Whether it’s a co-worker or classmate, trying to work with someone who isn’t pulling their weight is incredibly frustrating. It might infuriate you that they aren’t holding up their end of the bargain, but it also requires you to divert your time and attention away from your own responsibilities to cover for them.
In reality, everyone deals with lazy, uncooperative, or incompetent teammates at one point or another. Whether you’re in school or climbing the corporate ladder, you’re going to interact with people who don’t care about the end result as much as you do. In fact, according to an online poll of 550 full-time employees, 93 percent say they work with at least one person they believe isn’t pulling their own weight.
In other words, virtually every employee in corporate America interacts with a slacker on a regular basis. That means you’ll have to learn how to deal with these people if you want to be happy and productive in your career.
Here are six helpful tips and commonly used strategies that will help you deal with a teammate who isn't pulling their weight.
Delay Your Judgment...
Early on, resist the urge to reach across the table and vigorously shake your teammate into submission when they don’t do what they’re supposed to. Instead, patiently delay judgment and put yourself in their shoes.
Slacking off is often related to laziness, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, it’s a result of the individual experiencing difficulties at home, not knowing what to do, lacking a certain skill or resource that you have, or anything in between. Think about things from their perspective and see if you can hone in on the real issue. You may even choose to directly ask the individual a few pointed questions. In the end, there's a chance that your teammate is in fact lazy or blasé, but don’t be so quick to judge.
…But Don’t Wait Too Long
On the other end of the spectrum, you don’t want to wait too long. This is a mistake people make far too frequently, and it often ends up backfiring. According to the aforementioned study, only 10 percent of people have directly confronted an underperforming co-worker. This is unfortunate, as you’re more likely to say something inappropriate, get too aggressive, or lose your temper if you wait too long. In the end, that type of outburst could result in you getting reprimanded or even fired.
It’s best to deal with these situations before they have time to boil over. As mentioned in the first tip, start by delaying judgment. If you’ve thought about things from the other individual’s perspective and still can’t justify their actions, then calmly confront them. Don’t do it in an accusatory tone. Instead, ask if there’s something you can do to help them be more productive and successful.
Stop Covering for Them
The trickiest part about dealing with an underperforming co-worker is that most people have a tendency to step in and cover for them. After all, their performance often impacts everyone around them and can reflect negatively on the team as a whole. You have to stop doing this. In covering for your teammate, all you’re doing is reinforcing their notion that it’s okay to slack off.
Next time your co-worker comes to you and says, “Hey, I wasn’t able to get this done. Do you think you could handle it for me this time?” simply say no. You don’t have to give them an explanation. Just tell them you’re slammed with work and can’t fit it into your schedule. Once they realize nobody is going to cover for them, they’ll either handle it themselves or reap the consequences.
*Speak With a Superior *
Finally, if nothing else works, it’s time to speak with a boss, manager, or superior. If they’re even somewhat aware of their surroundings, they're probably already aware of the situation. It’ll rarely come as a total surprise.
The key to this discussion is to stick to the facts and remove emotion from the situation. The last thing you want to do is stroll into your boss’ office and start playing a game of “he-said-she-said.” Instead, explain the facts, tell them how the situation is adversely affecting your performance and productivity, and then walk away.
If you get heated and emotional, you’ll come off as a petty or slandering. It’s best to remain calm and make a strong case for why this behavior is negatively impacting your work. The ball is then in your superior's court, and they can decide how they want to proceed.
Don’t Let it Affect Your Performance
Now that you’ve confronted the individual and spoken with a superior, your job is done. You can rest easy knowing the situation has been brought to light. Remember to carefully avoid letting it further affect your performance. As Jacquelyn Smith of Forbes advises, don’t let this slacking teammate distract you, negatively impact your attitude, rub off on you, or affect your success. When this happens, they’ve gotten the best of you.
Avoid Gossip and Slander
Finally, avoid gossip and slander at all costs. There’s nothing more unprofessional or tacky than trashing a co-worker, regardless of what they’ve done. Keep the situation between those involved and take the high road. In most cases, other people know what’s going on. If they ask about it, simply acknowledge the situation and explain that you’ve confronted them and can’t do anything more. This shows maturity and composure – things teammates greatly admire.
Don’t Avoid the Situation
In the end, you have to look out for yourself. While it’s okay to cover for a teammate from time to time, you can’t continually associate yourself with lazy people if they show no desire to improve. Follow the six tips mentioned in this article and you’ll be fine. It can be frustrating, but you’ll learn from the situation and figure out how to properly and effectively interact with difficult people. Life’s a learning experience – don’t avoid this opportunity to grow yourself.