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How to Confront a Co-Worker Who's Lazy

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Watching a lazy co-worker underperform day in and day out can be annoying. But if the boss is okay with the behavior, and it doesn't affect your workload, the co-worker’s issues are really not your problem. It does become your business if a colleague’s laziness impacts your ability to perform your job. A frank discussion about roles, responsibilities and teamwork should be initiated, and brought to the boss, if necessary.

Explain Your Needs

Talk to your colleague in private and frame your conversation so you’re talking about your problem, rather than her problem. For example, you might say, “Janice, I can’t do my job and circulate the newsletter proof until I get your final edits, and the deadline for you completing them was yesterday. Where do we stand?” Regardless of her answer, send out an email updating the status of the project and copy the appropriate parties affected by the lazy co-worker, such as people waiting to finalize the proof for printing. Don’t blatantly point to your co-worker's laziness or single her out as the problem. Simply relay the information in an objective, non-judgmental way. You might write, “Janice is editing final proofs this afternoon and will give them to me for circulation tomorrow.” If Janice doesn’t follow through, repeat the same process, and copy your boss when final deadline is looming.

Don’t Do Her Work

It can be tempting to do a lazy colleague's work just to get it taken care of and move on. But if you do that, you're not fixing the problem. A lazy co-worker is likely to become even lazier if she knows you’ll ultimately do her work just to alleviate the frustration of dealing with her. Instead, focus on doing your own job to the best of your abilities. Don’t volunteer for or accept work from a lazy colleague, especially someone who has a history of foisting her work off on others. Confront her if she pushes. For example: “Sorry Janice, I have my own work projects to complete, I can’t do yours as well.”

Offer Help

In some cases, a co-worker who appears to be lazy might be recovering from an illness, going through personal problems or even struggling with time management issues. This is particularly true for once dependable employees who suddenly fall behind on their work. While you don’t want to take over someone else’s job responsibilities, you can offer help. Provide encouragement by saying something like, “I know it can be tough to juggle so many projects at once. Can I help you come up with an organizational system or deadline calendar to help you?” Again, don’t do the work for her unless there are extenuating, short-term circumstances. Focus on providing the tools and guidance to help her help herself.

Talk to the Boss

Ask your boss for help if your efforts still don't fix the problem. You might say, “The newsletter is three days behind schedule because Janice hasn’t proofed it yet. I’ve asked for a status report each day, and while she assures me she’ll do it, I don’t have it in my hands yet, and we’re supposed to go to print today. How would you like me to proceed?” This approach puts the onus on your boss to handle the situation. If he asks you to do the work yourself, you have the option of complying and hoping it doesn’t become a pattern. Or you can refuse and run the risk of alienating your boss. Consider providing options, like, “I can do Janice’s proofing today, but that means my brochure project will have to be pushed back, and that’s supposed to be presented at tomorrow’s board meeting. Which do you prefer I do?”