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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

How to Work With a Co-worker Who Doesn't Do Any Work

There’s one in every office: that colleague who really embraces the 9-to-5 schedule. Or, I should say, the 9:15ish to 4:59 with a long lunch schedule.

This is frustrating, to say the least. Because, as an ambitious worker yourself, you know that for your team to succeed, you often need to go above and beyond. In your head, it seems reasonable that everyone else on your team not only understands that, but embraces it.

But as nice as that idea sounds, it never seems to work out that way. So, what do you do when you’re working with—or for—someone who just doesn’t have the same fire-in-the-belly as you do?

While there’s no magic formula for handling a situation like this, I can share a few tips based on my own experience working with the 9-to-5 set. (Which sometimes included me.)

Recognize the Real Issue

The most damaging thing you can do is let your frustrations percolate. That quickly morphs everyday minor annoyances into full-blown accusations of serious dereliction of duties. And—spoiler alert—that outburst usually reflects badly on you.

This happened to me once with a new colleague. While I regularly came in early, worked through lunch, and stayed way past dinnertime. He came in (grossly) late, took a full hour for lunch, and left at 5 PM on the dot every day. How dare he! When I mentioned my frustration to a friend, she pointed out that he’s not technically doing anything wrong, so what was the big deal, anyway?

Yes, I worked longer hours, but, as I then realized, that didn’t mean he was doing bad work. And instead of acknowledging his other efforts, I let his schedule dictate how I viewed him. As a result, everything he did—good or bad—was soured by my festering frustration that he was just going through the paces.

Give the Person the Benefit of the Doubt

Giving someone the benefit of the doubt is an important lesson for anyone, really. Jumping to conclusions not only puts you at risk of a major face-palm moment, but you could easily damage your relationships with colleagues.

I narrowly escaped this situation when I was a new manager years ago. One of my direct reports started coming in late, leaving early, and actually taking his lunch breaks. (I know—scandalous, right?) Right when I was about to confront him about his lack of ambition, I stopped myself. I considered the fact that maybe he had something going on at home that needed his attention, and maybe if I took a step back, I would see that it was more important than work. So, rather than confronting him, I approached the conversation as a discussion.

It’s a good thing I did, too. His close family friend recently received a late-stage cancer diagnosis—and he was doing his best to keep it together at work.

Talk to Someone With the Power to Make a Difference

I know, it’s tough not to vent when you’ve got a colleague who isn’t quite as motivated as you. But bitching to your other colleagues won’t do you—or the perpetrator—any good. Chances are, your lackluster co-worker will get wind of it, and now you not only have a team member who isn’t super-committed, but also one who resents you.

Instead, schedule a time to talk with your manager. Rather than approaching it like a tattletale, lay out the case for why this person’s behavior is negatively affecting the team. Refrain from comparing his behavior directly to yours. Your boss knows how hard you work, and he or she probably also knows that this person’s slacking (as well as why—whatever the reason may be). The purpose of this talk is to show how this person’s behavior is bringing down team morale and distracting people from reaching their goals. That’s the kind of stuff a manager doesn’t always see.

The talk might result in the 9-to-5er changing, but it also might result in your manager telling you to leave the office earlier or take a lunch break every once in a while, or adjusting the team’s overall responsibilities and goals. Talking to someone who sees the situation as a whole always helps to clear situations up, leaving you fewer reasons to vent and more reasons to enjoy your co-workers.

Everyone works at a different pace, and we all have different goals. While it’s no doubt frustrating when you have a colleague who isn’t as ambitious as you are, remembering these tips will help keep you focused and productive, no matter what your other colleagues do—or don’t.

Photo of lazy co-worker courtesy of Shutterstock.