Saying, “It’s good enough for government work,” is cultural shorthand for a lazy job poorly done. Though not always the case, it’s hard to argue against the axiom when the post office queue is moving slower than a glacier.
To the chagrin of government clerks worldwide, a recent German study suggests public sector workers are indeed lazy. Grumbling, “it’s good enough for government work” may indeed be accurate. The same study, on the bright side, showed dedicated public servants to be more altruistic and willing to help others.
The study, performed from 2004-’05 by Robert Dur and Robin Zoutenbier at Erasmus University Rotterdam, took the form of a simple questionnaire. Survey participants were asked to respond to statements such as “I see myself as someone who is lazy” using a numbered scale with 7 being “Applies to me perfectly,” and 1 being “Does not apply to me at all.” Other questions in the survey asked how important it is to “be there for others” and also covered some political views. While the self-reported nature of the survey calls the study into question—wouldn’t everyone report themselves as more altruistic?—the data is hard to deny.
A one-unit increase in reported laziness or altruism on the survey’s seven unit scale translated to a one percent increase in the likelihood that person worked in the public sphere. While that’s not a staggering number, across an entire population, one percent is a lot of people. Also, the combination of laziness and altruism ups one’s chances of working a government job from 1 in 5 to 1 in 3.
It would seem the work of Dur and Zoutenbier shows an irrevocable link between laziness, altruism and public work. So don’t get too angry waiting in that glacial post office line; science says the workers, as much as they really want to help you, can’t avoid being lazy.