Why It Makes Good Business Sense to Slack Off

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A letter that has been passed to new business school students for decades carries a clear message for the overachievers of the world: Chill out.

“Most of us come in here as perfectionists and feel very uncomfortable doing a so-so job on anything. The sooner you give up this habit, the happier you will be,” wrote Shirzad Bozorgchami, a 1989 graduate of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. The writer is now known as Shirzad Chamine, and the letter was published by Bloomberg Businessweek.

Such guidance may seem a bit out of harmony with business school and the entire foundation of the American work ethic, which has long conflated endless toil with virtue. But some in the corporate world agree with Chamine’s skepticism.

“Where are all the hippies, the potheads and the commies? And why is everyone so intently serious and sober all the time?” asked Rory Sutherland, a vice-chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, in the Spectator last year, after complaining that “it’s hard to tell the difference between a university and a business school nowadays.”

Sutherland argued that bad students would make “far more loyal hires, since we won’t be competing for their attention with deep-pocketed pimps in investment banking.”

While major corporations aren’t exactly in an arms race for America’s stoners, there’s some evidence that underachievers may indeed make more devoted employees. A Harvard Business Review analysis of surveys of 1,200 employees found that high performers are overwhelmingly more likely to jump ship. Ninety-five percent of elite young managers actively researched other employment opportunities, and they tended to follow through on that instinct in short order. The highest achievers left their first job after around two years of employment.

Many top business school programs don’t even allow students to disclose their grades to recruiters, a policy that has been criticized for encouraging students to slack off in class. A 2011 Wharton study found that after the nondisclosure became mandatory, students spent three quarters as much time on work as they had four years earlier. Students, who voted on the policy at the Wharton School, seem fine with that. The policy passed with the support of 96 percent of Wharton students last year. Now if only we could find all the missing hippies.