(Problem Solved) How to deal with incompetent coworkers

Updated on January 28, 2023
How to deal with incompetent coworkers

I understand your frustration if you are dealing with coworkers who are more or less incompetent. We are not trying to be mean here, just keeping it real and telling it as it is.

If you recognize the signs of incompetence at work, you might be able to help. Here is a simple 3-step process to deal with incompetent coworkers:
#1. Understand their professional deficiencies. 
#2. Provide them with additional training and support. 
#3. Supervise their work and track their improvement.

One way or another, people who are not entirely qualified to do the job they are supposed to do end up hired and working.

While this is definitely not productive for the company that employs them, it can be an absolute nightmare for you if you have to deal with these people.

During the course of my career, I have had my fair share of working and dealing with coworkers who were not entirely prepared to do the work that was expected of them.

So perhaps I will be able to offer you some useful strategies on how to deal with incompetent coworkers.

What are some examples of incompetence at work?

What are some examples of incompetence at work

Before we delve into what can be done about coworkers who are incompetent, it would be best to have a clear understanding of what “incompetence at work” actually means because this is important for reasons that will become obvious to you in a moment.

I argue that that are 3 levels of incompetence at work.

1. Lack of essential knowledge and skills

First, we examine the meaning of the word “incompetence” itself. Pretty much any dictionary would say that this is “inability to do something successfully”.

When we place this definition in the context of a work environment, we would be examining a person or people who can not do their job adequately.

Therefore, the most obvious examples of incompetence at work would be a lack of essential knowledge and skills that are necessary for performing one’s duties.

While this is obvious, there is another nuance that we should be aware of. And it comes down to this: working and successfully performing one’s duties at work has a willingness element to it.

2. Unwillingness to work optimally

People who work legally for a company/organization do so willingly.

Therefore, the lack of willingness to work or to carry out work-related duties according to desired standards is another form of incompetence at work. Such examples include:

  • Laziness at work
  • Not performing tasks/duties diligently
  • Unwillingness to communicate and cooperate
  • Lack of desire to learn and improve
  • Problematic behavior (gossiping, harassment)
  • Conscious sabotaging of projects/work environment

Unfortunately, the dragon that you are fighting has a third head.

There is another type of work incompetence that stems from a lack of self-awareness, or rather the ability to recognize one’s own lack of knowledge and understanding.

3. The Dunning-Kruger effect

In psychology, this type of incompetence is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect – it occurs when people overestimate their knowledge/abilities in a certain field, despite lacking the essential knowledge necessary to successfully navigate it. Examples of this include:

  • Managers/leaders who make poor decisions
  • Giving unreasonable/poorly judged orders
  • Making poor project management decisions
  • Micromanaging coworkers
  • Failure to analyze a situation properly

What are the signs of an incompetent employee

signs of an incompetent employee

Now that you have a better understanding of what causes incompetence at work, you will be able to not just recognize the signs of an employee being incompetent at work but also pinpoint the source of their ineptitude. Here are some examples:

1. Signs that an employee lacks essential professional skills and knowledge:

  • Poorly completed work-related tasks and duties
  • Unsatisfactory performance
  • Not meeting deadlines

2. Signs that an employee is not willing to perform their duties optimally:

  • Lack of concern about the success of their performance/team/department
  • Unwillingness to properly communicate and cooperate with other team members
  • Poorly completed tasks and duties (despite being experienced and skilled)
  • Lack of respect toward other team members and subordinates
  • Not taking responsibility for failures (blaming others)

3. Signs that an employee is unable to recognize their own professional inadequacies:

  • Poorly performed tasks and duties despite claiming to know how to do them
  • Making poor decisions that lead to unsatisfactory outcomes
  • Sabotaging group projects despite a willingness to cooperate

What makes an employee incompetent is essentially their inability to do their job properly. But the reasons why they are unable to do good work are just as important when dealing with such coworkers. This brings us to my next point.

Taking action and protecting yourself against incompetent coworkers is important because eventually they might throw you under the bus to save themselves.

How to deal with incompetent coworkers

Working with incompetent coworkers can be tough. It can definitely take a toll on your mental and physical well-being.

The best advice that I can give you is to approach the situation based on the type of incompetent coworker you are dealing with.

Dealing with coworker who lacks essential skills and knowledge

  • Think and plan what would be the fastest way for them to acquire the necessary skills and/or knowledge.
  • Provide them with useful resources that will help them to do their job better.
  • Forward to them useful articles, documents, and guidelines.
  • Offer them the best advice and training that you can.
  • Keep a close eye on them and review their work.

Dealing with coworker who is unwilling to work optimally

  • Report them to their respective manager and/or HR staff representative.
  • Provide supporting evidence about their unwillingness to perform well.
  • Don’t rely on such a coworker when it comes to important projects and duties.
  • If it would be safe for you, confront the person privately or in front of colleagues, depending on your personal judgment.

Dealing with coworker who is experiencing the Dunning-Kruger effect

  • Offer them useful resources and materials that will help them to do their job better.
  • Offer them additional training and support so they can catch up and become effective.
  • Speak to them privately about the gaps in their professional knowledge and skills.
  • Observe if they are willing to cooperate and improve their capabilities.
  • Track their work and their progress toward improvement.

How to deal with lazy incompetent coworkers

lazy incompetent coworkers

Dealing with coworkers who don’t pull their weight at work can be extremely frustrating. It is definitely not conducive to a productive and harmonious work environment.

Not to mention that you might be filled with negative thoughts on how to get rid of incompetent coworkers which is never a good thing.

Unfortunately, you don’t have many options here so if you are wondering how do you expose an incompetent coworker, then here is how you can approach this.

  • Collect evidence – Document examples of their slacking at work in order to build your case.
  • Confront them – Speak to them. Either privately or in front of other colleagues. Use your supporting evidence to expose them.
  • Speak to your boss and HR – Take your supporting evidence and go directly to your boss/direct manager. Talk to an HR staff member as well if possible. Make your voice be heard.

Taking action is an important step in dealing with lazy coworkers. In my experience, things don’t get better on their own.

Such people will slack every chance they get and do as little work as possible.

It is very important to keep your direct manager in the loop and collect supporting evidence so that you can have grounds for termination if it comes to that point.

How to deal with nice but incompetent coworkers

You can deal with nice coworkers who are incompetent by offering them as much support as you can.

  • Have them go through additional training.
  • Provide them with useful materials and resources.
  • Speak to them about what key skills they lack and plan how they can obtain them.
  • Keep a close eye on their work and offer them daily feedback and improvement advice.

How do you expose an incompetent coworker?

Here’s how to expose an incompetent coworker in 3 simple steps:

  • Gather evidence to build your case – You can take pictures or screenshots of poorly performed tasks.
  • Talk to your colleagues – Speak to one or two of your colleagues. They probably have made the same observations but are keeping quiet.
  • Talk to your direct manager/HR – Involve your manager and members of HR as quickly as possible.

Hopefully, after all of this, your incompetent coworker will have to go through an evaluation by superiors and a decision will be made. See our extensive blog series for more information on dealing with difficult colleagues.

Key takeaways

  • Incompetence at work can be classified into 3 major categories:
    Lack of essential professional knowledge and skills
    Lack of willingness to perform one’s duties optimally
    Inability to recognize one’s own deficiencies (Dunning-Kruger effect)
  • If you have to work with people who are incompetent but nice and willing to cooperate, do your best to provide them with guidance, additional training, and support.
  • If you are dealing with incompetent lazy coworkers, collect evidence against them and report them to your superiors and HR.
Written by:
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galin office topics square
co-founder / office worker
Alex has been an office worker for more than 10 years. He is dedicated to helping other office workers to achieve the perfect life-work balance through well-being, effective communication, and building productive habits.

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