my boss is lazy and doesn’t do any work

A reader writes:

I believe that my boss sets a poor example. Our offices are adjoining and during the day I hear her playing video games on her iTouch, making phone calls about mortgage refinancing and car loans, using Rosetta stone software. Sometimes when I stop by her office she has her kindle or ipad open to the latest book she has been reading. She is off every Friday and works from 10-4, at best, most other days. So far this year she has taken 3 two-week “working” vacations.

But nothing can be done because she is a vice president and owns a 3% share of the company. The founder retains about 90% and some other VPs own 1-2% as well. Add to that the fact that her division brings in about 40% of company revenue and accounts for nearly all of our profit, and she believes her behavior is justified.

Needless to say, this does not result in a great working relationship. It’s hard to put in effort for someone who seems to put forth none of her own and who is seldom present. A transfer to another division of the firm is unlikely and I’ve been looking for another job for some time with no success. Do you have any advice on how to deal with this frustrating and demoralizing situation?

Well, there are many, many slackers out there. This one just happens to be your boss.

There are typically two ways people can respond to having this kind of boss: They can either be lazy too, because she probably allows it … or they can ignore the crappiness of the boss and work hard anyway. If you take the first path, you might get to enjoy some rousing computer games during the day, but you’ll squander the opportunity to build your professional reputation and skill set. If you take the second path, you can become known as a hard and competent worker. In fact, because it’ll be so easy to outshine her, you might find that you can build that reputation even faster than if she were actually doing her job. There is sometimes enormous opportunity in working alongside slackers, simply by being different.

And having that kind of great reputation pays huge dividends — even if you aren’t interested in promotions at this company, your reputation is what will get you jobs by word of mouth other places. It’s worth a ton.

And I want to point out something you wrote: “It’s hard to put in effort for someone who seems to put forth none of her own and who is seldom present.”  But remember, you’re not putting in the effort for her. You’re doing it for you. You’re doing it because, unlike her, you are someone who cares about doing a good job and has a work ethic and cares about your reputation and professional advancement. It’s not for her.

And if it makes you feel better, she may have a good job now, but what kind of reputation and respect can she have? Her laziness will limit her. Be glad you’re not like her.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 33 comments… read them below }

  1. Karen*

    I agree about not using the boss' laziness as an excuse to be lazy also, but general power-play dictates that if you outshine the boss, the boss can cut you off (ie, fire you, steal your accomplishments, fluff them off, etc).

    Fine line, to be sure.

  2. Charles*

    Okay, I'll be the fly in the ointment here – Maybe this boss is not lazy, but bored. She clearly has a stake in the company; However, it is only 3 percent.

    Maybe, she has a office so that she can "keep an eye on things." But with only 3% at stake the 90% stakeholder doesn't want to trust her with too much.

    I agree that her behaviour sets a bad example; but could the letter writer follow a third path?

    Yes, try to do good work; but, if the boss is the direct supervisor, try to engage her. Maybe ask her advice on some issues that arise? This way she may become more involved (if that is in fact what the letter writer really wants).

    Also, how much independence does the boss give the letter writer? Perhaps, instead of looking at the boss's "detachment" as a problem it should be seen as a blessing (If one has ever worked for a micromanager such an detached boss is a real blessing)

    Lastly, how much of the boss's interaction with the others does the letter writer see? Perhaps, (and I think this is a very common mistake for employees/staff to make) the boss's job is one that involves more "thinking" rather than "doing"? (that still doesn't excuse setting a bad example)

    Just something thoughts to ponder.

  3. Anonymous*

    I work in a company where the owner is the lazy one, the HR person is also a part owner and barely works. It makes it almost impossible to move forward on disciplinary actions because she is rarely in the office and everything has to be approved by her.
    We've had our last 2 groups of new hires get their insurance late because she forgot to send their paperwork into the insurance company.
    It's extremely frustrating and the lack of concern from the owners trickles all the way down to the lowest level and therefore no one is motivated to do their best unless they have that rare personal work ethic.
    I wish I had a quick answer for the OP, but all I can do is empathize with you.

  4. Kathy*

    Check out the book, "Working With You is Killing Me" by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster. It's got a section in it about working for dysfunctional bosses and some good ways to frame the situation and deal with it. Good luck.

  5. fposte*

    I'm in the "mixed blessing" crowd, as someone who's definitely been in that situation myself. I have indeed found some job satisfaction in defining myself very differently than such a boss, but I also ended up carrying the unit weight–her work and mine. I don't regret it, but it was rough going, and if I did it over I'd be more canny about judiciously turning some not-my-job stuff away.

  6. M.*

    To the OP: You're not alone! It's difficult for me to stay motivated and not feel resentful when I can hearand am *distracted* byGChat "bleeps;" streaming sportscasts; loud, aggressive, and often offensive personal phone conversations and arguments; and more. I am more productive between 12-3pm, while my boss goes to the gym, after he leaves around 4pm, and on the many Mondays and Fridays when he doesn't come in at all because I don't have to fight against all these environmental distractions, not to mention the personal morale-suck of watching my superior goof off and get away with it while I struggle to get all of *our* work done.

    I totally agree with AAM's last two points: you've got to put in the effort for yourself, not for your boss, and it can help to remember that you're in control of your own reputation and you'll be rewarded for it. It also makes me feel better to put myself in my boss' shoeswould I be fulfilled leading my life the way he does? Would I be happy? I would NOT.

    I do as much "managing up" as I can, and I never, ever let my boss take credit for work that I've done. I also get paid for the overtime I put in the carry the weight and I have a reputation as "the girl who is always there when you need her."

    I'm also looking for a new job.

    But on the days when I still feel discouraged, frustrated, and resentful, it's nice to know that I'm not the only one in this position.

  7. Call Center Philippines Idol*

    Don't mind your boss. Just do what you have to do in the company. Finish your responsibilities and yes don't make that your reason to be lazy too. What can you do…she is still the boss.

  8. Anonymous*

    The best is when they work those 10-3 schedules and then reprimand the whole team (master's and PhD level salaried professionals) for not being in their chairs from 8:30 to 5:30. The boss could stay home to have "her wine cellar delivered" but I was not allowed to take a sick day when my partner had surgery.

  9. Cyn*

    I have a situation almost akin to this – and I am also at a loss as to what to do…
    My problem, my boss is also my best friend and my children’s godmother.
    I work hard to try to make her business something she can continue to be proud of. I take a great deal of pride in my work ethic and thought she and I felt the same about the ethics we use in her business… however, lately, she has been completely lacking in the “work” department. It depresses me… I mean, I learned how to do my job from her 13 years ago. Now, I feel she is taking advantage of the fact that if she doesn’t do it, I will because I have no choice but to do it… it can’t be left undone. There are only two people who work here – me included.
    I don’t know how to talk to her about it without her getting mad. She tends to pass the buck on blame sometimes… I need for her to understand, I love her as my best friend, I am not mad (just very frustrated), I am to a breaking point…
    I want things to change. I don’t want to be the catch-all basket anymore.
    She knows I have had 21 surgeries in the last 26 months – and this is not healthy for me to deal with. I have a family and health issues, yet never slack on my job… she is single with no major responsibilities outside of this job… any advice is welcomed.

    1. Cyn*

      Follow-up… I got a new job. Tried to “talk” to her and things went ballistic, with her screaming at me, cussing me, accusing me of poor work ethics, etc. It was a “blame game”, with all of her venom & self-anger turned to me – so I did what was the only rational, logical & self-preserving thing I could do – I became employed elsewhere. After leaving her employment we were able to talk as friends again, but there is still that wound there of her making accusations against my character. I got on with things, but we certainly are not as close as we once were, and we probably never will be again. Just saying – sometimes the only decision you can make to save yourself is to jump in the deep end and swim like hell to safety, even when you’re afraid of drowning.
      Good luck to everyone who thinks these people will change – I don’t think they are going to – it is a psychological issue that none of us are properly prepared for when we come up against these sorts. We expect honor, strength in character, truth, fairness, honesty, loyalty, etc. – – – all of which they are lacking to give to us. It’s best to walk away smiling, knowing YOU did a good job, that YOU carried some standards with you in your everyday work practice, and that YOU are worth MORE than the situation you are in. Change is hard, we fight it – but in the end, it is ultimately for the best… I have no regrets & have never felt better. I wish it for all of you going through the same thing too. :D

  10. Ironic*

    I have a boss who barely takes interest in anything pertaining to the job. Her job is to generate outside sales. she sits in the office, and stares at the computer. When she does “work” she does simple things around. Shee is very dicourteous to the employees many times. And masks her lack of contributions by talking to her boss saying how great things are. Funny is how her boss never asks why isnt she out making sales…These concerns of her lack of interest and her lack of people skills was presented to her boss. They quickly tried to turn the tables and ask what was done to stop her discouteousness, did we sit down & tell her etc. (Of course yes) but to no avail. Basically, her bosses wanted to sweep it under the rug and expressesed the same disinterest. Is it an employees job to tell your boss “hey, take it easy,” you cant talk to your employees that way. Or stop acting like a 2 year old when it gets busy or when she is frustrated.

    Any advise on this?

    1. Anonymous*

      OMG.. I’m dealing with the same thing at my current job. I’m trying to look up answers to how to deal with a crazy boss.. Thank GOD I have a co worker that understands or I would go mental.
      I wish I had a answer for you other then to hang on and maybe they will be fired..

      1. RPCHill*

        Someone please give an answer to this too! I am in the same boat with these guys. The only thing I do is try and ignore my boss as much as possible while i continue to do my job. It is still frustrating mentally and emotionally.

        She’s turned the lights off on me once trying to shut the office down..i was still busy working and I decided to stay at my desk maybe to think she had mistakenly turned the lights off. 30 seconds later i had to grab my phone for the flashlight. That was the breaking point for me and how I lost my respect for her. What she usually does starting at 9 a.m. is look for puppy toys and beds, jewelry, and clothes. It was worse when she was trying to look for puppies trying to show us every single picture she thought was cute and to ask our opinion which looked the best. Perhaps once a week she would mostly be on the phone talking about pawning items or her trying to pay off her late fees on her mortgage. I would be embarrassed to talk such things in public. But, i make much less than her and I do not have any problems. She clearly doesn’t care about her job nor herself.

  11. mike Gov_E*

    LOL @ you. More people ought to look at government jobs. We work, on average, a 6 hour day and get off every other Friday. Most of the day we hold meetings. My boss and I have a contest to see who has the best solitaire stats. I cannot lose my job, and will soon have a nice pension as well, for the rest of my life. If someone does come up with something for us to do, we explain to them that it will take 180 days to complete the paperwork, and then only if a decision-maker signs off on it. Since there is only one or two people willing to make a decision, it will never get done. So, few people bother us. Life is gud.

  12. Anonymous*

    I have to disagree with mike Gov_E. I have worked for the government for over a decade, in various deparments and agencies, and it’s unfortunate that there are some individuals that keep Mike’s schedule. Thankfully, they are few and far between, and most are treated poorly because of their lack of work ethic. It’s true that people are more likely to demoted and transferred instead of being fired quickly, it’s also true that the government does fire people. I’ve done it, so I know. THE BIG SECRET: The employee mike Gov_E describes is more likely to be a CONTRACTOR of the government, that proposes a project will take lots of money and infinite amounts of time, and follow through on that promise by squandering both. I can appreciate the humor in the comment, but disdain the stereotype. A significant number, if not a majority, of government employees are underpaid for their expertise and hours worked, and gladly do it for the opportunity to be a public servant.

    1. Anonymous Also*

      I agree whole-heartedly. I have had multiple positions with public and private sector and see the same trends with good and bad employees in both situations. My current boss is similar to that described above. I take on more work and put in extra hours to make sure our residents and clients don’t suffer because of his laziness. The biggest reason? I expect when I need something from a public office I am treated with respect and a helpful attitude!

  13. cici*

    i have a question my boss just called to say i did somthing wrong and got busy so ihave to call back later but what i done was not bad and i do ten times the work she does i am a manager she is my manager there are things we are suppossed to do that she never does then wants to right other managers up for it what can i say when she calls back

  14. Anonymous*

    I believe you have one person to report to when it’s all said and done and that’s yourself.

    Everyone that I know that is successful long term – works very hard – it’s just that simple.

    1. Anonymous*

      “I believe you have one person to report to when it’s all said and done and that’s yourself.
      Everyone that I know that is successful long term – works very hard – it’s just that simple.”

      While I agree that we ultimately are accountable to ourselves… we do not “report” to ourselves. WE do not give ourselves a paycheck per se, nor do we assign work as we see fit in our work environment. We are talking about WORK here, not LIFE in general. In an ideal world everything work related would be “just that simple”, but I have worked VERY hard for many decades as an employee, as well as an employer – and a difficult work environment (in THIS economic times) is just not constructive. My father taught me to do the same quality of job – whether I was cleaning toilets in the White House, or running it. It’s certainly sage advice worth heeding. :)

  15. Frustrated to the max*

    I work for a practice that is still growing, and doesnt quite know how to do things the right way. They went through 2 different supervisors for my dept after my boss sadly passed away because no one knows this job, nor do they have the time to learn it. It really sucks. It took them a year last time to hire someone to work aside me to get the job done right, and then they left. Now i work alone in a 3 person type of job with a supervisor who spends more time texting her boyfriend, going to starbucks and making personal calls than anything else. Her work ethic sucks.

    I take my work seriously, and constantly work my butt off to stay on track, but its a challenge seeing as its a three person job, and not even the supervisor helps.

    However, she gets praised, while im the workhorse. Ive worked for the company for 7 years. Worked my way up, and then when my boss passed away i was left to do it all. I constantly face scrutiny for not “working at a higher level” which i do, but unfortuneately NO ONE knows the job nor takes the time to understand it.

    Im wondering if i shouldve jumped ship when i had the opportunity.

    My manager and supervisor are close, and its not like I can goto my manager (who doesnt know my job anyways) to say that i need help since the supervisor ISNT helping.

    I really dispise favoritism.

  16. Anonymous*

    I am glad I found this page. I work with the most lazy person in this work whithin the United Naitons. He is drinking coffee all the time and when not he is chating in the corridors. I read the comment above about bosses being thinkers and not necessary doers but some do really exagerate. Even though I believe I do work hard because is the professional thing to do specially when working for the UN but man it is frustrating to have to work long hours every day because your boss is such worm.

    1. Anonymous*

      I also work for the UN and have the same case. My manager is the most lazy guy I have ever seen in my life. It really sucks to work with a manager like that!

  17. Ro*

    Hi, this site makes me feel that I am not the only one with this type of problem. My boss, (the owner) is the worst manager I had ever had in my life. He is on youtube, Ipad playing games, watching videos, transfering us funny emails, never ever he will make a business call, I heard that he comes in, because he needs to fell that he actually control something in his life…He manages us with his emotions and is constanly changing his mind therefore it impacts our job….bad, bad manager! He is an old men and just doesn’ t listen to us anymore, time to go!
    The whole staff is just so fed up with him, that I know for a fact we just come in to collect our paycheck at the end of the week.

  18. J*

    I am really glad that I stumbled upon this post. I too have a lazy boss who is constantly “sick” or “shadowing” co workers. At times I feel like he tries to either make me fail or look bad to other managers. It is nice to know that I am not alone, but crap to think that this is what goes on in so many businesses. How in the heck do these people even receive promotions? They come into the workplace, sit in there offices on the phone with their husbands or wives planning vacation or weekend getaways while the ship is sinking with no regard for issues unless somehow they are at risk of looking bad and then it’s gung-ho for a few days then back to being lazy for a bit more. I can’t wait to be in a leadership role so that I can be everything that my boss isn’t and give my suboordinates a workplace that they enjoy coming to and performing in on a daily basis. God speed to any one of you dealing with this sort of chaos, I truly hope that your situation not only gets better, but pays off for you in the long run.

  19. Anonymous*

    I’m also Thankful that I found this site. I just can’t believe I’m dealing with a BOSS that is so lazy and has the lack of respect for the store she has been awarded . The disrespect that happens on a daily bases is more then I can take. I have returned to work after selling my personal business and took this part time Managment job to give me something to do. Little did I know that inwouldlove the store and enjoy this company as I do.. But one problem the BOSS.. I should have seen it in my interview. She is so lazy and could care less that the staff and products even make it on the floor. Her sales are lacking and .. I could go on and on but find my self getting a headache over all this . I wonder where our regional manger is and wish and pray that they pop in on her to see what goes on.. Thanks for letting me vent!

  20. C*

    I work for the federal government also. My boss is a lawyer, and one of the worse screw-offs I’ve ever seen. She comes in late, leaves early, takes an hour and a half lunch every day, and spends hours in the day reading romance novels, while work piles up on her desk. Also, she chats daily on the phone with her kids, or to other people about her kids. I once listened to a 30-minute conversation with her daughter in which they talked about where they were going to go shopping on Black Friday. She keeps her door pulled to so no one else will see what she gets up to during the day. The ironic thing is, she happily writes other people up for doing stuff she’s guilty of, to a way worse degree. No one monitors or holds her accountable for anything. I would just be happy if someone caught her at it.

  21. Rob*

    Meh… I’m a former hard working employee turned lazy manager. Burn out has a lot to do with this. I still have years of experience and a good sense of when to shine for the big bosses, which keeps me around. Stop getting upset over someone else’s actions (or lack of). Live a life you feel good about and get over judging others. You make good money? I give my good people the best raises I can because I need them to cover for me not doing anything. Not happy with your pay? find another job.

  22. sonie*

    I have the same problem, I work Retail, we just got a new manager & let me tell you she does not work @all, she don’t do anything, depends on our Assistant Manager way to much,other employees follow her by being lazy& don’t give a crap about our store. She is not setting an example for us, all she does is eat in her office & sits in her office all day. She leaves early almost everyday,never finishes her shift, she smokes a lot (ciggs) takes smoke breaks every 15 min, she cusses a lot. I talked to my District Manager, he has done nothing, basically on her side, I talked to HR about her, nothing! I am tired of her & everyone that works their don’t give a crap about the, store anymore. The store is just a mess every day she does not care about anything except herself. I am very tired of her & she needs to get out of her because she is getting free money doing nothing!

  23. Can't take it anymore*

    I went on line to find out how to deal with a lazy boss and found this chat line. First of all, I am appalled at both Mike and Rob. What are you doing on this chat line? Keep your lazy knowitall attitudes to yourself and stop justifying your laziness to those of us who are trying to deal with the likes of both of you in the workplace. I work in Gov. My boss is 70 y/o and needs to retire but he won’t. He won’t because he doesn’t have to do anything all day and gets paid big bucks for it. He’s now earning full SS AND a big paycheck. Bingo! Heck, come in at 10:00 and leave at 3:00. In the meantime, run personal errands with the county vehicle and gas, bring your bills from home and pay them at the office since you have to waste time while you’re there anyway, check out motorcycles and other crap you want to buy on the internet and print out pages and pages of info because of your price checking, and while your at it, print out 365 page manuals for everything that needs fixing in your house then go home and work on it, have your buddies in for lunch and spend a couple hours playing with them, go pick up your wife so she can do her errands on your time with the county vehicle too, buy new personal laptops and ipads and iphones and spend the day setting them up, plan your vacations and run out and talk to travel agents, leave your desk a mess so it looks like you are working on something, leave e-mails that are months old on your computer so it looks like people are dealing with you. If someone actually took a closer look they would see that they are personal e-mails from family members or on products you’re looking to purchase. Cheat on your vacation time so you have even more time off than you already take. Oh, and make sure you BS with me to make sure you are still in good standing and that I’ll continue to cover for you. And look like an idiot at meetings because I have to answer all the questions because you don’t know what the hell is going on in your own office. I used to love my job but since my boss started receiving full SS he unofficially retired. I’ve tried to convince him to retire, that if he’s spending all this time doing personal errands and taking more time off than he gets, to travel around the country and abroad (not in those words exactly) then it’s time to retire. He says he’s not ready. Why would he be ready to retire? Why would he quit his job when he’s getting paid to live his life as if he’s fully retired anyway? He is a prime example of government waste. Of government abuse of taxpayers money. He is why government workers get a bad rap. What irritates me, from what I’ve read on this and other articles, is the only thing I can do about it is quit my job because I can’t stand to be around it. What a shame that the people who are getting the jobs done, who are working hard to keep their offices going, are the ones that have no choice but to leave and the worthless SOB’s that are causing all the riff raff get to stay.

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