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A Miscalculation of the Lazy Worker

How can math boil down how lazy workers want to work?

Researchers at Stony Brook University turned workplace-scheduling problems inside out by studying how a “lazy” worker would manage his or her job tasks. The 2003 research is called the “Lazy Bureaucrat Problem,” or LBP. In late January of this year, Marc Abrahams cited it on Guardian.co.uk, a news website popular in the U.K.

Guardian.co.uk gathered about two million visitors per day on its website last February, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations Electronics, or ABCe. ABCe appraises media performance by using traffic data from computers or mobile phones. The New York Times’ website claimed to have more than 17 million visitors per month, which in last February would average to about six hundred thousand visitors per day.

Abrahams wrote on Guardian.co.uk that researchers of the Lazy Bureaucrat Problem, or LBP, were themselves “taking the lazy approach.” He mulled over the problem’s name more than the math problem itself.

“The article citing us saw the Lazy Bureaucrat Problem as only a cute title,” commented Steven Skiena, a Professor of Computer Science, while reading Abrahams’ article on his computer during a telephone interview.

The LBP is an uncommon approach to schedule work for workers whom are not too thrilled about efficiency, as described by researchers. The researchers, Michael Bender and Steven Skiena of the Department of Computer Science and Esther Arkin and Joseph Mitchell of the Department of Applied Mathematics, intended to devise algorithms that express a lazy worker’s aim for optimal inefficiency. With the Lazy Bureaucrat Problem, a worker can adapt his or her goal to labor a little as possible against the workplace requirement to be busy.

“The research is meant to model the problem, not solve laziness. Laziness will always be around because people are complicated,” said Bender, who has a doctorate of Computer Science, in a telephone interview.

Abrahams never contacted any of the LBP researchers, as disclosed in a Stony Brook University press release that followed his article on the Guardian.co.uk website. In the press release, Bender explained the purpose of the study was to model a real-life situation after workers whom often try to perform as little work as possible. He underscored that inefficient workers, rather than the efficient ones, compel much more complexity in scheduling.

“The workers are not permitted to do nothing, but they can make tasks go as slow and inefficiently as possible,” Bender elaborated.

As for Abrahams and his article, he quoted the research abstract, which diagnosed the motive of a worker in the LBP as laziness. Still, Abrahams wrote that, “managing a problem does not necessarily solve it,” and that the researchers offered, “no advice about getting ride of the lazy bureaucrats.”

“I don’t think there’s an academic subject out there that can solve laziness. Human nature can only get fixed by human nature,” said Robert Wetzel an Applied Mathematics Major. He is a student of Esther Arkin whom worked and researched on the Lazy Bureaucrat Problem.

The LBP model can take advantage of a lazy worker’s requirement to appear busy. For the do-as-little-labor-as-possible mindset, the Lazy Bureaucrat Problem can require more work from a worker by scheduling more short tasks as a substitute to performing a nearly daylong task.

“In one kind of setup, if you give jobs to lazy workers you can get more done only by enforcing the right objectives on them,” described Steven Skiena.

Abrahams expected math as a means to cure laziness in the workplace, In fact, the Lazy Bureaucrat Problem aimed to mathematically express how workers try to be as lazy as possible and still look busy.

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