Lazy Co-Worker

Question:

We have a small office and we have a co-worker who doesn’t carry her share of the work load. She is very lazy, and we do her job for her. We confront her and she gets real defensive. She will tell you to shut up. She tells lies and that’s just a small portion of the problem. She documents everything we do: If we’re a few minutes late from lunch etc. She writes it down and goes to our boss and uses it, if he confronts her on her behavior. Please Help!!!!

Signed,

Tired of Doing Her Work


Answer:

Dear Tired of Doing Her Work:

First, as you know, this is a supervisory problem. Your supervisor or manager should be the one dealing with this, and you should let him or her know fully about your concerns. You and the others can’t really do anything about it, except be angry and be involved in angry words with her. You’ve found that out already!

I think there are things you can do in addition to that, but all of you who are upset must decide to coordinate your actions and follow through. And, you must ensure that you are working with your supervisor’s approval, not on your own.

I don’t know your work situation, so I don’t know what you can and can’t do, but perhaps you can adapt these thoughts.

1. Don’t give her ammo to use against you by being late or breaking rules. That weakens your position, because it becomes a situation of which person’s bad performance and behavior is worse–hers or yours. That may not seem fair, but that’s the way it is in most workplaces where there are conflicts like this. She may be seen as snitching on you because she is in trouble. But you may be seen as snitching on her because she is reporting you. See how it sounds?

2. Talk to your supervisor, either on your own or with others. Tell him or her that you think it’s time this is solved once and for all. You should be courteous about this and you shouldn’t sound angry or demanding. The more logical and reasonable you can sound, the easier it will be for your boss to view this as a solvable problem rather than a fight that he or she doesn’t want to get in the middle of.

Try this: “I think you know there have been problems for a long time with the way Mary acts and the fact that she doesn’t do her share of the work. If you have ideas for us, we’ll try those. How do you think we should handle this so we can get our work done without this constant conflict with Mary?” Make the supervisor do his or her work. And be willing to listen if the supervisor says you or the others have some issues to deal with too. Work with the supervisor to develop responses to what is happening. If the supervisor doesn’t have ideas, you can suggest some of the ones here.

2. Stop doing any of your co-workers assigned work unless you must do it because of the way your work is allocated. If she leaves something undone,step away and move to something else, and quietly and with a civil tone, ask her to do the work she was supposed to do so you can continue with your own work.

If she is not doing the quantity of work that others are doing, and you can prove it during a work time, go to your supervisor. Tell him the quantity that you have done compared to Mary and ask if he can help you find a way to make Mary do her share.

Or, several of you could go to her and ask her when she will be done with her work so she can move on to the other things she needs to do. If she becomes angry, immediately go to your boss and in a calm tone report her anger and harsh words. Tell him the amount of work done by each of you, to show that she is not working to the same level.

3. A warning: If you do this in a way that is negative or nasty, or if you and the others can be shown to be more of a problem than the co-worker, you will create a big problem for yourself! So, this only works if your boss knows from past experience that you and the others are very dependable, pleasant to deal with and good members of a team. If you don’t have that going for you, you likely won’t be successful at this approach.

4. Consider a differnt approach, if the above seems too tough for the situation. Continue what you have been doing, without any complaining to her. Just do the work, including the work she is supposed to do. But, keep track of it for a couple of weeks so you have something more definite to take to the supervisor. Put all of it in the supervisor’s hands, and back off from action yourself.

If the supervisor doesn’t respond, consider if there is someone above that person to whom you could speak.

5. One thing is for sure: Your first responsibility is to do your own work well, and to obey the rules. You cannot lower yourself to being in a verbal conflict, or not doing work that is rightfully yours to do. But, you can express your frustration and irritation to your boss and ask for help. If you and the others ask correctly, and often enough, it will certainly tend to make your boss think the other employee is more trouble than she is worth.

6. In the meantime, be civil and courteous to the employee. We get many letters from people who say they are shut out of teams and work groups, and that their co-workers hate them for no reason. Your co-worker may feel that way. Consider, as difficult as it is, what her viewpoint must be. Why would she be willing to make enemies of all of you? What might her view be about the work she is doing? How might she feel about the obvious antagonism she sees? Pretend to be her and talk about this from her viewpoint. What logical, reasonable statements would she make about the work situation?

All of us see ourselves as the good guy and others as the bad guys. No one ever writes to this site and says, “I’m an unpleasant person and lazy. As a result no one likes me. What should I do?” Instead they say, “I try to get along, and I work as hard as I can. But there is one group of employees who treats everyone like dirt. What can I do about their mean behavior toward me?”

So, try to see all of this from another viewpoint–including the viewpoint of your boss. How do you think he or she sees the whole picture? All she wants is to get the work done without a hassle. What are the hassles she is seeing, and that frustrate her? That kind of big-picture view is often very helpful.

Clearly something needs to be done. But you need to be working closely with your supervisor to make it happen. Don’t tackle this on your own! Best wishes as you work through this frustrating situation.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.