Handling the Lazy Co-Worker

This has a little bit to do with why I hated group projects in high school. There would be four or five of us assigned to a particular topic, and since I was inevitably the only one who actually cared about our grade, I would end up doing all of the work: the research, the writing, the oral presentation, and the visuals. For some reason, teachers always thought it was funny to group me with students who were already failing the class, and didn’t much mind another ‘F.’

Of course, this situation in the workplace is much more important, because it effects your career as well as your paycheck.

Believe it or not, those students who rode your gravy train through high school and pulled a ‘D’ because of your hard work on group projects eventually graduated and moved on to the work force. In fact, they might currently be sitting in the cubicle next to yours, playing games of Tetris on their computers while you type busily on the report due to your boss in an hour. The report that your co-worker was supposed to help you with.

It happens all the time, in every possible industry. An employee finds other workers who get the job done, and while they sit around and do nothing, the hard workers pick up the slack. Obviously, it isn’t fair, and you shouldn’t allow it to happen to you.

If you take pride in your performance on the job, and you always make sure to complete tasks by their deadlines, then you deserve a pat on the back. In fact, you probably deserve a raise, but since I don’t sign your paychecks, there isn’t a whole lot I can help you with there. In any event, you shouldn’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of by co-workers who are lazy and who don’t care if the work gets done on time, if at all.

Too many people take up the slack of lazy co-workers, covering for them in tight spots and doing more than their fair share of the work. If you are in that situation, its time that you take a stand and stop making up for other people’s mistakes. It isn’t fair to you, and it isn’t fair to the company that is paying two salaries for the output of one. But how do you approach the subject without earning a negative reputation in the office?

1. Talk to the lazy co-worker in private.

As always, it is inadvisable to make a scene in front of other employees. Embarrassing a co-worker can lead to negative consequences that you don’t deserve, and you might be reprimanded by your supervisor. Wait to speak with him or her until lunchtime or a mutual break, or maybe meet for coffee after work. Whatever it takes to get him or her in private is worth the extra mile.

2. Explain your position.

Don’t be overly dramatic about the situation, and don’t embellish, because it takes credibility away from your case. You have a legitimate concern, and you want it addressed, and say just that.

Tell the co-worker why you are upset, and what specific instances you are referring to. Cite dates and projects that might trigger his or her memory, which will also make your position more concrete. Explain that you don’t have time to do his or her work in addition to your own, and that if they don’t start completing their work on time, they will have to suffer the consequences on their own.

3. Don’t threaten, but make it clear that you will go to your boss.

I don’t advise that you threaten your co-worker with “tattling” to your supervisor, but let it be known that you have no problem with issuing a complaint. Tell them that you are very busy with your own work, and that you don’t have time to play games. If they aren’t interested in working it out privately, you will have to seek outside help with the situation.

4. Don’t respond to arguments.

If your lazy co-worker argues with you, threatens you, or makes otherwise negative responses to your claims, end the conversation there. It will do no good to go back and forth on the issue, and you might make the situation worse. Thank your co-worker for their time and for listening to your problem, professionally shake their hand, and walk away. It is obvious that they have no intention of correcting the behavior, and that they aren’t even going to admit that they’ve been wrong. People like that cannot be reasoned with. (Skip to #6)

5. Be congenial.

If your co-worker apologizes sincerely and promises to attempt to correct the problem, then you have probably succeeded! Don’t continue berating him or her for their behavior; thank them for listening, and express your gratitude that you have worked out the problem. Return to business as usual.

6. Talk to the boss.

If #4 is relatively close to what happened, then you have no choice but to go over their head. You should also follow this step if #5 happened, but the behavior never improved. Request a professional meeting with your supervisor, and calmly explain the situation. Again, cite specific dates and projects to toggle your boss’ memory. Never say anything rude or disparaging about your co-worker; speak almost clinically. This is a professional meeting, and it is only about the facts. Employer’s respect the unemotional honesty of their employees, not their hateful remarks.

7. Let things run their course.

If your supervisor values your hard work and desires your services at his company, he will speak with your co-worker about the situation. Contrary to popular opinion, bosses really do pay attention to the quality of their staff’s work, and if you are valuable to the company, they will do what they can to retain your employment.

If things do not improve with your co-worker, you might want to have a second conversation with your supervisor to let him know that the situation has not changed. Whatever you do, do not do your co-worker’s job for him! If your boss asks why work has not been completed, simply explain that you did your part, and show him the proof. You can’t be held responsible for the shortcomings of others.

In the end, you might have to rejoin the job search. Situations like these can grow worse over time, even if you’ve done all you can to rectify the problem. There are some situations that simply aren’t fixable, and that is a sad fact. But take comfort in the knowledge that you acted professionally and did all you could to solve the problem.

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