Initally from this question : https://workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/58702/how-do-you-call-this-work-disorder?noredirect=1#comment153389_58702

I have observed a frequent work disorder (or at least work habit) but I can't find a name for it.

"Always doing the bare minimum, following instructions to the letter. Forcing others to micro micro manage them."

Naming it would help me pin down the problem and try to solve it constructively.

  • I think it is a problem of "lack of initiative" related to "responsibility" and "fear to fail and disappoint.". That is not unusual in Asian countries where workers expect to be clearly instructed before doing anything and don't assume to have to take initiatives ( unless instructed to do so) . I think it is a cultural thing rather than a work disorder. – user66974 Dec 3 '15 at 7:01
  • It is partly cultural I guess, but in some extreme cases it is very improductive and hence can be considered a disorder (I guess). – Taiko Dec 3 '15 at 8:34
  • It looks like the military call it 'dumb insolence' (from the old thread) But I am not looking to insult my employees, so I can't call it that.: " 'dumb insolence' is what they called it in the navy.... following orders to the letter and not a single step past, requiring clear orders for EVERYTHING " – Taiko Dec 3 '15 at 8:36
  • I understand your point but I do believe it is mainly a cultural issue. – user66974 Dec 3 '15 at 8:39
  • As an aside, in English we say "what to call this". "How to call this" is not English. It is a common mistake by learners. – RegDwigнt Dec 3 '15 at 15:08

You could consider calling it "a lack of proactivity". Proactive as an adjective means:

controlling a situation by making things happen or by preparing for possible future problems: With a pittance of a salary, how could they be enthused to become proactive people?

[Oxford Online Dictionary]

(Of a person or action) creating or controlling a situation rather than just responding to it after it has happened


If someone is "following instructions to the letter" means, he or she is reactive, not proactive or innovative:

(Of a person) introducing new ideas; original and creative in thinking


If this was malicious, you could apply the term work to rule.

an industrial action in which employees do no more than the minimum required by the rules of their contract, and precisely follow safety or other regulations in order to cause a slowdown, rather than to serve their purposes. - wikipedia

The case described in your link doesn't seem malicious, and could be described as literalism.

  1. adherence to the exact letter or the literal sense, as in translation or interpretation - dictionary.com

This seems to be a "lack of intuition."

It could possibly be a fear of doing the job incorrectly, which would be pretty ironic. If he always does exactly what you ask, then he never fails you. It could also be a responsibility problem, but I'm not a psychologist.

Perhaps a constructive approach would be to have him ask questions to clarify what the end goal of a task is so that he can carry it out. Or leave questions intentionally vague so he has to clarify. For example:

In the cancel button problem, you said "Please add a cancel button to this alert dialog." You could follow up with a more vague overview of what is being asked to intentionally provoke questions: "Please add a cancel button to this alert dialog. It should function like a normal cancel button should" The ending is vague enough that he might have to ask what you mean by normal.

If that doesn't work, I'm willing to bet it's less of a problem with lack of intuition so much as doing the bare minimum. In which case you'll have to figure out how to motivate the employee, pair the employee with someone who will hold them accountable, or let them go.

  • 'Bare minimum" is a good fit ! If there's a word to mean "trying to do the bare minimum" it would be what I am looking for ! – Taiko Dec 3 '15 at 8:42
  • I've re-shaped my question – Taiko Dec 3 '15 at 8:48

If you're looking for a way to describe the root of the problem (so you can solve it), consider fear of failure, shirking responsibility and a complete lack of initiative (the latter already mentioned by Josh in his comment).

Here's what seems to be an instructive article on the topic:

Fear of Failure Prompts Workers to Shirk Responsibility



I will go with, devotion to the law of the least effort or to the principle of minimum effort.

least effort: the least effortful way to do something WordNet

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