Working With Lazy People

Motivating Idle Colleagues

Working With Lazy People - Motivating Idle Colleagues

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Learn strategies for working with lazy colleagues.

Do you work with a person who doesn't "pull his weight"? Perhaps he wastes a large part of the day playing games, or talking to friends on the phone. Or, maybe he takes extra-long breaks, and he's happy just to do the very minimum to get by.

If you work with a colleague like this, then you know how frustrating it can be. Working with someone who's lazy is always a personal challenge, but it can also lower the productivity and morale of everyone else in the office.

However, if you're not that person's boss, is there anything that you can do? Do you simply have to tolerate this "rogue," or should you confront the situation head on?

Your Options

If you have a lazy co-worker in your midst, you'll probably have several options.

Your first option is to ignore the situation and go about your business. If the lazy colleague isn't causing you problems in any way, this might be the best option.

Sure, it's annoying and unfair that she's getting away with only doing a fraction of the work. But eventually, her poor performance is going to catch up with her. In the meantime, let it go – focus on doing your own great work, and making sure that you get the recognition that you deserve.

However, if your colleague's idleness is having a negative impact on your work, or that of your team mates, then you need to take action.

So another option is to pick up the work your colleague isn't doing. This will take care of neglected tasks, but it's only going to add to your stress and frustration, since you're now doing her job as well.

Letting your co-worker continue with her bad work habits could also cause a negative impact on your, or your team's, reputation.

Your last, and likely best, option is to get assertive and take direct action to stop her being so lazy. We'll look at several approaches to doing this.

Open a Dialogue

Begin by meeting your co-worker privately.

First, explain how her actions are affecting you and your other team members. Cite specific dates or situations that will trigger her memory – be as detailed as you can here.

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For instance, if she was supposed to prepare a presentation for last week's meeting and missed the deadline, then let her know that you had to stay late to complete her work. Making her see that her actions (or lack thereof) are having a personal affect on you can drive the message home.

This can be a difficult conversation to have, but be respectful and polite throughout, and try to avoid getting emotional or angry.

If you're nervous or unsure what you're going to say, then try role playing to prepare for this meeting. You might also want to brush up on your communication skills to make sure you can get your point across confidently and assertively.

If your co-worker regularly dumps her own responsibilities onto you, then it's time this behavior stopped. Let her know firmly that you're not going to cover for her, or take on her tasks, any longer. Stress that if her behavior doesn't change, you'll have no choice but to go to your boss.

Your co-worker might not respond positively to this conversation. So, to prepare for this, you might want to learn more about how to deal with difficult people. If things get heated, end the conversation and walk away – nothing productive will come from arguing.


Keep a private note of everything that you do and why you're doing it. If your co-worker makes a fuss about what you're doing, you need to be able to defend yourself!

Listen Actively

You may think your co-worker is simply lazy, or that she just doesn't care.

But there might be another reason why she's not performing. Perhaps she's not in the right role and feels overwhelmed by her tasks. She might not know a certain task is her responsibility, or she might not have the skills needed to do her job effectively.

Or, she could be dealing with stressful issues such as a personal or family illness, divorce, or troubles with her children.

Ask her to explain her side of the story, and listen actively to what she has to say. You might be surprised to find out that there's more than meets the eye. Sometimes, just being willing to listen can make a big difference.

The Invisible Manager

Another strategy you can use is to help a lazy colleague in a subtle way. That is, you can delicately shape his behavior and motivation without him realizing what you're doing.

For example, if you think that your co-worker is unmotivated because he isn't in the right role, ask him what he'd enjoy doing. Then, try to pass along projects and tasks that would fall under his ideal role. You could also loan him books or articles that would help him develop professionally. This can get him excited about what he's doing, and improve his morale.

You can also help him to discover how to work with purpose and find new meaning in what he's currently doing. Or, you could use a well-respected tool like Schein's Career Anchors to help your colleague to find inspiration and direction in the work that he's currently doing.

When your co-worker does step up and do a good job, then recognize his efforts. Often, compliments and thanks from team members can be more gratifying than those from the boss.


Our article, Leading Equals, includes additional strategies for being an "invisible manager."

Consulting Your Boss

If, in spite of your best efforts, your colleague won't improve or change, and if her laziness is still causing problems for you or your team, then you might have to speak with your boss.

Before you do this, remind your colleague again that you'll have no choice but to go to your boss if her behavior doesn't change.

In the meantime, make a note of exactly what your co-worker is (or isn't) doing. If she spends two hours at lunch and doesn't make up the time, write this down. If she's making personal calls, or surfing the internet, write down the times and any other relevant information.

You may want to do this over a period of a few weeks to gather enough evidence, and give your colleague a further chance to improve her behavior.

If there's still no improvement, arrange to meet with your boss. Explain the situation clearly and honestly, and detail the steps that you've taken to get your co-worker to change. Again, try to keep emotion and drama out of the conversation.

You'll also want to bring any records you have that prove that your co-worker has been shirking her duties.

Then, hand the situation over to your boss completely. After all, you've now done all you can.

Key Points

Working with a lazy colleague can be a challenging and frustrating experience. Lazy co-workers who don't work to the best of their ability can damage the morale of the entire team, and even cause negative repercussions in your own career.

Usually, your first step will be to meet with your colleague in private. Let him know how his poor performance is impacting your own work. You can also try to help him by subtly changing his motivation and behavior.

If, however, this approach doesn't work after you've given him several chances to improve, you'll need to hand the problem over to your boss. It's their responsibility to handle staff issues, once you've done all that you can.