The workplace taboo of coasting
In 2018, a study revealed that one in three UK workers say they’re coasting at work. The study led to an influx of ‘how to stop your employees coasting’ guides across HR and employee engagement websites. At Benefex, we believe all people work and deliver differently, and need individualised employee experiences and expectations that reflect that individuality. Every employee, regardless of role, ambitions and ability, can achieve great things – they just need the right environment and support around them.
‘Coasting’ is when an employee is fulfilling their duties and meeting minimum OKRs, but not necessarily growing their skillset, stretching themselves or going ‘above and beyond’. It can manifest itself in many ways, from disengaged employees with low interaction or discussion input, to an active detractor who is contributing negatively to the business. Today, however, we hope to provide a balanced view of coasting and help you get the best out of your employees; and in turn help them get the best out of their employer.
Coasting gets a bad rap
Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that coasting isn’t inherently bad. Coasters are not all resoundingly negative detractors who are actively sabotaging your business or badmouthing the company. Often, they are good employees simply doing their daily job.
In the past, being unburdened was a sign of status and success. Now, we are taught from early childhood that seeming ‘busy’ and overworked is a sign of a job well done; that stress is synonymous with success. Yet more and more organisations preach work-life balance as a priority. We should also consider those individuals who do not work to work, but simply to live. While many people find their passion in their career and feel it is a significant part of their identity, this is not always the case. Some employees’ lives and passion revolve around creative outlets, focussing on their family or other interests outside work – and that’s okay, too.
Our duty as employers is to embrace those differences, and ensure we support those who work to live; and encourage those who live to work. Coasting is not always a problem that must be solved – if your employee is meeting goals and delivering their responsibilities consistently, is that not a positive performance? Nonetheless, getting to the root cause of someone’s coasting ensures you can support them in their struggles or encourage their advancement.
What causes coasting?
Before you can help your people, you need to understand why they are coasting. In the workplace, there tend to be certain types of ‘coaster’:
Dissatisfied – An employee who doesn’t feel fulfilled by their position. Perhaps it doesn’t utilise their skillset, or the role changed since they first began (or indeed isn’t what they were sold at interview).
Disengaged – Someone who doesn’t enjoy their job. It may be challenging for them in terms of lack of support, dreary or mundane tasks, or simply not an area that interests them.
Distracted – Being distracted by issues at home, from relationships and mental health to family or financial concerns, can leave someone coasting just to get by.
Struggling – Perhaps they are struggling with their professional life. This could be in the form of a difficult relationship with a colleague or task/system they don’t feel comfortable with.
Satisfied – Some people who coast are simply happy where they are, doing what they’re doing, and not looking for career progression.
Stationary – Finally, in contrast to satisfied employees, some individuals don’t feel challenged enough in their role or can’t see any paths for progression from where they are.
So how can we help?
With such a diverse range of reasons behind coasting, the first step is to speak with the individual. Identify why they are coasting – it could be they’re unaware of it, or simply that they are happy with where they are. Open a judgement-free channel of communication with the employee to identify how they feel and where they want to go in the position. Reassure them that they’re not in trouble, you just want to help them achieve their potential and ensure they’re happy in the role.
After you’ve spoken with the individual, you can build a plan in collaboration to motivate and engage them. There are four key elements in this process:
Recognition – Use a recognition tool (like our OneHub | Reward and Recognition app) to encourage above-and-beyond effort and reward hard work. A recognition tool also highlights to managers who is or isn’t putting in extra effort, and who may be disengaged or coasting.
Reviews – Review opportunities for progress with the employee; discuss where they want to go and what routes you can offer them. By reviewing their current responsibilities and future possibilities, you can best assess their contribution and attitude.
Real conversations – Ensure that all employees have access to outlets to discuss any struggles; personal and professional. Work and homeplace worries can often be the cause of coasting, so identifying and proactively working to solve these issues early on can prevent unnecessary coasting.
Realign – Consider the flow of your people’s workload and how you can help them create the best work pattern for them. Are they being swamped with tasks to complete or overloaded with administration? Could your processes be more efficient? Think about technology that can help reduce people-based admin, like OneHub.
Ultimately, the modern workplace is about aligning unique people’s ambitions and goals – whether they are professional or personal, whether they are ambitious or satisfied with where they are. People may coast at work because they are struggling at home, or overwhelmed by workloads. Using technology to help streamline processes, encourage accessible learning and simplify tasks can enable your employees to find their own rhythm at work, whatever that may be.
Lorelei is an avid proponent of iced coffee, video games and anything to do with outerspace.
Copywriter by day, filmmaker by night – Lorelei graduated from university with a degree in Film and Screenwriting, and continues to write and direct films with their production company.
When not at work, you can probably stumble upon Lorelei buying overpriced cold brew in a hipster coffee shop while editing a screenplay or rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the 100th time.