The Shirk – An Old but Familiar Phenomena


THE shirk is a well-known specimen of the genus homo. His habitat is offices, stores, business establishments of all kinds. His habits are familiar to us, but a few words on the subject will not be amiss. The shirk usually displays activity when the boss is around, and masterful inactivity when the boss is out of sight. Some times he makes a pretense of working, for the benefit of his fellow clerks. Now and then he comes out boldly and loafs openly, except on those occasions when the boss is in the neighborhood and perhaps not feeling any too indulgent. The shirk is quick to detect these changes in the official barometer. The shirk, of course, is always the last one at work and the first to depart. He takes all the sick leave permissible and generally manages to get a few days extra.

The same applies to annual leave.

He has a pleasant habit of disappearing after lunch two or three times a week, and not showing up again until four or five o’clock. Occasionally you do not see him until the following day. The shirk, in short, is out to do as little work as possible, to take as much time off as possible, and to draw as much pay as he can for such work as he does perform. We have seen shirks who displayed considerable ingenuity in getting up schemes and ruses for avoiding work. In fact, if they would apply this ingenuity to their daily work, it would stand them in good stead. How does the shirk get by with it?

There are various explanations.

Sometimes he has a pleasing manner and a ready laugh for the jokes of the boss. Sometimes he is a good worker when he wants to he, a good salesman. perhaps, a man with something of a following. The boss is kind to him, more or less, but keeps hoping that he will reform. Sometimes the shirk has the boss fooled. Now and then he has a certain percentage of his fellow-workers fooled. He can occasionally display such bursts of industry as to almost fool himself. No clerk likes to be a talebearer. No clerk likes to go to the manager with a story about a fellow-employee. And to this very fact is due much of the shirk‘s success in dodging work. Now, no clerk likes to feel that he must arrive at 8:30 while another man is allowed to saunter in at 9:15 or thereabouts. It looks like favoritism. The rules should apply to all. A few rare spirits will stick doggedly to the work and the rules, regardless of how the shirk is getting away with his capers, but plenty of good men get sore and begin to let down in their work.  And here is where the shirk does his greatest damage.

It isn’t the work that he dodges. It isn’t the ten minutes he cuts off in the morning and again at night. It isn’t the sick leave he takes every month. These things are not so very expensive for the boss. The thing that is expensive is the let-down in morale. You can’t blame good men for getting sore. Now and then the shirk actually manages to put over a raise in salary, which he has not earned and does not deserve. The boss, of course. is only human. Many things happen around the store which he does not see. Sometimes it is the part of good management for the boss to close his eyes, so to speak. But not to the antics of the habitual shirk. We know that fellow with a pleasant smile and a hearty manner can frequently ingratiate himself with a superior officer, and thus manage to dodge discipline in many ways. At the same time the honest plugger isn’t fooled. Can you blame him for saying to himself: “What’s the use? Why should I work myself to death? Why shouldn’t I get mine?”

There are feminine shirks, too.

There is the girl who blows in twenty minutes late every morning, with no excuse, or a flimsy excuse at best. There is the girl who receives a lot of telephone calls, and who spends an hour every day gossiping over the phone with her beau. There is the girl who went to a party the night before, met the handsomest fellow, and must go all over the establishment telling everybody what he said, how he looked, and what an impression he made. Harmless stuff, perhaps, but the telling takes a lot of time. This girl not only shirks her own work, but prevents others from working. The boss shoulders the loss.

It is not a wise plan ‘to run a business establishment like a prison. Sensible friendships should be encouraged. If the clerks feel that they must never speak above a whisper, the boss will not get the best results from his working force. Shirks can be reached. There is an offensive type which actually urges other clerks to let down in their work, spreading the doctrine of “What’s the use?”

A big wholesale druggist was recently heard to say: “See that girl?”


‘‘I would willingly pay her a salary to stay away from the store. She won’t work herself and she is constantly telling other girls that they are foolish to work so hard. I  don’t want my clerks to work too hard, but I do expect them to work.”  “Why don’t you get rid of her?”.

“Well, her uncle is a prominent man. He throws me considerable business. If I fired her, he would get sore.”

Eventually the druggist did fire her, but he should have fired her a year before. The uncle merely said it served her right.

The thoughtless clerk will change his tactics if given a friendly talk. Thoughtlessness cart be corrected without much trouble. The willful shirk may require sterner methods. The boss should make it his business to look out for shirks. He should realize that few employees will carry tales. When convinced that you have an habitual shirk to deal with. there are two methods. You can fire him outright, or you can give him another chance. We all like to reform a man if we can. But if another chance is given, there should be a clear understanding that the reformation will be genuine, that no foolishness will be tolerated.

It is sometimes astounding how long a shirk, one with no pull or influence of any kind, can “get by.” Of course, the boss doesn’t go snooping around, the shirk is adroit, other clerks will not carry tales, and so the farce goes on for a long time. The proprietor, however, cannot afford to have the morale of his establishment lowered by one who will not work. If the shirk is allowed to go along undisturbed, it is difficult to see how the efficiency of the working force can be maintained. The boss is under no obligation to bear this loss. Sometimes a lesson is g0od for a shirk. After losing two or three good positions, he may take & brace. At any rate, the wise boss will do well to keep up a sharp lookout for habitual shirks. He owes that much to square clerks and we are glad to be able to say that they are in overwhelming majority.

The time you waste, the money you waste and the opportunities you waste never come back. If you want to succeed, apply to all these the old adage: “Waste not. want not.”

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Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition.

— Adam Smith