There is absolutely nothing more frustrating than having to work late and miss your kid’s game, birthday or recital or maybe even something simple like making it home for dinner at a decent hour on a fairly regular basis, because your teammate is not pulling their own weight.  Every office or team seems to have at least one.

The problem is bigger than most people realize and may account for an unrealized amount of workplace stress and dissatisfaction.

According to research 93% of the people who work on a team do so with at least one team member not doing their share of the work!  Now that’s astonishing. What’s even more astonishing is that according to that same research, only 1 in 10 has confronted the under-performing, lazy co-worker!  

But why?  Why would so many people just let the issue fester and slide?  The answer is that most believe that nothing good will come of the confrontation.  They want to avoid conflict, retaliation or unpleasantness.  They think it’s easier to just keep the peace and do the extra work.  Is doing nothing really the best strategy in the long run?  Probably not. But what’s the alternative?

Before you do anything, assess the situation. Really assess the situation. 

What are the signs that it’s them, not you?
There are endless examples.  Here are just a few.

  • You find yourself working late to finish your co-worker’s share of the team project that is due tomorrow because they left the office before their assigned work was done. Again.
  • You have to review and correct their work on the team project because they consistently do sloppy/incorrect work and the whole team is judged by the final output. The time you spend doing or redoing the lazy co-workers work pulls you away from your own work priorities.
  • You’re hearing other team members complain about their having to pick up your co-worker’s slack, too (and you’ve done nothing to prompt their complaints).

What to do about that lazy co-worker?

  1. Talk to your co-worker directly as soon as possible.
    The longer you let the situation fester, the harder it will be to have a calm, productive conversation.  Remember that the longer you wait to talk to your co-worker, the more you are inadvertently telling them that you are okay with them doing sub-standard work or less-than-their-share of the team projects.  Be direct.  Keep the conversation focused on their work.  It’s possible that your co-worker did not realize that their lazy behavior had an impact on you and they will change their ways.  It doesn’t always work, but this is your first, best shot at solving the problem. Need some tips on how to make that conversation successful? Check out Harvard Business Review’s How to Have Difficult Conversations When You Don’t Like Conflict.”
  2. Set solid boundaries.
    Doing your team member’s work occasionally is okay.  After all, taking one for the team is part of the definition of teamwork.  However, if you find that your co-worker frequently asks you to do their work, it’s perfectly okay to tell them no.  If you consistently do their work for them, you become an enabler, and part of the problem.
  3. Talk to your manager.
    If you’re not seeing results, you may want to bring the situation to your manager’s attention, especially if the work not being done is impacting the department and/or the business. It’s best if you keep documentation of examples of

    • Slipped deadlines.
    • Hours you worked overtime to do their share of team projects to keep deadlines from slipping.
    • Time that you’ve spent redoing or correcting their work.
    • How this is pulling you away from your assigned priorities.

Then ask your manager for suggestions.  It’s possible that your boss was unaware of the co-worker not carrying their own weight.  Your boss may already know what’s going on and be dealing with it privately with your lazy co-worker.  On the other hand, if your boss is now aware of the bad performer on the team and does nothing, it may be time for you to quietly start searching for a job with a more fully engaged team and a manager who’s got your back.

I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”