How to Deal With a Lazy Co-worker
Nothing is more frustrating than working with a lazy co-worker. They take long lunch breaks, talk to everyone in the office and scroll on their phone all day. And while you could rat them out to human resources, it probably won’t change their behavior.
However, that doesn’t mean you should give up. Even though it can be infuriating to work with someone who doesn’t work as hard as you, you shouldn’t let their behavior fall by the wayside. As Leigh Steere, co-founder of the Boulder-based management training tool Managing People Better, told Monster, “Follow the rule of three to make sure you're dealing with a pattern and not an incident. If it happens once, let it go; twice, make a mental note; three times, you have to deal with it.”
But is there a correct way to deal with a sluggish co-worker? Should you talk to your boss, do their work for them or quit your job? To get to the bottom of this issue, check out these 16 ways you can deal with a lazy co-worker.
Don’t Let Them Distract You
When you focus on what your lazy co-worker isn’t doing, you may forget to accomplish what’s on your to-do list. Stever Robbins, an executive and personal coach, told Forbes, “We will spend more time focusing on the fact that our colleague isn’t doing their work than it would take to just do it ourselves.” Instead of constantly checking out what your lazy co-worker is up to, tune them out and focus on your work.
Don’t Make Yourself the Victim
It can be hard not to compare and complain about someone who doesn’t pull their weight, especially when human resources hasn’t talked to them. But instead of thinking about how things are unfair at work, reframe your thinking by focusing on your own work ethic. “By pointing out that it’s not fair, we just make ourselves feel bad and the situation doesn’t change,” Robbins told Forbes.
Don’t Emulate Their Behavior
Just because a lazy co-worker is getting away with taking long breaks or personal calls doesn’t mean that you should as well. While it might be tempting to copy what they’re doing, it will only make you look bad, too.
Maintain a Healthy and Happy Attitude
While it can be disheartening to work with someone who doesn’t care as much as you do, it’s important not to have a negative attitude. According to career coach Christina Piombetti in a Ladders story, not maintaining a consistent professional attitude is a common mistake most employees make. Instead, keep your cool and focus on what you can control.
Don’t Gossip About the Lazy Ones
As tempting as it might be to gossip to your work friends about a lazy co-worker, don’t. It’s not professional and it will likely get back to the person you’re talking about. If you have to vent to someone, talk to people who you don’t work with. This will allow you to get everything off your chest without causing trouble at the office.
Take a Break
If their behavior is bothering you, take a break, especially if you work in an open office. According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, work conflicts are more likely to happen in open offices. When you feel tension, go grab a coffee or call a loved one. Do whatever you need to do to calm down.
Don’t Enable Them
The last thing you want to do is finish their incomplete assignments. This will give them permission to proceed to do minimal work, which won’t benefit you in the long run. If they ask for help, politely decline. While you don’t want to leave them hanging, you also don’t want to do their work for them.
Approach Them in a Professional Manner
Before you talk to your superior, connect with the co-worker to get their side of the story. You don’t want to ambush them or speak to them when you’re angry; however, you do want to address your frustration calmly. Be tactful when you approach them with your concerns and only focus on how their incomplete work is affecting you.
Ask Them to Help You With a Project
While you might not be able to directly tell them to get to work if you’re not their boss, you can ask them to help you with a project or a task. Once they’ve completed their task, they could feel motivated to begin working on their own to-do list.
Ask Them Questions
When you’re discussing how you feel and what you would like to see moving forward with your co-worker, this is a great time to inquire about how they feel about this discussion, according to Ladders.
For instance, you can ask, “How can you see us improving this for future projects?” or “What would make things easier for you to better our working relationship?” Being direct and honest with your questions can allow them to be vulnerable with their responses, which can help you both move forward as a team.
Be Flexible and Understanding
Even though you may believe you have the answers to this issue, you don’t want to force a solution onto them. Susan David, the founder of the Harvard/McLean Institute of Coaching, told Harvard Business Review, “What is helpful is to explore different options with the individual.” Remember that you’re both on the same team and looking for a solution to this issue together.
Give Positive Feedback When They Do Something Good
Your co-worker might be lazy because they’re feeling inadequate. One way to navigate this is by providing positive feedback when they perform well. According to the Houston Chronicle, when you reward their positive behavior, they’re more likely to feel noticed and appreciated, which can make them work harder.
Suggest a Better Workflow to Your Manager
If their behavior didn’t change after you talked with your co-worker, then it might be time to think outside the box. Perhaps you can provide a better way to work with them to your boss. This will show your superior that you’re not afraid to tackle a challenge or take the initiative in a difficult situation.
Follow Up With Them
It’s never a bad idea to check on them after having a conversation. This can help you monitor their progress and let them confide in you if they’re having trouble so you can help them out.
However, if you don’t want that responsibility, you can ask them if they have a boss who can track their work in confidence. Joseph Weintraub, a professor of management and organizational behavior at Babson College, told Inc., "It says ‘I want this to work and I want you to feel comfortable; I'm not going to sneak around your back.’"
Let Them Fail
Change can’t happen if you keep coming to their rescue. And if worst comes to worst, the only way they might grow and learn is if they fail. According to a Monster article, you should make sure you document the process just in case your lazy co-worker makes a huge mistake. You can address when you had discussed this problematic behavior with the lazy co-worker with your boss to help them understand the full picture and see how they should proceed.
Give Them the Benefit of the Doubt
Just because they’re not working at the same pace as you doesn’t mean they’re lazy. Maybe something else is going on that is dictating their behavior at work, such as family problems or mental health issues. We never know someone’s full story, so don’t always rush to judge your co-workers for their actions.