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Beware of freeloaders, enable equitable give-n-take for your business to grow

Freeloaders are more than just moochers. They can create a toxic work culture that discourages talented and hardworking employees, which, in turn, can paralyse growth

January 28, 2023 / 11:22 AM IST
Define roles and responsibilities to ensure a fair workplace.  
(Image: Unsplash)

Define roles and responsibilities to ensure a fair workplace. (Image: Unsplash)

Freeloaders is a familiar word and most of us have encountered these folks at some point in our lives. These are people who don’t want to play their fair part or complete their fair share of work. They want to take as much as they can but without giving much.

There is an eponymous comedy movie that follows the life of some freeloaders whose lifestyle is threatened when the circumstance changes and they are not able to mooch anymore. In college, many of us were stuck on group projects with a bunch of drifters or slackers and a minority hard at work. They were the ones doing the heavy lifting but the glory or success was shared by the whole team.

Why discuss freeloaders? Having to make up for someone else’s “could-not-care-less” attitude or utter incompetence created a bad culture. This often carries over to the entire workplace and the disillusionment piles on. Small and medium enterprises should avoid it to retain talent and nurture growth.

‘Neurotoxins’ which are bad for your business

In a big company, these can be hidden away but in an SME, freeloaders can be a roadblock to engagement and healthy work culture.

In SMEs, resources and finances are not often easily available, and if at all, they come at a high cost and the organisation cannot afford to waste them.

Moreover, it can also lead to resentment and frustration in the team and can harm the organisation. Individuals who take advantage of the resources and efforts of others without contributing in return can be like neurotoxins, paralysing growth.

To address the deep rot caused by freeloaders, it is important to set clear expectations and boundaries for participation and contribution.

Communication and transparency are critical in making sure everyone is aware of their roles and responsibilities. It is also important to hold everyone to account for their actions and not to let freeloading go unnoticed.

To create a productive and positive environment, it is important to address freeloading, and ensure that everyone is contributing equitably. This will lead to a more successful and cohesive team.

In some cases, it may be necessary to address freeloading directly with the individual. This should be done respectfully and professionally and the focus should be on finding a solution rather than placing blame.

Implementing a system for tracking contributions and progress can also help identify and address freeloading. This could be in the form of regular progress checks and reports or performance evaluations.

Here are some ways to address this in an SME:

1 Set clear expectations

Communicate the expectations and responsibilities of each team member transparently and clearly. Ensure that all the stakeholders are aware of these expectations as well as the impact of not meeting them, both on the company and themselves. Ambiguous expectations and fluid boundaries are a freeloader’s delight.

2 Hold them accountable

Hold everyone to account for their actions by addressing their behaviour in a direct and non-confrontational manner. This can be done through one-on-one conversations or team meetings.

This will also send a message to high performers that their conscientious work has been noticed and are likely to be rewarded commensurate to their efforts.

3 Provide objective, actionable feedback

Provide feedback on performance, highlighting both positive contributions and areas for improvement. These need to be data-based and regular. This can help team members understand how their actions are impacting the team and how they can improve.

Managers who do not pay attention and have data on performance should be shown how poorly they are pulling their weight in terms of their roles.

4 Reward the ones who act responsibly

Appreciate and reward those who take on responsibility and contribute to the team's success. This will send a clear message that those who take accountability will be rewarded and set an example for others.

Of course, if the head of the organisation tends to do less and freeloads to take credit, the rot is indeed deep. This brings us to an important point, which is listed next.

5 Lead by example

As a senior leader, demonstrate a strong work ethic, take responsibility for your actions and hold yourself accountable for your decisions. This will help to set the tone for the team.

In essence, remember what the late APJ Abdul Kalam used to tell leaders: Take responsibility for the failures of the team and give credit to the team for the successes.

In any unequal or abusive partnership, if you are on the receiving end, you need to quickly recognise it, accept the reality and look after your interests. This is especially true for those on the receiving end of freeloaders who keep taking without compunctions.

M Muneer is the managing director of CustomerLab Solutions, a consulting firm.
Gayatri Krishnamurthy is a senior HR expert and leadership coach.
first published: Jan 28, 2023 11:22 am