardly affects the profitability of the firm.

But one area of jobsite theft that unfortunately often is tolerated and is difficult to control is the damage created by the �slacker.� We all know these persons who indirectly rob us of potential income, loss of profits and/or bonuses by cruising through the work week without pulling their weight. They show up for work late and yet head home early, pretend to be productive or just pad their time cards with fictitious numbers to make payroll. After all, the client and unfortunately often the employer, doesn�t know exactly what they did that day or how long it took. Regardless of their productivity or lack of it, the slacker can be assured of the same paycheck week in and week out. Slacking should not be confused with office coffee talk, forwarding funny e-mails or co-worker chit chat�these being important to morale and indirect elements of the company team-building process.

Slacking does take place in the form of handling personal business on company time; surfing the internet for personal reasons; extending cigarette breaks (which also indirectly hits our pocketbooks in the form of higher insurance premiums); being incompetent; or being unwilling to admit when you do not know something (which eats up potential profits when someone else has to correct the work that was done incorrectly the first time).

One of my colleagues has suggested that all employees should have experience managing their own firm�an unrealistic though interesting idea. Managing my own sole-proprietor design firm a few years ago taught me the value of productivity. Having no one else to rely on, the self-employed must maintain the focus and self motivation that puts food on the table and pays the rent.

Many co-workers are frustrated by the work load inequality in today�s workplace environment and by having to increase their effort to make up for someone else�s inability or lack of production. This also has a side effect in that a key employee, out of utter frus- tration, may look for greener pastures elsewhere. We are, once again, then faced with the loss of profits in down time searching for and training new employees.

This is a real problem in the professional world and in contracting. My employer has used the following analogy on occasion: �Managing architects is like trying to herd a room full of cats.� This is very difficult, if not impossible.

As professionals, we are held to a higher standard�or are we? Self-supervision and productivity are driven by a sense of duty, responsibility and, in some ways, self-respect. The real challenge is how to limit the slacker effect. By educating your employees about the cause and effect of their actions, they may begin to understand the economics of what ultimately hits them the hardest, and that is profits in their pockets.

In the end, one solution is to direct the non-productive habits of employees into positive ones, such as assigning online product research to the Web surfer; assigning marketing tasks to the person who can�t seem to stop making personal phone calls; and requiring unskilled persons to attend in-office seminars, which indirectly boosts morale and productivity. The other solution is to take the short-term loss of having to hire and train a new employee. But proceed with caution as history has a way of repeating itself.

Paul McKenzie is a staff architect at RDS Architects, San Francisco, ( and holds licenses in California and New York.