Does Everyone Exert Themselves Equally?

Reprinted with permission from

Do some people exert themselves more than others do? Of course, the answer is “yes.” One way to look at “laziness” is to think of it as a willful lack of reasonable self-exertion in a situation in which self-exertion is morally required and the individual has the capacity to self-exert.
Interestingly, some people are of the opinion that laziness, per se, does not exist. Usually someone who holds this view will suggest that what we perceive to be laziness is always just a symptom of a physical or mental illness. If, indeed, laziness does not exist, then how do we account for the differences in self-exertion that we seem to observe, both in ourselves and in other people? This article discusses the question of the validity of the perceptions that we normally draw about differences in exertion levels in ourselves and in others. The purpose of this line of reasoning is to challenge the heart of the claim that “laziness does not exist.”

A boss is a professional judge of exertion

In the business world, employers use both objective and subjective measures to review employee performance. An “objective measure” is something that can be easily and visibly judged. The following are some examples of objective measures: getting to work on time, completing a manufacturing quota or calling 50 customers every day. A subjective measure has more to do with the manager’s perception of an employee’s overall character. For example, friendliness, cooperativeness and alertness are all subjective measures.

One of the most important subjective measures concerns “willingness to work,” or, “willingness to self-exert on the job.” If someone scores highly in the self-exertion category they will probably get a good review and a raise. Alternatively, if low marks on self-exertion are dispensed, then the supervisor will have a talk with the employee to remind him to stay focused and productive. Unless the employee increases his exertion to at least the minimum acceptable level, he is likely headed for a pink slip.

A sports coach supervises his players

In the sports world, coaches perform a supervisory role similar to that of a boss in a business environment. The coach’s “product” is winning. If the coach wins, then he “produces.” If he doesn’t produce, then he gets canned. In order for the coach to win, he needs to have players who are talented, team workers and who are willing to give 110% on the field. The term “110%” is a metaphor meaning that each player is expected to be fully focused on the game – and fully self-exerting to help the team to win.

As the game progresses, the coach assesses each player. Is he cooperating with his teammates? Is he putting his full energy and focus into the game? If the coach senses that a player is “dogging it,” then he will – understandably – begin yelling at the player to tell him to increase his focus and exertion.

Many people will not move – unless there is a manager

Obviously, both business managers and sports coaches are aware that the people that they supervise may have varying levels of self-exertion. In the professional world, there is no question as to whether or not workers, or players, sometimes fall behind in their self-exertion. It happens all of the time. In fact, it is one of the biggest reasons that managers and coaches are needed in the first place! Workers who are not being watched tend to slack off. There are a few, unusual people who will always stay on task whether or not they are being supervised, but they are exceptional. The most general rule of manager-employee relations has always been: when the cat’s away, the mice will play.

There are a few, unusual people who will always stay on task whether or not they are being supervised, but they are exceptional.

Why do some people believe that laziness does not exist?

So, why is it that some people hold to the idea that laziness does not exist? Perhaps, in some cases, they might view their disbelief in laziness as a way of trying to protect disabled people from criticism or bullying. Everyone wants to stop a bully – especially when a handicapped child is the victim – but, is this blanket approach really a good way to try to prevent bullying? Might we, instead, be inadvertently aggravating the situation by lowering the bar for everyone? In other words, by refusing to acknowledge that personal determination is a factor in school and work, could we end up discouraging kids, disabled or not, who otherwise might have been inclined to try harder?

Managers recognize that different people, handicapped or not, have different work-load capacities – whether the work is physical or cognitive. Hence, a good supervisor’s perception of a worker’s degree of self-exertion already takes into account the maximum capabilities of the person being supervised. Similarly, in the sports arena, a coach assesses each player’s level of exertion based on the coach’s best estimate of the player’s full ability. A little league coach knows that his players will not be able to run as fast as professional, adult players can. But the little league players can still exert themselves 110%. It is the exertion that the coach is looking for – whether the players are children or adults, disabled or non-disabled.

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