how to deal with a lazy coworker

featured-on-usnIf you’ve ever had a coworker who spends the day playing on Facebook, shopping online, or otherwise goofing off while work goes undone, you know the extreme frustration that can come from working with someone who doesn’t pull their own weight. That’s doubly true if you end up picking up some of their work on top of your own.

At U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about six steps to dealing with a lazy coworker without resorting to shouting, dirty looks, or locking them out of the office. You can read it here.

{ 73 comments… read them below }

  1. Random Reader

    This is exactly what I needed to read- I’m dealing with a couple of lazy coworkers right now. Even though they don’t affect my work a lot, I’m at bitch eating crackers status with them. It’s really easy to become frustrated and apathetic that they aren’t gone at this point.

    1. Adam

      “…bitch eating crackers status…”

      The mental image of this is so funny I’ve got to know, where does this come from?

      1. Allison

        It’s the idea that you’re so annoyed with someone that every little thing they do bothers you. If they’re eating crackers, you see them and think “look at this bitch eating crackers, grumble grumble!”

        1. Karowen

          Oh, I was thinking more that Random Reader was angrily eating the crackers at the person. Which is how I deal with it. Also, it’s possible that s/he meant “crackers” as “insane.”

          1. Adam

            Allison’s description makes the most logical sense to me, but the idea that you can angrily eat crackers at someone is too funny for me to let go.

          2. Kelly O

            I have a circle of friends for whom the phrase “her cheese slid off her cracker” means losing it.

    2. LBK

      Same – I actually organized a Come To Jesus meeting with my 2 coworkers today since my manager hasn’t been helpful in getting this addressed at all. If he won’t hold them to high standards then I guess I’ll have to do it, and even if I can’t really hold them accountable or fire them for poor performance I can certainly be a pain in the ass until they’re working at full capacity again.

        1. Mandi

          Same here. You’re not their manager. I would be pretty irritated if a non-manager coworker scheduled a “Come to Jesus” meeting with me and tried to manage me. I’d be having a word with *your* boss about stepping on toes…

          1. AMG

            In my group, I could actually do this depending on what was going on and how I handled it. That’s why I’m curious about the response and outcome.

            1. AMG

              Yep. And not just for anything, anytime or I would get the talking-to next. But in some cases I am expected to.

    3. Karowen

      Ditto! It has been better recently but there are definitely still days when I need to take a moment and remind myself that it’s not the end of the world – And that I’m highly valued for a reason and that I need to maintain my level of awesome rather than sinking to their level.

    4. ClaireS

      The fact that you even recognize that you’re at b- eating cracker stage shows great self awareness! So many people don’t even recognize that’s a thing.

    5. Windchime

      I’m totally at bitch-eating-crackers status with my lazy coworker. I need to get over it. I think I really need to take Alison’s advice and try to determine how much is irritation and how much of it is actually me being affected by Lazy Bones’ inaction.

  2. HM in Atlanta

    I must second not picking up the other person’s slack. This is one of those areas where if you do it too often, it can be seen as part of your job. When you finally start to push back, a slacker manager will start using phrases like “team player” and “haven’t been problems before, you just need to pitch in now.” It’s in the same family of weirdness as working too many hours to meet unreasonable deadlines. When you do it for years, it becomes part of the expectation. When you have to push back, people just don’t understand. (Or don’t want to understand, because then they have to deal with managing the workload or the lazy coworker, and too many managers don’t want to do that.)

    1. EngineerGirl

      Oh, I’ve the “we’re all on the same team” excuse before. To which I replied that if I’m rowing, the other team members shouldn’t have their feet on the gunnels. It didn’t stop until I told my manager I wasn’t going to work OT to compensate for them not working during regular hours. And then I went home at 7 pm instead of 10 pm. The lead tried to make me feel guilty but I was able to show that all my assignments were done, as well as all my team members.

      1. Celeste

        My attitude is, I’ll take on their work when I also get their salary in addition to my own.

    2. Jennifer

      Well, if I don’t do their work fast enough, I get people e-mailing me to do it. And I have to. One way or another I end up doing it or correcting it when they screwed it up, so I might as well do it. (And it already is part of my job.)

      I have been told to not do my coworkers’ work any more–now there’s over 500 records that haven’t been done yet. OVER 500. I would bet a billion dollars that at some point I end up having to do all of it ANYWAY.

  3. Michele

    I had this at an old job where myself and another colleague were assigned to help a fellow editor with preparing her sections. My boss saw this woman constantly running around and chitchatting and would say this to our publisher about us having to pick up her slack. Ironically, the woman would nitpick our work. I think the real reason we stopped having to do her sections was because she kept complaining how we were doing and management told her, if that’s how you feel, do it yourself.”

  4. The Other Dawn

    I dealt with this at the beginning of my career. At the time I just enabled them by doing all the work, but I didn’t really know any better. I got great reviews but management never did anything about it and it was a total morale killer. Nowadays I’d be like, “WTF?!”

  5. Lillie Lane

    There are, unfortunately, a lot of lazy coworkers out there. However, I’d like to add that if your coworker normally is productive but starts getting “lazy”, there may be something deeper there. For example, my productivity plummets in cases where I’m dealing with situational depression. I probably seem lazy to others, but I’m also dealing with paralyzing anxiety and toxic thoughts.

    1. The Other Dawn

      So true. There can be many reasons why someone is “lazy.” I used to be really productive and now that I’m in a job I’m unhappy with, I hate to say it but I’m a total slacker. I do things when I really have to, not when I’m supposed to. I do enough to get by and am barely on time with things. I hate it, but I can’t seem to pull myself out of it.

      1. Lillie Lane

        Sorry to hear you are dealing with this. Wish I had some advice, but when I was in a similar job situation, my therapist told me the best thing to do was to get out of the job… made it more depressing, but at least you know some things are beyond your control.

        1. The Other Dawn

          I agree. I was in my last job for 17 years and made the wrong decision about taking this job. After I took the job I made an appointment with a psychologist I knew because I wanted an objective opinion. She said the same thing: get out. It would lead to me wanting to eat all the time because I’m miserable and I could gain all the weight back (I has weight loss surgery). She was right. All I want to do is eat to escape and help me procrastinate. It’s awful.

          I hope things get better for both of us.

          1. C Average

            Me, too.

            I’m also a member of the “I went to a psychologist to get an opinion on whether I’m crazy or my job is” club.

            Best of luck to all of you in your efforts to escape!

    2. Meg Murry

      Yes, I was trying to find a way to say this as well.
      Also, if your co-worker starts coming in late, leaving early or taking long lunches, its possible that they are dealing with a medical or family situation and are using FMLA. It is none of your business beyond discussing with your boss how to re-prioritize if you have suddenly been handed some of your co-worker’s duties.

      I worked with a nosy co-worker who liked to comment about who was taking a long lunch, who came it later than usual, etc. She made a snarky comment about a co-worker suddenly starting to take long lunches or leave early, and finally someone told her that it was due to the co-worker leaving early for her chemo treatments. Miss Nosy finally stopped with her comments after that, but it was pretty irritating that it had to get to that level before she backed off.

    3. C Average

      Yep, came here to say this.

      There have been times I was unproductive at work. Here are some of the reasons it happened:

      –I was lazy. (Yep, it happens. Acknowledging that right off the bat. The internet is fun and ever-present. It’s sometimes hard not to succumb to that vortex of temptation as an alternative to actually doing my work.)
      –I had so much to do that I was paralyzed by it. I didn’t know where to begin, so I didn’t begin.
      –I had been working so hard for so long that I was just burned out beyond all reason. I needed a rest. Fortuitously, I needed hip surgery and had to take some time off. I was much more productive after that forced vacation.
      –I’d received conflicting instructions and didn’t know whom to obey or how to go about sorting it out. (It was complicated and political and involved hierarchies and power structures far above my pay grade.) Until someone gave me what looked like an unequivocal green light, I was frozen in place.
      –I knew I was about to get a huge, life-eating assignment that would last for months. I was goofing off a bit because I knew I was about to enter a three-month stretch of 70+ hour work weeks.
      –I had what felt like an absurd make-work assignment. I knew it was pointless and would die on the vine. I was struggling to find the motivation to just get it over with.
      –I had been asked to do something far beyond my skill and training. I didn’t know how to do it. I was afraid to ask for help.
      –I had something personal going on that made it feel impossible to engage with my work. I was trying to keep myself together.
      –I was overcaffeinated, poorly rested, coming down with something, or had some other physical thing going on that made focus very difficult.

      1. E.R

        Yeah, I’ve been affected by almost all of these as well. I really admire people who haven’t been, if they do indeed exist!

      2. Red

        I’m comforted knowing that other people also sometimes face the same productivity roadblocks. I’m at one right now (burnt out, bored, little work coming in, and one make-work assignment). Time to put the big girl panties on and finish the task… Ugh!

  6. Liz

    I love this advice. I would love to see a follow up with advice for when your coworker slacks and you HAVE to pick up their work. Not in the “boss ordered me to” kind of way, but more in the “customer will be here in 15 minutes and coworker doesn’t even have a plan, much less any materials ready” kind of way. I work somewhere that offers birthday parties and day camps, along with other programming. My coworker has a bad habit of ignoring the events she’s not excited to lead until they are happening. Then I have to drop everything and help her so the kids and parents have a great time. If the customers have a bad experience the word will spread quickly and our customer base will go somewhere else; its not a big town! My boss is always pleased to see our “teamwork” and thinks my coworker is a super employee. UGH.

    1. EngineerGirl

      Time to let the boss know what you did to make the unprepared party work. If boss ignores it then let one party fail. The situation won’t get fixed until there are consequences. If you’ve already had the conversation with the boss then the boss is now accountable for the failure, not you.

      1. Liz

        Oh, the boss knows what’s up. This has been going on for years, for dozens, if not a 100+ events. The coworker often works on personal things when she is at work, then goes and shows them to the boss. Boss lady loves to chat about coworkers life. My big big big fear is that when our workload goes down, my hours get cut. I have worked here for 3 years and the hours are all over the board depending on how business is doing. I have been laid off twice from this company before, and then begged to come back when the work is not getting done. I’m actively looking for a new job (almost two years of job hunting and still no job offers), but in the meantime I’m just cranky.

    2. Jennifer

      Honestly, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s nothing that can be done if the boss isn’t interested in doing anything. (Or in my case, my boss tries, but it’s hard to motivate anyone nearing retirement.) If my career is going to suffer because I let a slacker slack, and it is, then I will just suck it up.

  7. alma

    I was once *this* close to blowing my stack at a lazy coworker. My job was to do a quality check, so the more mistakes he made, the more times I had to look at his stuff. That ground my gears enough, but THEN I would always catch him talking on his cell phone. Which just confirmed, in my mind, that this guy would rather be yammering to his buddies than making sure his stuff was correct.

    …Aaaaaand then someone mentioned to me that this guy’s spouse was in the terminal stages of cancer, and THAT’s what all the cell phone calls were about.

    That’s definitely NOT to say that personal issues should be a free pass on getting your stuff done correctly. Performance needs to be managed, regardless. And I’ve experienced the other side of the coin as well — I had a different, horrendously incompetent coworker who had a sob story excuse for everything, and the manager fell for it every time — but in the case of the guy above, I just can’t imagine how horrible I would have felt if I’d charged in with a “Get it together, you lazy jerk” approach.

  8. Mephyle

    I think that it is a disservice to someone who is going through a crisis if they and management hide the existence of a situation totally from coworkers. It is taking the idea “it’s none of their business” to an extreme where it only hurts the person. Who would not be more compassionate if they understand that there is a good and justified reason for lateness, distraction, frequent phone calls? It doesn’t mean that the co-workers have to even know what the situation is, but I think they should at least be made aware there is one.
    I think that way because that’s my culture. I’m aware that the “it’s none of their business” thing exists, but I find it hard to understand why it’s so rigid even under circumstances when only a little bit of openness would make compassion possible.

    1. Swarley

      Well said. This all ties into good communication in the workplace. Personal issues aren’t your coworker’s business of course, but personal problems affecting your performance and/or the ability of your coworkers to do their jobs needs to be addressed. I don’t think it’s inappropriate for the employee or their manager to quietly mention that there’s a personal problem going on, we’re aware that it may impact our productivity, here’s what being done to mitigate the impact on everyone, etc.

      1. Allison

        And this should be done sooner than later, rather than wait until someone angrily calls you out or pulls you into a back room for a serious talk, because if you reveal it then, it looks like you’re either lying or using the problem as an excuse for not trying – plus at that point they may be too pissed to care what’s going on. Addressing it up front and letting people know you’re trying to minimize the impact will definitely prevent things from getting bad.

    2. Bend & Snap

      My daughter is having a health crisis and the only people who know are on my team. It’s private and I’m not going to blast it all over my workplace.

      Having people know all your personal business rarely turns out to be harmless.

      1. Swarley

        I’m not saying (nor is Mephyle, I believe) that the employee going through a personal crisis is obligated to share the details of said personal crisis with everyone at the office. I am saying that if your crisis is impacting your performance and I’m your manager, or even if I’m a coworker and it’s impacting the ability to do my job, I need some sort of a heads up as to what’s going on with your work so I can effectively do my job.

        1. Bend & Snap

          Sure. My manager knows. My coworkers do not. My work is getting done, but my schedule has changed.

          1. OhNo

            It sounds like what Swarley and Mephyle are suggesting would be more along the lines of your manager giving everyone a pre-emptive heads up about the changes – like “Bend & Snap is going to be making these changes to her schedule for a personal reason, so don’t be surprised if you don’t see them in the office at their usual time.”

            Which honestly sounds like a good idea, but I’m not sure how I would feel if I knew they were talking about me. Even if the manager doesn’t give out any details, the way they say it might imply certain things, or my coworkers might assume certain things, or everyone might suddenly they are my best friend and they -deserve to know- what horrible thing I am going through.

            1. Mephyle

              Exactly. As I said explicitly, “It doesn’t mean that the co-workers have to even know what the situation is, but I think they should at least be made aware there is one.”
              I suggest that having to fend off some prying is not likely to be more disagreeable, or at least not to have worse consequences, than being written off as lazy and unproductive.

    3. LCL

      Yes times one million. Part of my job is to arrange our schedule; just telling me that you will be out for awhile isn’t much help.

  9. Bend & Snap

    I have a coworker who’s super lazy but also incredibly proactive about avoiding work/making sure someone else takes on assignments. The girl can hustle when there’s a project pending and she doesn’t want to do it. Not sure how to handle her there.

    I’ve tried pinning her directly: “Mary, do you want to take on A and B, and I’ll do C and D” and she always straight up declines.

    1. Emily, admin extraordinaire

      Stop phrasing it as “Do you want to.” Of course she doesn’t. Instead, say “you’re responsible for A and B, and I’ll do C and D.”

      1. Kelly L.

        I’ve probably told this story before, but long ago in one of my restaurant stints, we were all really sarcastic with each other. I had one supervisor who would always phrase instructions as “Kelly, do you want to go slice tomatoes?” and I, knowing full well he meant “do you want to” rhetorically, would reply “Well, no….but I will” with a grin, and then I’d go slice the tomatoes. You’ve really got to know your audience, though!

        1. AdAgencyChick

          Ugh, my father does this and I hate it. “Do you want to wash the dishes?” “Do you want to make dinner?” (I don’t live at home, btw. This is just him trying to get everyone else around him to do his chores.)

          It took me a long time to be able to answer, “No, I’d rather not.” I think it hurts him to say please.

    2. Not So NewReader

      You may have to say, “Mary, it’s your turn at A and B, now.”
      When she balks, simply say that you or everyone has had a turn and now it is her turn.

      I have said to people, “This is what the job is. I don’t like doing A and B, either. But I do them. I am not asking you to do anything that I don’t do.”

  10. anon in tejas

    I have had lazy co-workers in the past. Some are simply not motivated to do the work– or they see the work as a static thing that needs to be done, and should be done at the last possible second with the least attention to detail.

    Also, I have experienced the 2.0 lazy co-worker. The co-worker appears to be SUPER BUSY ALL THE TIME and has to tell EVERYONE why they are so busy, but they are handling less or less effectively than everyone else in their position– and then make mistakes, etc. These ones are a little harder to deal with, because they keep telling you that they are so busy, so it appears that they work really hard.

    1. Not So NewReader

      “That’s funny. It looks like you are just standing there, telling me how busy you are.”

      grr. When I am busy, I do not have time to explain to other people that I am busy. Fortunately, they can kind of figure it out themselves more often that not.

  11. Dasha

    I worked in an office once where my position was the only one that was consistently very, very busy. All of my other coworkers would slack off, surf the internet, joke, chat, etc. It was horrible for my morale!!!

  12. Scott

    At the risk of getting flamed, I’m going to say that I am a former hard worker who has now become your lazy co-worker and I will tell you why:

    1. I found out that a new hire who I had to train was given a higher salary than me.
    2. When I was working nights and weekends to get the extra work done, I got great performance reviews but was told there was no money in the budget for a raise and no position in which to promote me.

    Now, I just come in, do my job, and leave. I also use all of my PTO and am currently looking for another job (on the dime of my current employer–very passive aggressive, I know!)

    1. Mephyle

      Are you really a lazy worker? You say “[I] do my job.” Do you do less than your job, forcing your co-workers to pick up the slack? Do you do inferior work so that they’re obliged to correct your errors as well as doing their own work?

      1. Scott

        I do my job, but no longer volunteer to do anything above and beyond like I did before. I don’t do inferior work, or shunt it off to others, because my work is highly visible to the general public and *that* is going to be my calling card for a better job very soon but, again, I don’t take on the extra projects as I did in the past.

        1. krisl

          You don’t sound like a lazy co-worker to me. The lazy co-worker who irritated me most didn’t do his job. Some of his projects became emergencies, and management asked me to deal with those. Very frustrating when I have to work harder because someone isn’t doing their job. You’re doing your job though.

    2. Anon Accountant

      Same here and I agree 100% with everything you posted. Add in a slacker coworker was promoted over you and received a raise to go with the promotion and you were denied a raise. But the new hires that just graduated college with no experience when you have 6 years experience are being paid more than you and you almost wonder what’s the purpose of going the extra mile.

  13. anon for this

    We had a temp (hourly) come on to help us with our backlog, doing the same work I’m doing. This person is now working about 30% of the time. Hell no am I going to be doing far more than my fair share because this person wants to be on or play with the phone, so I’ll play the game as well. Besides, the ridiculous phone conversations are so loud I can’t concentrate. The backlog was caught up to a long time ago, said temp is still around. Nothing will change.

    1. Just Visiting

      Have you tried just shoving a pile of work at her? Would she react badly to that, or is she the kind of person who needs either a supervisor or coworker to tell her what to do? This is certainly not ideal, she should show initiative, but I kinda wonder how she’d react if you plopped work on her keyboard and said “get to steppin’.”

      I’ve been a lazy temp, but in those cases it’s been because I was hired to, say, do a ton of data entry and when the data entry ended… they still didn’t pull me. It is frustrating! In one of those jobs I didn’t want to be hired on and my recruiter knew that, but I still lingered on for Three. Months. You don’t want to complain too loudly because hey, steady paycheck. But it’s still frustrating to see people staying late to work on TPS reports and know you can’t help them, and meanwhile you’ve been playing on the Internet for seven hours. I’m sure there are some people who enjoy doing this kind of thing, but I did not.

  14. Jennifer

    In my case, there is one lady who is an extreme early bird (wakes up at 3 a.m.) and she pretty much goes brain dead, blurry eyes, can’t see (makes me worry about her driving) after 3 p.m. She would be much happier working from 6-3 or even 7-4, but flexible hours are not allowed here. I believe she does some work when she comes in at 7 a.m., but she pretty much does nothing but play games after 3 and there really isn’t anything that can be done about that, more or less. She’s nearing retirement so not much is going to motivate her. And to be fair, she works fine before her brain expires. And nobody wants her to make more errors. But still, I’m scrambling to get stuff done and she’s playing some casino game….grrr.

  15. Jimmy

    What happens when the lazy co-worker is your boss and is a poor planner at everything. Have spoken to HR and they looked into it . Had her boss come for 2 days to talk to everybody on the team. It still continues still this is the 3rd time they have done this at 3 different locations…

  16. Fed Up with Lazy people

    I have found myself in a quite a pickle. I was hired at a place where from the first day I realized that professionalism was not their strong suit. The first day, I was ready to go and was expecting my new co-worker, whose position I inherited when she got promoted, to give me at least an idea of the big picture and what she does mainly. Instead, got instructions on timesheet and then told to surf the internet now. I have been sitting here and bugging her to give me work, but she has not only been hoarding the work, but she has been sleeping on it, literally! She takes a good 5 hour nap daily before leaving to go to her other job! No joke she sleeps and even snores and won’t do the work. She also yells and curses at the supervisor, who laughs it off, and protests saying she will son’t do the work and everybody laugh it off!
    Then came the day where, an email was sent instructing me to cover a meeting, which is not one of my tasks, because “she is horrible at taking notes”. And this is while she is sleeping! I put my foot down, and now no one is talking to me, literally! Even for work purposes. The managers and supervisors all know she sleeps they even joke around with her about it. She is protected and will never get fired, instead she gets people she doesn’t like fired. I quit because I honestly don’t know how to handle this one!

  17. Slackers suck

    I’m dealing with a lazy co-worker and it is beyond frustrating. I am trying to stop letting it bother me, but it is hard to just get over it. On one hand I’d say that it doesn’t directly affect my work, but on the other hand, it does affect my group as a whole because he will literally grab client emails (we work out of a group inbox) and then not answer them. So, it makes my group look bad because we are not responding to client emails in a timely manner. Also, it is affecting my whole group because we all know that this co-worker does next to nothing and it lowers everyone else’s morale. I mean, why should we all keep going above and beyond when this guy is doing nothing and still collecting his paycheck?

    I still do more than my fair share of work in order to make myself look good, but I am not going to go above, above & beyond. The worst part is that everyone in my group has complained to our manager about this co-worker and still the manager has not done a single thing about it. It is very frustrating. We get stats pulled on how many emails each person does each month and his numbers are ridiculously low and still the manager does nothing about it and this has been going on for almost a year now. I do more than double the amount of work he does, yet I sure don’t get paid double his salary. It makes me feel like a sucker.

  18. Lizzie

    You know how you hear about someone being pushed in front of a train? I used to think the pusher was a horrible person but now I give them the benefit of the doubt: maybe that was their stupid, lazy coworker they pushed so really, can you blame the guy?

  19. Brendan Caffrey

    Lazy British workers hold back economic growth?

    Much has been made of the low level of British productivity recently. But what is productivity? There is little agreement among economists of how it should be defined, and then measured. Perhaps the most common measure is output per hour worked.
    Using this measure the Office for Budget Responsibility (hereinafter OBR) set up in 2010 and used both by the government, and by the Labour Party, estimates that British productivity in 2015 will be about 1.4% higher than in the previous 12 months. This percentage figure is lower than most large European countries, but just higher than Italy. Why so?
    Answering this question is difficult because of all the different elements that go into production; elements that change over time; and the consequent difficulties of measurement. A short list would include levels of capital invested in plant, latest technology, and workers’ skills. Investment is low when there is a recession. This reduces labour productivity. Employers may hoard labour, because of skills already invested in. But if skills are not constantly updated, productivity falls.

    However, sticking with productivity per hour, OBR estimates British productivity will achieve in 2019 year on year growth of 2.1%. This may seem a small increase over 5 years. However, a comparison with the average of other European Union countries in 2013 shows British productivity was much higher than most countries, except Germany, France and Ireland.
    Yet another way of looking at this is to say that British productivity has returned to the level it had in 2008. 2008 was the crisis year when productivity fell in most western economies, because of the financial crisis. On these last two measures the British figures look pretty good. So why all the criticism? It may be a lingering prejudice about lazy workers.

    But many so-called inefficient employers have ceased to exist since 2008. The surviving employers may have workers with much higher productivity than before. The question then becomes where are these productive workers to be found? As the service sector of the economy is larger than manufacturing, they will be mainly here. But they are also in manufacturing.

    So whatever is the cause productivity problems in Britain it is not the existing workforce. If only the trade unions would take note, and publicise this!

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