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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Your 3-Step Plan for Dealing With a Lazy Co-worker Who's Dragging You Down

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In an ideal world, your colleagues would all be hard workers who you can enjoy the occasional happy hour with. They’re also (hopefully) people you can count on to get their jobs done. After all, they (probably) wouldn’t be employed if they just sat around all day.

But what are you supposed to do when you can’t get that person next to you to follow through on a task they promised they’d complete? I asked myself this question countless times earlier in my career.

And truth time: I did not handle it well. But in the years since, I’ve learned a few things about how to deal with someone who’s keeping you from getting things done.

1. Put Your Reputation First

This is hard for me to tell you, but you’re going to have to do as much as possible on your own. That might require more hours or workarounds, but, sadly, that's step one.

You might be thinking, “Rich, you’re crazy. Why would I just let this lazy guy off the hook?” And sure, it might sound like that’s what I’m suggesting at first glance. But resolving this issue requires a few steps, and, in my experience, this is unfortunately one of the most necessary ones. Because even though your co-worker is holding you back, it doesn’t mean you’ve lost control over your reputation.

When my boss suggested this to me a few years ago, I almost stormed out. He was my teammate’s manager too, so I didn’t understand why he couldn’t just say a few things and make my situation better. But then he looked at me and said, “I wish we could address this now, but sadly we have a deadline, and I could really use your help.”

I didn’t like it, but he was right. Even though my colleague's laziness was making my life miserable, we couldn’t change the due date to compensate for him because we had already pushed it back multiple times.

So, while my boss and I agreed that we’d make up as much slack as possible, we also agreed that we wouldn’t let it slide long-term.

2. Find Some Time for the Two of You to Chat

So, after I did all the work for my lazy co-worker, I went to my boss and thought we’d come up with a plan to really drop the hammer on him. I couldn’t wait for our manager to rip him a new one for dropping the ball on that annoying, but incredibly important project that we’d been assigned. But I got a tip that I wasn’t anticipating.

“Before I talk to him, try to sit him down so you can talk about it amongst yourselves,” he said.

This was important for two reasons. For starters, my boss didn’t want to train me to use him as a crutch whenever things got tough (a skill I’m actually grateful for today). But beyond that, it was crucial for the feedback to come from me because I was the one who was most directly impacted. And as much as he could have heard it from others, it was a more powerful story coming from my perspective.

3. If All Else Fails, Escalate Things to Your Boss (Again)

Because I chickened out of having a tricky conversation, I went straight to step three. Step three after step two makes you look professional. Jumping straight to step three tells your boss that you’re not ready to be a leader. And that’s not good.

However, if you’ve tried the previous two tips with no luck, you probably feel as if you have no other options. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I still knew that I had the option to vent my frustrations to my boss; in fact, it was beginning to feel like all I was doing was whining about how terrible my life was.

But a funny thing happened when I asked for help—my manager went to this co-worker and explained that his approach to critical projects needed to change because it was impacting others. Boom, problem solved.

I won’t even try to convince you that any of these things are particularly fun exercises. And on most days, you’ll probably just want to bite your tongue and let it slide. But even if your boss can’t do anything about the situation, there are some major benefits of going through all this trouble. You’ll not only improve at communicating with your manager about tough situations and level-up your problem-solving skills, but you’ll also learn that confrontation isn’t the end of the world.