Lights Out Syndrome: American Business Under Siege!

Though little-discussed and even less understood, Lights-Out Syndrome (LOS) is becoming more and more recognized as a crippler of American industry.

We’ve all known co-workers who seem to lose attentiveness during an otherwise stimulating work day. Perhaps we’ve even experienced this phenomenon ourselves. Occasional attention lapse is common – and in many cases – actually beneficial to the average employee.

However, when these “mental time-outs” become regular and predictable (e.g., every day at 4 PM), the employee may be suffering from Lights-Out Syndrome.

LOS has become such a problem that even The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has taken notice. OSHA has proposed Standard 29 CFR 1999.999 covering LOS in the workplace. (Feel free to read the Standard yourself, but be forewarned: it may cause LOS-like symptoms. Better to just stick to my handy synopsis.)

The key requirements of the proposed standard are:

  • All employees with LOS must be identified and stigmatized.
  • Within 30 days of identification (or the beginning of the stigmatization process, whichever comes first), the affected employee must be terminated with extreme prejudice.
  • Employees who do not have LOS but are recognized by management as lazy and/or prone to attention-deficit problems (“Slow Freight Disorder” and/or “Pretendinitis”) should be put on double-secret probation within 10 working days of identification.

As the person responsible for every single move your ingrate employees make, it’s important for you to take three steps to address this potential workplace calamity.


The first step is to determine if any Lights-Out Syndrome sufferers exist in your workplace. But before you can do that, you need to understand exactly what LOS is. So, I guess that’s the first step. Okay, now we’re on track.

Anyway, what exactly is LOS? Scientists believe that it has its roots in faulty genes; however, in some cases, the disease may become apparent only after the poor soul has been forced to manage a long, complicated project involving reams of paper, multiple drafts and egotistical managers.

Though research money has frankly been pretty scarce, this much is known:

  • LOS occurs a lot more often than you think.
  • There is no cure.

How do you know if that good-for-nothing clock-watcher is just lazy, or is suffering from LOS? Simple: look for the warning signs:

  • Sudden, total loss of concentration, especially during meetings.
  • Predictable onset of occurrences, such as every day at 4 PM.
  • Inability to answer even the simplest queries, such as “What the hell’s wrong with you?”.
  • Disinterest in food (especially Pop-Tarts, even raspberry).

Though many of your so-called “workers” may seem at first glance to have LOS, they may in fact be simple loafers. Here’s how to tell the difference:

Lights-Out Syndrome is part of the Narcolepsy family of diseases, and care must be taken to differentiate between LOS and similar maladies, such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Here’s a handy guide:

Narcolepsy: Subject suddenly and without warning falls into a deep sleep.

LOS: Subject suddenly and without warning falls into a stupor.

ADD: Subject suddenly and without warning cannot focus on anything for long.

Bombed: Subject suddenly and without warning alternates between singing love songs at full volume and sobbing uncontrollably while begging to be allowed to call up high school sweetheart.

Reprinted without permission from ”What’s The Deal With LOS?”; Dr. Edward “Fast Eddie” Bartuska, July 2009 Ed. of Southern Missouri College Journal of Modern Nut Cases

Just how common is LOS? More specifically, how many of the layabouts in your workplace actually have Lights-Out Syndrome? Hey, how would I know? You work there–why ask me?

Oh, all right…if it will help, here is a nifty chart that shows common rates of LOS versus plain old dawdlers:

There, are you satisfied? Now keep reading and quit wasting my time!


Once you have identified true LOS employees and separated them from the common malingerers, what action do you take?

For once, the proposed OSHA Standard is crystal-clear. According to OSHA, when an LOS employee is identified, you must:

  1. Stigmatize The Employee
  2. Terminate The Employee

Stigmatizing the LOS Employee

OSHA requires that all LOS employees must be thoroughly and completely stigmatized. This process must begin immediately upon identification, unless it interferes with lunch, coffee breaks, or reading the National Enquirer.

If you’ve risen to a position in your organization where this kind of program is your responsibility, I trust that you have a good working knowledge of stigmatization techniques. But just in case you’ve gotten a little rusty, here are some that experts find to be successful with LOS employees:

  • When LOS warning signs are spotted, point at the employee and say in a loud voice, “Hey, are you high?” or “Earth to (NAME)!”
  • Immediately yell “Fire Drill!” at the top of your lungs and watch the fun
  • Give the employee a “hot foot”. (See my “Fun With Fire” program for step-by-step Hot Foot Instructions.)
  • Attach a “Kick Me” sign to employee’s back.

Complete stigmatization can take anywhere from seconds to days, depending on your skills and the relative consciousness of the employee. But as a rule of thumb, continue until you get bored.

Terminating the LOS Employee

Once you have achieved complete stigmatization, the next step is to terminate the employee.

For once, the law is on your side. You can dump this waste of space without so much as a second thought. So have fun with it! Make ’em squirm! Cut off their benefits at a stroke! Throw them on the employment ash heap!

Here again, I trust that by now you have your own favorite methods for terminating an employee. But because you’ve got OSHA to blame, why not be creative? Try some new and potentially painful termination methods! Use this opportunity to grow as a manager and show the big bosses that you have what it takes to get that corner office on Mahogany Row!

The only guideline to keep in mind is to ACT SWIFTLY! Don’t waste time agonizing over penniless dependents or possible psychological ramifications. As the shoe people say, “Just do it!”

IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP: You may want to consider the following when preparing to terminate an LOS employee:

  • Is the employee a relative of someone in top management?
  • Does the employee have a handgun?
  • Has the employee ever worked at the Post Office?
  • Has the employee expressed sympathy for Tonya Harding?

If you answer “Yes” to any of these questions, you may want to flaunt the OSHA regulation and merely foist the employee off on a supervisor that has been bugging you. Or transfer them to the Training Department.

The Exit Interview

An important—but often overlooked—part of termination is the Exit Interview. Keep the following in mind and you can’t go wrong:

  • When planning, remember the three letters that define a successful Exit Interview: C-Y-A.
  • Always conduct Exit Interviews late on Fridays at the end of the month. This ensures that the employee’s weekend will be ruined, and increases the chance that the mortgage payment will be due soon.
  • If for some reason the LOS employee comes out of his/her stupor long enough to question the termination, refer them to the middle finger of your right hand and the OSHA standard. You may want to comment that “This has nothing to do with me…it’s the law!”
  • Don’t forget to attach that last “Kick Me” sign as you give them that friendly pat on the back at the end of the interview.


By training all employees to recognize LOS and its employment repercussions, you can go a long way toward keeping those ungrateful ne’er-do-wells you call a workforce in line.

Though it’s true that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, we’re talking about people here (unfortunate, because flies work harder). And in order to motivate people, nothing works like a clear, well-defined threat.

Your training should cover the following points:

  • The Warning Signs Of LOS
  • Stigmatization Methods That Can Be Expected
  • Termination & What It Means To You

Keep track of all LOS training by completing an LOS Training Record, and keep those records in an unmarked box way in the back of the warehouse, just in case some snoopy OSHA inspector comes around and can’t be bought off with some cheap wine or lunch from the roach coach.

By following these simple steps, you can address the rampant LOS problem, as well as killing a little time while looking busy in case your boss decides to get off his dead butt and stick his ugly bald head into your office.

And most importantly, you can help everyone understand the truth in the old bromide: “You snooze, you lose.”

Today’s Fact-Cetera

The term “100% Natural” on food labels signifies absolutely nothing.

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