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Working Smarter with Lazy Coworkers

At some point you’re going to end up with someone on your team who’s less motivated than you. Their energy level is lower than the rest of the team’s — maybe something more like what you’d expect out of a fat kitty laying in the sun. Yup, you’ve got a lazy, good-for-nothing, slacker coworker that’s going to drag your team down on every single project, and for some reason, week after week, the worthless lump of humanity hasn’t been carted off and fired. Is it possible to work with someone who seemingly never works themselves?

Well sure, but you have to be smart about it if you want to keep your sanity — and I’m not talking about sticking M&Ms in his nose while he sleeps, or sabotaging his office chair that he relies on so heavily for mid-morning/noon/afternoon naps (though that’s pretty fun, too).

Be the Bigger Person

I know it’s hard to imagine taking the high road when a certain someone is looking at Kim Kardashian’s butt instead completing a vital part of your project, but it’s totally possible. First, it’s best not to follow the instinct to go and narc the lazy little turd out to anyone who will listen.  The guy likely hasn’t been fired for a reason. One, it can be hard to fire people (even when they’re awful) or two, someone likes Sleeping Beauty for some reason that you’re not privy to. Either way, tattling likely won’t get you far.

In this situation, it is better to ask to take command of the situation. You can tell your manager “Hey, I noticed that Marcie is having a hard time getting her work done, and I’d like to help.” Not only are you taking the initiative to do something about it, you don’t come off as a weak little gossip that goes around telling on people. Double brownie points for you.

On the doing-something-about-it tract, it’s worth jumping in and seeing if this person actually needs some help. Maybe he isn’t clear on his job description, deadlines haven’t been explained, or he’s getting assignments that are outside of his skillset. Maybe his dog died or something else in his personal life is making it rough to concentrate. All of these things can be kind of terrifying to come out and tell your coworkers, and slacking off is the defense mechanism. It’s your duty to find out first, before you fly off the handle about your supposedly lazy teammate, so tread lightly. At least at first.

Don’t Make it Your Problem

Unless Mr. Do Nothing is your subordinate (in which case, get firin’!) you need to make sure that you don’t let his laziness affect you, your work, or your attitude. This is certainly easier said than done, but the more time you spend getting pissed off about the lazy one, the less time you’ll spend working. So you have to tune out the YouTube videos and personal phone calls and just get back to work.

Say you don’t necessarily hate the slacker with every single fiber of your being. Say you even like this person. Then you will have to be very careful that their bad work habits don’t transfer to you. One minute you are wondering why he didn’t give you a report on time, the next you are watching Grumpy Cat videos with him. You have to break the cycle and let them know you actually have work to do, and the slacking isn’t acceptable.

Most importantly, do not ever take the fall for them. Not even the likeable ones. Once you start picking up the work that they aren’t doing, you’re preparing yourself to get blamed for a failure that isn’t really your fault. Assigning blame on the guy sleeping in the next cube isn’t so much tattling, but a totally legit way of exposing incompetence and protecting your own behind.

When All Else Fails

You tried to help. You’ve tried to ignore it. Your boss knows.  The worst thing is that the schlub just won’t go away. You can fall into the trap of endlessly complaining about how unfair it is that the guy gets paid for doing jack. You can gossip and whine. But then you’re being just as bad as him. You have done all you can to work with a chronically lazy teammate to no avail, and nobody will sack them for some strange reason. So, it’s time you build some of that lazy into your schedule, to cushion the inevitable blow.

It sounds a lot like giving up, but you have always built in extra time for contingencies — you just happen to know what this one’s going to be ahead of time. Building this padding into the schedule could potentially get you additional resources because you can’t meet your deadlines. Or even better, it could raise the right eyebrows and finally convince someone to give the lazy guy the boot. Either way, you’re prepared and doing your part to work smarter around a lazy coworker.

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