Working in the Horse Barn With Lazy Jan

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a coworker:

I work at a horse barn and I have a coworker that has been working much longer than I have and at times is my “boss” if my original boss is not around. She is quite lazy when it comes to doing her job. Everyone there does the same type of work no matter if you’re new or not. Frequently through each shift she will disappear for like 20 minutes and sit down somewhere on her phone. No one really says anything because she is bestfriends with the boss. But then she still will yell at people for being lazy even though she disappears every time we’re about to do something hard. So my question is, how do I mention to either her or my boss about trying to get her to be more involved and not disappear when we have to do things that are hard?  Signed– Where’s Lazy Jan

Dear Where’s Lazy Jan?
You say a coworker has developed a habit of hiding to chat on her phone and is missing when there are hard things to do. I assume you mean heavy work such unloading feed or unpleasant tasks such as cleaning the barn. At least this is the way you describe her. You say she is bestfriends with your boss, so much so that she becomes your boss when the real boss is not present. You are annoyed and want her to do her share. Apparently this is a small workplace because you don’t mention more than this one woman coworker.

You expect the Workplace Doctors will provide advice to change this. Our approach is not to prescribe what you should do. Rather it is to encourage you to reflect on the conditions that enable problems to occur and not to see yourself as a victim within the workplace. The fact is you describe no effort you have made to remedy what you think is unfair performance of your coworker. Nor have you proposed options  before you. If you have studied even a few questions we have answered of the thousands we/ve posted, you would be able to answer your question: how do I mention to either her or my boss about trying to get her to be more involved and not disappear when we have to do things that are hard? 

In short you would know how to cope. Lazy Jan will continue her pattern of job performance unless your boss is alerted to her stealing time. Your real boss certainly is not a hands on boss who knows what is going on. Your boss also is missing and is not doing a good job and approves of keeping things the way it is. Your question implies you want language and an approach that would not allow Jan to continue to loaf and not cause you trouble. And you know there is no such language:

  •  Kindly say, “Jan, you are not doing your share of the jobs here. Is that fair?” likely will not be met with a much different response than if you had said it with evident anger. After all she has worked at the horse barn longer than you and is bestfriends with her boss.
  • Either informally or more formally telling your boss that Jan is lazy probably will be seen as tattling.
  • There is no language for you to tell the boss that she/he should manage better and not leave Jan to manage, that will not risk you being seen as a dissatisfied subordinate. Is that a risk you are willing to take? Probably not, if you like horses and working in them in the barn.
  • This sequence of assessing your situation, likely leads you to want the Workplace Wizards to magically give you the courage to voice what you think should be changed or to bite your tongue, or to vote with your feet.

I’ve taken the time to answer your question because I’m sure it is submitted sincerely seeking advice and because it is our hope that what we say will enable workplaces to be collaborative and happy. If you had to answer your own question, pretending you were the workplace doctor, I expect you would come up with a similar sequence. So what have you learned? You should have gained faith in doing what you can to make your workplace one in which you get more feel good moments with the horses and fewer feel bad moments resenting Jan while working there. Now what will you do? Will you use these thoughts to spur you to more creative  ways to communicate and cope? Possibly. Let me know what works or fails.  Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. –William Gorden