Ever since middle school, we’ve been assigned to teams and there’s always the one – the slacker. Back then, you dealt with it and then fumed when everyone got the ‘A.’

However, what do you do when forced to work with lazy coworkers? At some point, you’ll deal with it, and how you deal with the case of slacking coworkers can make or break your career.


I’m sure most of you can appreciate this request I received: ” Kris, I have lazy coworkers. Sounds harsh, but there is no other term I can use to describe them. I end up doing everyone’s work. They often send low-quality work in so I end up just doing it. What do I do?” Dealing with Lazy Coworkers.

Dear Dealing with Lazy Coworkers:

This is always a tough one and a universal flaw in project work, so rest assured that you aren’t alone. You want to do something about it, which is good and you should. How you approach the situation depends on a number of factors, so I’ll give you some points to use here.

Determine if you are enabling lazy coworkers.

Not knowing more about the situation, it immediately seems that you might be enabling your lazy coworkers. Especially during a project time crunch, sometimes it seems easier to just do the work yourself, instead of helping others.

While it might soothe things in the short-term, it develops a pattern of dependency and developing micromanager characteristics (even if you aren’t the official leader). It’s an easy pattern to get into and a hard one to stop, so the first thing to try is to resist the temptation to do it all yourself. Ultimately, your performance will suffer in the long-run.

I’m not saying you didn’t start it for all the right reasons, but it’s not going to help anyone or the situation if your less-than-motivated coworkers become dependent on you.

Determine if it’s worth doing anything.

I told you that you should do something about your lazy coworkers, but depending on the situation, sometimes the best thing you can do is nothing – it’s the power of restraint. Only you can decide if that is the best option.

When I started my consulting career, I was on a project where most of my coworkers were lazy, including my project manager. A few of them stuck together and did nothing – ever. Because I knew my time on the project was short and given the team dynamics, I made the choice to do nothing.

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Was it fun? No. But trying to do anything about that situation would have likely done me and my career more harm than good.

Sometimes the power of restraint is incredible – and empowering.

power of restraint in dealing with lazy coworkers kris fannin intelivate
There are times when the power to do nothing – the power of restraint – is the best decision. Even when dealing with lazy coworkers, there are times when the effort isn’t worth it.

Assess the situation. Is it really a case of lazy coworkers?

Life happens and sometimes personal problems can destroy motivation. Don’t be too quick to assume it’s a case of lazy until you’ve done your homework. Especially if you end up going to your boss (I’ll get to that in just a bit), make sure you have as many facts as possible.

You’re not going to look great in the eyes of your leaders (or coworkers) if you blame the situation on ‘lazy’ when you’re the only one that doesn’t know what is happening. Just make sure you’ve gotten as much information as possible.

Confront the situation first with those directly involved.

We’re adults and it’s work. Yes, the corporate environment can seem like a mean girl culture at times, but that won’t change unless we start acting like adults. Part of adulting is becoming comfortable with conflict.

Conflict is uncomfortable at times – especially when bringing up something like shirking work. Here are some conflict management strategies I’ve put together that might help when you plan to speak with them.

Be careful of venting too much about it to those outside of the immediate situation. People often interpret venting as gossiping at work. You don’t want to add to your problems.

Keep it positive and productive.

As well, try to keep things as positive as possible – especially when you are starting the conversation not make them immediately defensive. If that happens, your coworkers won’t hear your message. Some of these approaches for using positive transition words when giving constructive criticism.

Part of what will help you keep it positive is by not letting it build up inside of you until it comes across as anger. Forbes gives some great advice around this:

“What usually happens,” he adds, “is that people wait until they are really fed up, and then they blow their stack. The trouble is, that doesn’t usually do any good and, what’s worse, it can backfire on you. Even if you’re completely in the right, losing your temper makes you look unprofessional and out of control.” And who needs that?

lazy coworkers intelivate kris fannin keep it positive
When handling lazy coworkers, don’t blow your stack. Devise an approach to confronting it as positively and calmly as possible.

Go to your leader – but don’t take the leadership role on yourself.

You’ve probably read some advice in other places of how you should try and motivate and inspire your lazy coworkers. In my opinion, that’s not your role ( See #7 on ‘fixing lazy’ in our funny leadership quotes article) and can do more harm for you in trying to take it on yourself.

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Try and work it out before going to your supervisor. If you get a resolution before – all the best. If not and need your leader to step in, you’ve shown you tried to resolve it yourself first – that’s key.

If you end up going to your leader, have a proposed plan, as well as what you’ve done to try and resolve the situation. Again, keep it as positive as possible and use the positioning points I referenced early for delivering constructive criticism.

Hoping this helps both “Dealing with Lazy Coworkers” and you! It’s never an easy situation, but something we’ve all had to deal with both in academics and work. Best of luck and let us know how it works out!


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