How To Handle A Lazy Coworker

By Chris Kolmar
Oct. 20, 2022
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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You log in, open your work assignments for the day, and see, once again, that your coworker has not done their share. You cannot move forward with your assignments, and you feel your workflow interrupted as you contemplate whether to reach out or to just do the assignments yourself.

This frustrating story is a reality that many of us have faced or are facing. Whether or not your experience looks like this one, you had probably experienced a time when a member of your team was not pulling their weight. Lazy coworkers can make our work life a lot harder than it needs to be.

Laziness is a complicated habit to pin down. Some may argue that laziness is not actually something that exists objectively but is simply a judgment we apply to those who we feel are not putting in as much effort as they should.

Whether the judgment is unfair or not, the consequences of someone’s decision to forego their work can often fall onto unsuspecting parties.

Working with a lazy coworker can feel like an uphill battle. We may be saddled with more work than we can handle, or we may just be dreading another day managing another’s unpreparedness.

The state of our work environment does a lot to affect our daily moods, and if you feel a constant disturbance at work, that can have a seriously detrimental effect over time.

However, there are ways you can handle a lazy coworker that can make life a bit easier.

In this article, we rounded up ten of the best tips for handling a lazy coworker and still thriving at work.

Key Takeaways:

  • When dealing with a lazy coworker, be empathetic, communicate professionally, and pick a strategy that meets your professional needs.

  • Tips to handle a lazy coworker include keeping perspective, being communicative, avoiding gossip, and documenting your interactions.

  • Try to address the issue with your coworker first before going to your supervisor.

  • Give your coworker some time to improve before you go to your supervisor.

How To Handle A Lazy Coworker

How To Deal With A Lazy Coworker

  1. Be empathetic and mindful. It is important to keep perspective when dealing with a lazy coworker. before you jump to any conclusions or before you start taking action, remind yourself that you do not know the full story of what is going on in this person’s life. We often attribute “laziness” to people who are struggling to stay afloat if you look below the surface.

    There are so many things a person could be going through that may affect their work productivity: troubles at home, health struggles, depression, ADHD, shifting priorities, or raising children, just to name a few. Try offering some empathy, and do not jump straight to anger.

    While you should not be taking on work that is not yours and dealing with the consequences of someone else’s behavior, remember that a little bit of perspective goes a long way in keeping you grounded.

    Every person is fighting their own individual battles, and it is probably not the case that this coworker is specifically trying to annoy you.

  • Communicate professionally. After giving yourself some space for perspective, a great next step is to prepare for an open conversation with your coworker about the ways in which their workflow is affecting you. You may feel a bit shy or uneasy about this, but it is the kindest, most productive option at the end of the day.

    In this conversation, focus on concrete observations you have noticed rather than abstract generalizations, i.e., “I notice that you have submitted the last five assignments late” rather than “you never submit anything on time.” Explain how this has affected your own ability to do work.

    Approach this conversation from a place of care, keeping in mind that this person may be struggling with any number of issues that ultimately are more important than work productivity. Be willing to resolve this issue with them together, but be careful how you go about this.

  • Pick a strategy. After you have spoke with your coworker, pick a strategy to move forward. You can look for ways to help them with their work, however do not overburden yourself. You do not want your lazy coworker to become reliant on you or take advantage of your.

    After you communicate your needs, you also have the choice to do nothing to help. By communicating, you have done your responsibility and it is up to the coworker to decide whether or not to act on what you have said.

    In reality, you will probably want a strategy that is somewhere between being totally hands-on and totally hands-off. Your relationship with the coworker, both professionally and socially, will likely determine the route you take. For example, if their inaction greatly affects your work, then you may need to pick a more direct strategy.

    Strategies to take include:

    • Offering to periodically meet with your coworker.

    • Providing solutions to specific problems.

    • Staying communicative.

    • Doing nothing.

  • Wait. Whatever strategy you pick, afterwards you want to wait and see how your coworker does. You want to give them the benefit of the doubt and provide them the opportunity to improve.

    However long you wait depends on your work environment, but make sure its long enough to be considered fair by your workplace standards. At the very least, give your coworker two weeks.

  • Address your supervisor. When all else fails, when you feel like you have done the most you can do in a professional manner, address the situation with your supervisor. Do not take it out on the coworker. When addressing your supervisor, make sure to remain professional. Do not be bitter or mean.

    Clearly show how their laziness is affecting your work and show how you have tried to find a solution. For this reason, it is best to document all your interactions with your coworker to act as proof.

  • 8 Tips for Dealing With a Lazy Coworker

    1. Do not pick up their slack.

      If a coworker is momentarily struggling because of a serious issue within their life, it can be a good idea to pick up on some of their tasks, help them with assignments, and generally provide support while they deal with this issue.

      However, if your coworker chronically struggles with adequately completing tasks, picking up their slack can create a terrible cycle.

      If a coworker learns that you will always end up taking over their work for them in a time crunch, they may consistently leave work unfinished until the last second. What’s worse is that if you opted not to have a conversation, they might not even know you are slowly growing to resent them.

      While it can be hard, try not to let them lean on you for support that you are not able to give. There are ways you can actively help, however, which brings us to our next tip.

    2. Offer guidance where you can.

      Instead of offering to step in and do your coworker’s work for them, try offering appropriate guidance on how they can go about completing their task. They may be struggling to complete tasks because they are simply in over their head and unsure of how to best manage their time and workload.

      If your coworker asks for help, give them tips on how to effectively manage their assignments. They may need help prioritizing or keeping track of tasks, figuring out the steps needed to complete a task, or learning how to use the tools of the trade.

      In these instances, a little advice can go a long way in boosting your coworker’s productivity.

    3. Remain as emotionally uninvolved as possible.

      When dealing with an unreliable coworker, it can be easy to feel frustrated or exasperated with their behavior. We may feel they are making our life harder or not acting as a team player. If we hold onto these thoughts and these feelings day in and day out, the misery in our work lives can be amplified.

      To avoid losing your sanity, especially if this has been an ongoing issue, practice remaining focused on your own work. You cannot control this person’s behavior, but you can control your reaction to it.

      So try your best not to work yourself up over this issue, and recognize ways to let go of your concern about this person’s work performance.

    4. Stick to your own values and vision.

      One thing to keep in mind when dealing with unmotivated people is that it can be very enticing and easy to fall into their ways. If your coworker is always finding the shortcut at the expense of quality and never getting dinged for it, you may find yourself wondering whether you should be taking the easy way out too.

      Remind yourself of your work values, the important consequences of the work you do, and the ways in which you want to contribute to a common goal. Also, remind yourself of your work goals. Lazy work may pass by unnoticed, but it’s unlikely that it will help you advance in your career.

      Do not fall into the trap of following along with a lazy coworker, or you may end up increasing your work problems.

    5. Avoid gossip.

      When it comes down to it, gossiping is a pretty immature habit to hold onto. It’s often the case that those who gossip about someone to others will never speak to that particular person about the issue, letting them believe everything is fine while complaining behind their back. Do not let this be you.

      Workplace gossip should be avoided in general, as it is not conducive to a healthy and safe working environment. At the very least, keep your complaints out of the workplace and wait until happy hour with your closest coworker friend. Even then, avoid personal attacks and judgments.

      Gossip is never as effective as going to someone directly and voicing your concerns with empathy. This shows a level of integrity and emotional intelligence.

    6. Keep good documentation to avoid blame for their mistakes.

      Lazy coworkers really start to become an issue when you are getting blamed for their incomplete work. Your boss may notice inadequate work within a team and blame the entire team rather than noticing the weak link.

      If this is happening to you, be sure to demonstrate that you are completing all of your assigned tasks. Write down all of your assignments, deliverables, and due dates, and make it clear that you are doing your assigned work.

      If there ever comes a time when you can’t proceed with your work because you are waiting on your coworker, it may be helpful to let your supervisor know what is going on.

      If you really feel like it’s necessary, keep track of the dates and times your coworker misses assignments, and refer to this documentation if you ever find yourself taking the fall for your coworker.

    7. Maintain a positive attitude.

      It is easier said than done, but a positive outlook can go a long way to improving your day-to-day life. Even if you are angered by your coworker, you are still in control of whether you have good or bad days at work, depending on how you look at things.

      Try to maintain an attitude of gratitude when you can. Be grateful for the parts of work that are going your way, and focus your energy and attention on those things. Even when interacting with your coworker, a positive attitude can be encouraging and motivating for them.

      You have a choice of whether or not to become the grumpy, grumbling coworker.

    8. Involve your boss as a last resort.

      If all else fails, or if your coworker is starting to seriously affect your work performance, it may be time to go to your supervisor. Your supervisor is there to manage issues like these, and when you feel like the job of motivating your coworker is officially out of your pay grade, your boss can step in from there.

      In a calm, collected tone, speak with your boss, whether in person or via email, about how this person’s behavior has affected your ability to work. You can mention the pattern of behavior (especially helpful if you have documentation), or you can stick with the latest issue affecting your workflow.

      This lets your boss know the situation and prevents you from taking any falls on behalf of your coworker. It may also light a fire under your coworker by letting them know that their behavior is not going unnoticed.

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    Chris Kolmar

    Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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