The Myth of the Lazy Student

In this article, we discuss what it means to be lazy and what educators, mentors and even managers can do when they believe a student or employee might be lazy.

There’s that lazy student who just won’t work on their project. Or maybe that talented colleague who doesn’t seem to try very hard. We all know the type. Most of us have said it or thought it about someone or even ourselves but what does ‘lazy’ even mean?

Defining laziness

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a lazy person is “unwilling to work or use energy.” Is there anything actually wrong with that?

Arguably laziness is the most natural of instincts. From an evolutionary perspective, if we go far back enough, there would have been no reason to make an effort without an immediate pay-off. We would have conserved energy and only used it as a survival mechanism to protect ourselves from predators.

But coming back to today, who actually makes a mental or physical effort without some pay-off? The driven, motivated student wants to get a diploma, build a career in the future. That relentless workaholic wants to make a difference, get a pay raise, maybe a promotion. The fitness enthusiast wants to achieve peak physical performance.

The lazy job seeker

What about the so-called lazy job seeker who seems to make no effort to improve their life? In September 2018, there were about 16.4 million unemployed people in the EU, an average rate of 6.7%, compared to about 3 million open job vacancies. The EU unemployed are competing for jobs on a ratio of 1 to 5.5 most likely in fields that they know nothing about. Things are seemingly better in the U.S. with 6.9 million jobs openings compared to 6.02 million job seekers in November 2018 but there is a clear skills mismatch that is reaching a boiling point.

So what’s a job seeker to do? It certainly requires a leap of faith that they can successfully retrain with limited support and nab one of those highly sought after jobs or even create their own job.

Looking to the future

It is not just about being optimistic. Sometimes when that future pay-off is or seems impossible then perhaps it makes sense not to try. For example, let’s think about a lazy, unfocused student.

Maybe they don’t know anyone else like them, from their neighbourhood, who has got that diploma with the high-flying career. They have never even seen someone work on a long-term project. Is it irrational of them to doubt that they will enjoy that kind of success in their own future? Is it even surprising that they lack the basic organisational skills for long-term projects?

Behaviour = f(Person, Environment)

Kurt Lewin, one of the founders of social psychology, defined behaviour (B) as a function of a person (P) and their environment (E). Since the 1930’s, Lewin’s equation B = f(P, E) has been at the heart of an ongoing debate about the relative importance of the person and the environment.

There is even an increasing consensus that the situation is a better predictor of behaviour than individual traits such as personality. Yet when it comes to lazy behaviour, it is typically a label of the person or even their identity. Environmental factors are non-existent.

What about educators, mentors and managers?

More often than not, laziness triggers judgement, rejection or even anger. But what if educators, mentors and managers could:

  1. react to laziness with compassion and curiosity?
  2. help instil the belief that today’s effort will lead to a real pay-off and not just an abstract pipe dream?
  3. contribute to someone’s success by going beyond a focus on the skills they lack but instead helping to take down the barriers that they face?

Surely all of this is worth the effort? Surely you aren’t one of those ‘lazy’ people, unwilling to work or use energy?

At OpenClassrooms, we look for and train mentors and career coaches who can step up to the challenge of guiding students toward their goals, navigating not just their project deliverables but helping them stay motivated.  

If you think you have what it takes to not only inspire a ‘lazy’ student but can also give practical support and guidance, then we need you. Become a mentor for OpenClassrooms students, today.

OC find out more



Ibis Lilley

Mentorship Manager at Openclassrooms; Into #Edtech, open-source ideas, tech & ethics… Unapologetic migrant (Nigeria, UK, Japan, France…)




  1. Situation vs person: here and here.    
  2. EU unemployment
  3. EU job vacancies 
  4. US unemployment 
  5. US job openings 
  6. US skills shortage 


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