What Is a Coaster?

A coaster is an employee with low ambition and low productivity who does just enough to get by. This type of employee is said to "coast" through their duties by doing the minimum amount of work to keep their position.

Key Takeaways

  • A coaster is an employee with low ambition and low productivity who does just enough to get by. 
  • Coasters can cause problems in organizations because they may be less productive, unreliable, tardy, or cause others to feel overworked in comparison.
  • Management and human resources can help alleviate coasting with such practices as hiring people with more ambition and internal motivation, as well as talking with currently employed coasters about creating a more stimulating environment for them.

Typically, a coaster does average work and puts in the bare minimum of effort. A coaster may miss deadlines or be unreliable, continually take the easiest task from a group project, or allow a more productive colleague to do the heavy lifting. Coasting almost always limits someone's potential for advancement and promotions. They can create problems within a workforce because other employees may feel they work harder than the coaster.

Understanding a Coaster

A coaster displays other characteristics that may indicate that they do just enough to get by at work. This person rarely changes their work routine, takes the maximum amount of break time, and leaves promptly at the end of the shift. Managers note this behavior, but they may not be able to terminate a coaster based on this person's lack of enthusiasm for the job. Coasters may exist in any type of employment situation, from office work or factories, to service industries and higher education.

Workers may coast or slack for a variety of reasons. These include a lack of ambition or distractions caused by outside interests or issues. Coasters may feel as though their prospects for advancement within their organization are limited so that any additional effort above the minimum would not be rewarded. Older workers who have reached a comfortable salary level may be more likely to coast than younger, more ambitious employees would be. 

Special Considerations

Fortunately, managers have many tools at their disposal to address coasting or slacking. Companies, institutions, and agencies should look toward efficiency and cost savings to solve the problem of coasters. Human resources departments can identify better candidates by gauging someone's attitude during a job search. The candidate doesn't need to be a workaholic, but firms may consider someone's work ethic (versus their qualifications) to make the final decision on a hire.

Managers and supervisors can employ many tactics to deal with coasters already on the payroll. The simplest way to tackle the problem is to ask questions. Bosses should try to find out what may have happened in a person's life that caused them to start coasting. Have someone's life circumstances changed? Is someone going through a stressful time? How could the job be made more stimulating?

If a coaster is just bored and needs a challenge, supervisors can give that employee a new project, assign a mentor, or have the coaster shadow a colleague to learn different skills on the job. Maybe a coaster simply doesn't know the goals and expectations of the position. Managers might try to invigorate the employee by reviewing what the team member should do while on the clock.

Example of a Coaster

In academic circles, researcher Richard F. O'Donnell–in a paper entitled "Higher Education’s Faculty Productivity Gap: The Cost to Students, Parents & Taxpayers"–labeled senior, tenured faculty members at the University of Texas coasters because these professors taught smaller classes without doing much new research in the field. According to O'Donnell's research, coasters cost the University of Texas more than $3,000 to teach just one student. In 2011, these types of professors only taught an average of 112 students per academic year.

By comparison, the best-performing professors taught 503 students per year while bringing hundreds of thousands of dollars to the university in the form of research grants. These star professors cost the university just $406 to teach one student. Coasters comprised 1,280 faculty members on campus versus just 30 of the stars. O'Donnell cited the employment practices of the university as the major contributing factor for coasters on campus.