Dealing With Sloppy Work

Overcoming Careless Habits in Your Team

Dealing With Sloppy Work - Overcoming Careless Habits in Your Team

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Help your team spot when they've gone off course.

When you think of "sloppy work," you might imagine tasks performed in a careless or lazy way, documents that are full of mistakes, or actions that show no regard for team goals and objectives.

"Sloppy work" can also apply to conversations and work relationships. For example, people can demonstrate a lack of attentiveness when they make careless comments to clients.

Sloppy work can damage a person's career, a team's morale, and even an organization's success. Therefore, it's important to address the bad habits of team members who regularly turn in sloppy work.

In this article, we'll look at why careless work can be so harmful, and we'll explore what you can do to help people overcome this tendency.

Diagnosing Sloppy Work

People submit sloppy work for a number of different reasons. For example, they might feel rushed for time due to procrastination or poor time management, or they might not realize the importance of double-checking their work. They might rush through tasks because they're excited to finish a project, or they may have low ambition and not care about the quality of their work. Sloppy work might also indicate that someone doesn't enjoy a particular task – or that they've "disengaged" from their job.

Sloppy work is subtly different from poor performance. People who submit substandard work might succeed in other areas, while poor performers will often fall behind in all aspects of their role.

For example, a sales professional might excel with new clients, and may be great at closing sales. However, they may also generate sloppy reports, because they're not interested in that task.

Sloppy, inaccurate, or careless work can become obvious in several different ways, and it can cause a lot of problems. For example:

  • Jan works in her organization's shipping department. She's a great team player, but she often multitasks, which means that she sometimes enters customer addresses into the database incorrectly. As a result, the company has delivered a number of shipments to the wrong location, which costs money and damages her organization's credibility.
  • Abran is a financial analyst. During month-end reporting, he often forgets to double-check his calculations, which means that he doesn't correct his errors. These mistakes affect the entire organization's financial reports, and his co-workers have to spend hours reviewing data to correct them. This affects Abran's reputation and lowers the team's morale.
  • Martina works in marketing. Yesterday, she finished writing the copy for a new national advertising campaign, and she submitted her work without triple-checking the layout and text. If her boss hadn't noticed her mistakes, a misspelled advert would have been published in several national trade journals, which would have been embarrassing for the company.

Sloppy work not only damages a person's career, but can also negatively impact an entire team's morale, goals, objectives, and productivity. Careless work can cause health or safety hazards, and it can affect your organization's reputation.

This is why it's essential to address team members' sloppy or careless work.

Overcoming Sloppy Work Habits in Your Team

Use the strategies below to encourage your team members to avoid careless mistakes, build good habits, and take pride in their work.

1. Challenge Your Perceptions

Take a close look at your own perceptions before you approach a team member who you believe produces sloppy work. Are you objectively sure that their work is careless, or are your expectations unfairly high? Have you given them enough time to complete their tasks to the standard you expect? And are they performing poorly, or is their workload unrealistically heavy?

If you're a perfectionist, you're likely to expect perfection from everyone you work with. Often this is appropriate – but sometimes it isn't. Learn how to overcome maladaptive perfectionism, so that you don't set unrealistically high goals for yourself and for your team members.

2. Approach Your Team Member

There's a chance that your team member underestimates the importance of their mistakes, or they may not even be aware that they're making them.

Approach your team member privately, and tactfully mention that you've noticed a decline in the quality of their work. Give some specific examples, and ask if there's a problem.

It's possible that your team member doesn't recognize the driving purpose of their work. When someone understands the meaning behind what they do, this can motivate them to improve. So, communicate why their work is important, and let them know who benefits from it.


Keep in mind that making a private comment about work quality may be all that you need to do to encourage this person to improve.

3. Provide Timely Feedback

Provide timely feedback after you've put these strategies into place. Use the stop – keep doing – start or situation -– behavior – impact feedback tools to communicate what your team member should do to make forward progress.

Make sure that you praise any positive changes. When you do this, you give people confidence and motivation, and this will help them to keep improving.

4. Identify Resources

If the quality of this person's work doesn't improve within a few days or weeks, your next step is to identify any training, knowledge, or skills gaps that they may have. Meet with them one-on-one to talk about their performance. What frustrations do they encounter that affect their work? What do they think is causing this problem?

When your team member is speaking, use active listening skills, so that they know that you are paying full attention. It could be that their sloppy work habits result from external pressures or personal problems. If so, listen to what they have to say, and do what you can to help get them back on track.

Administer a training needs assessment to determine whether further training would improve the quality of their work, and identify any additional resources they need to do the job. Have you done everything you can to support them?


As you do this, make sure that you fully understand your organization's disciplinary and performance management processes.

For legal reasons, these can sometimes be quite long-winded. If you've lost confidence in someone after having done your best to help them change, you don't want to have to go through an extensive additional disciplinary procedure, simply because you haven't followed a key process correctly.

5. Use Checklists and To-Do Lists

Encourage your team member to use checklists with routine tasks or processes, to ensure that they don't miss a step.

Ask them to write a to-do list every day, so that they can stay on top of tasks (this is especially useful for people with poor time management skills). At the top of each to-do list, ask them to write down what they want to achieve by the end of the day. This can encourage them to stay motivated, and do their work thoroughly.

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6. Pair This Person With a High Performer

Another strategy is to pair this person with a high performer, or mentor, who consistently meets your standards for quality and performance. By shadowing a mentor for several days or weeks, they'll be able to see what good quality work looks like, and will understand the benefits that come with being a top performer.

7. Use Job-Crafting Strategies

If your team member doesn't improve but you still want to retain them, you might want to reshape their current role, or transfer them to a position that's a better fit.

Look at the tasks that still do not meet your expectations. Can you move any of these to someone else? What job-crafting strategies can you apply to help them succeed in their role?

8. Create a Performance Agreement

Another approach is to create a performance agreement that defines your expectations and objectives, and that holds your team member accountable for the quality of their work. Be sure to go over the terms of any agreement with them, and make sure that they understand your expectations and goals.

9. Discipline Your Team Member

If your team member continues to produce sloppy work, take steps to discipline them appropriately. And, if they still don't improve, it's important that you let them go, fairly and honestly, for the sake of the rest of your team and for your organization.

Key Points

Sloppy work doesn't meet your or your organization's standards for quality. It can also manifest in certain behaviors – for example, in not double-checking work, in not returning phone calls, or in making careless remarks to clients.

To encourage a team member to overcome sloppy work habits, privately let them know that the quality of their work has declined.

Find out whether they need further assistance or resources to do the job. Encourage them to use checklists and to-do lists to stay on top of tasks, and consider pairing them with a top performer or mentor to motivate them to get back on track. (At the same time that you're doing this, make sure that you understand and follow your organization's performance management and disciplinary procedures.)

If none of this works, remove this person from your team.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Subscribe to our free newsletter, or join the Mind Tools Club and really supercharge your career!

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Comments (11)
  • Over a month ago Midgie wrote
    Hi FrustratedCoordinator,
    I think if I was in your position, I would document all discussions and agreed outcomes, with deadlines. That way, the colleague can't really use those excuses. What do you think?

    Mind Tools Team
  • Over a month ago FrustratedCoordinator wrote
    What do you do when your work colleague is consciously deciding not to hold themselves accountable? To the point of lying on several occasions to cover themselves and throw you under the bus. E.g. you have agreed to do something, they don't deliver at all or properly and when the deadline comes or it's executed wrong, they say "I didn't know" or "Oh, was I supposed to do that?".
  • Over a month ago Midgie wrote
    Hi JCAP,
    Sounds like you are facing quite a challenge. Have you considered posting this in the Career Cafe area of the Forums to see what other members have to offer? With members from all different backgrounds, experiences and cultures, you can receive many interesting ideas and input. Plus, the Mind Tools Team is always happy to offer their input as well!

    Hope to see you over there.

    Mind Tools Team
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