12 strategic steps to deal with lazy coworkers

Updated on August 19, 2023
strategic steps to deal with lazy coworkers

Have you found yourself immersed in work, whereas another employee’s file folders are sitting untouched on their desk?

Or do you seem unable to find time for coffee while your coworker is getting ready to leave the office early again?

I hear you! Lazy employees can be found in every company, and having to cope with such a coworker is not only frustrating but can also impair the productivity of the whole office.

However, you can learn to cope with slackers and deal with them effectively. To give you a better idea of how to do it, here I’ll share my set of handy tips on how to deal with a coworker who doesn't pull their weight.

Signs of a lazy coworker

5 signs of a lazy coworker

Poor performance for a day or even a week does not immediately mean that your coworker is lazy. But if this behavior becomes permanent, then you have a problem.

So before you learn how to cope with a slacker in the office, you will first have to understand how to distinguish the signs of one. Here are some examples of the traits most lazy coworkers share.

1. Lack of motivation

Whether your coworker feels drained, underrated at work, or unhappy with their responsibilities, they just can’t seem to find the motivation to work optimally every single day.

Since they don’t get the stimulus to show extra effort while doing their job, they get distracted often, take multiple breaks, neglect their responsibilities, and do their work only moderately.

2. They find excuses for everything

Have you noticed that your coworker always has an excuse for any mistakes that they have made or for constantly exceeding deadlines?

They never seem to take responsibility for their actions and tend to blame everyone else.

Lazy employees are also rarely seen at the desk because they are either on a break, in the restroom, or talking with other coworkers, allegedly discussing work-related topics.

3. Lack of self-discipline

To be persistent and hardworking requires some level of inner strength and conviction.

However, people who lack self-discipline fail to manage their time properly, often come late to work or leave early, and tend to procrastinate a lot.

This doesn’t mean that employees who lack self-discipline don’t feel stressed about not working optimally, it is just that they find laziness more comfortable.

They can also dislike their hardworking colleagues because such people make them look bad.

4. Incompetency

Laziness at work is a form of incompetence. And lazy incompetent coworkers can be the worst.

They not only don’t know what they are doing and perform their tasks poorly but they also don't want to cooperate and show no desire to learn and improve their skills.

Such employees would use every opportunity they have to shirk work and make others take on their responsibilities.

5. Sabotage of work

By poorly performing their duties and frequently missing due dates, lazy employees can negatively affect the success of work projects, make major mistakes, and fail their coworkers.

And while they might try to appear busy with work all the time, you can see no real results coming from them and you know they can’t be trusted with important tasks.

Also, have you considered that you might be dealing with something even worse than lazy coworkers?

What if they eventually try to shift the blame at you and throw you under the bus so you can pay for their negligence? That is why it is important to take action soon.

How to deal with lazy coworkers

How to deal with lazy coworkers in 5 effective steps

Have you ever been told not to compare yourself with others and focus only on your performance? It can prove very hard to stay unbothered by lazy coworkers around you who don’t want to work.

Especially, if your job depends to some extent on this person or you end up taking their responsibilities just because someone has to!

So, how to deal with slackers at work? While you may feel tempted to go straight to your boss and expose your lazy coworker, there are several steps you can take before that to effectively deal with a coworker who doesn't want to work.

1. Don’t make hasty conclusions

I am not saying that you should always try to excuse a lazy person, but my advice is not to assume the worst immediately. Ask yourself why they are acting like that.

Perhaps their personal life is affecting their performance at work. Or they don’t feel in place in the company so they can't fully unleash their potential?

They may also be suffering from burnout and need to take it slow.

2. Lead by example

To deal with a coworker who doesn't work, simply show them how it's done! Be the role model your coworkers need by working hard, staying positive, and always going the extra mile. This might just inspire them to step up their game too.

3. Set clear expectations

Make sure everyone's on the same page. Clearly communicate what needs to be done, when it's due, and what the consequences are if they don't meet those targets. It's harder to slack off when the expectations are crystal clear.

4. Offer assistance

You can offer to lend a helping hand to deal with a coworker who doesn't pull their weight. Sometimes, a coworker may be struggling or unsure about a task.

Offer support and guidance, and they might just turn things around.

5. Delegate strategically

To deal with lazy team members, play to everyone's strengths. When you're divvying up tasks, assign them based on what each person is good at.

This can boost your coworker's confidence and drive them to contribute more effectively.

6. Encourage open communication

Let's talk about it! Create a team environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing their thoughts, concerns, and ideas. This can help your coworker feel more connected and motivated to pull their weight.

7. Provide feedback

Share the good and the not-so-good. Offer your coworker constructive criticism, pointing out specific areas where they can improve.

And don't forget to praise them when they do well – positive reinforcement works wonders!

8. Document your efforts

Keep track of what you've tried. Jot down your attempts to address the issue and any impact on your work.

This way, if things don't improve, you'll have evidence to back you up if you need to escalate the situation.

9. Collect your evidence

When you notice that your coworker is not giving their best at work and this has been going on for quite some time, start keeping a close eye on them and gathering evidence of their unwillingness to work.

These may include screenshots, copies of documentation, emails, or anything that would show their poor productivity.

You can also try to speak with other coworkers and see what their observations of this person are.

10. Have a chat with your coworker

Approach your coworker and offer to speak somewhere privately. It’s best not to raise the issue in front of other people as your coworker may feel publicly attacked or embarrassed.

Ask them politely what is going on and offer to help if you can. Try to hint at their idleness gently.

If they deny the accusations, use the collected evidence to support your case when you approach your boss or HR about the matter.

11. Allow some time for results

Once you have spoken to your coworker, wait and see if they will start showing signs of working to improve their behavior.

Perhaps the weight of guilt after your conversation will serve as the motivation they need to make an effort and work harder.

Keep in mind, however, that their change of behavior may be brief. If after a while they start to get lazy again, it’s time to go for your last resort.

12. Go to your manager/HR

If your coworker chooses to stay ignorant of your conversation with them and continues with their laziness at work, you should turn to your boss and expose the slacker.

Share your concerns with your line manager or HR staff and use the previously gathered evidence as supporting material, then allow them to take the matter into their own hands.

We have a comprehensive blog series about how to deal with difficult coworkers so make sure to check it out.

How to work with a lazy coworker

How to work with a lazy coworker

Working with a lazy coworker can be nerve-wracking. Even when you have tried everything to help them be more productive, some people just refuse to mend.

The most important thing when it comes to working with a slacker is not to let them get on your nerves.

Instead, try to follow these simple rules to make the time spent in the office with a lazy person easier:

1. Don’t let them distract you

Whether by constantly chattering about their personal life or by showing you funny cat videos, they can easily divert your attention from your tasks and influence your performance.

Respectively, don’t let their laziness bother you and preoccupy your thoughts.

2. Don’t rely on them

Lazy employees tend to perform their responsibilities moderately and have difficulty meeting deadlines. Take note of that and don’t entrust them with important tasks.

Sometimes it’s better to do the job yourself and put in some extra effort, rather than comply with a slacker and risk the success of a project.

3. Don’t do their job

If it doesn’t affect your work directly or the projects you are part of, don’t feel obligated to do your lazy coworker's tasks.

This won’t improve the situation for you and will only help your coworker get away with their idleness.

4. Focus on your own tasks

Don't let others bring you down! Keep your eyes on the prize and concentrate on what you need to get done.

By staying productive, you'll feel more accomplished and less frustrated with your coworkers.

5. Set personal boundaries

You've got this! Make sure you establish limits with your coworkers so they don't take advantage of your work ethic.

Be firm but fair, and let them know you're there to work as a team, not do their job for them.

6. Manage your stress levels

To cope with lazy coworkers, keep calm and carry on! Find ways to de-stress, like taking breaks, going for walks, or practicing mindfulness.

By staying relaxed, you'll be better equipped to handle any challenges that come your way

7. Find a work buddy or mentor

Two heads are better than one! Connect with a like-minded colleague or seek guidance from a mentor.

They can offer support, encouragement, and advice on navigating the workplace dynamics.

8. Adapt your communication style

Adapt your communication style Talk it out! Understand that everyone communicates differently, so try to tailor your approach to your coworker's preferences.

This can help you both get on the same page and work more effectively together.

9. Reflect on your own expectations

Take a step back and think about whether you're expecting too much from your coworkers.

Remember, everyone has different strengths and working styles, so try to be understanding and flexible when it comes to your expectations.

What to say to a lazy coworker

Having to tell a coworker that they are not doing their job decently is a delicate situation. Not everyone appreciates honest feedback, especially when it hasn’t been asked for.

Still, here are a few examples if you have a hard time finding the right words to express yourself.

"Hey [coworker's name], I've noticed that you seem to be struggling with [specific task]. I'm here to help if you need any assistance or guidance. Let's work together to get this task completed on time."

"[Coworker's name], we're all counting on each other to meet our project deadline. I know you have the skills to contribute to this project, so let's work on finishing [specific task] by the end of the day. If you need any help, don't hesitate to ask."

"I understand that we all have off days, [coworker's name], but we really need everyone to pull their weight on this project. Can you please focus on completing [specific task] today? If you're unsure about anything, I'm here to support you."

"[Coworker's name], I've noticed that [specific task] hasn't been progressing as expected. We need to stay on track to meet our goals. Let's discuss how we can work together to ensure this task gets completed efficiently and effectively."

Additionally, you wouldn’t want to appear arrogant and authoritative, when you’ve only had good intentions.

How to tell someone to do their job professionally

So, how can you gently hint at a coworker that they need to take their responsibilities seriously?

The right way to tell someone to do their job professionally is by making it clear that you are not attacking them but rather that you want to help and that you are simply concerned about the productive work environment.

Here's an example:

"It seems like you might not be fully engaged with [specific task], [coworker's name]. Is there something that's holding you back? Let's figure out how to overcome any challenges, so we can work together to complete the task and contribute to the project's success."

To help you sound friendly and make your coworker feel more comfortable during the whole conversation, you can start by mentioning some positive aspects of the other person’s work instead of jumping straight to any accusations.

How to get lazy coworkers to work

Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of their behavior, it's essential to find ways to inspire and motivate your lazy coworkers to contribute to their fullest potential.

In this section of the article, we'll explore various strategies and tips that can help transform seemingly lazy coworkers into proactive and productive team players.

1. Offer encouragement

Hey, don't underestimate the power of a little praise! Compliment your coworkers on their efforts and celebrate their achievements, big or small.

A genuine "Great job!" or "I appreciate your hard work" can work wonders for their confidence and motivation. Remember, everyone likes to feel valued and recognized for their contributions.

2. Share your enthusiasm

To motivate a lazy coworker, simply get excited and spread positivity! Let your coworker know how passionate you are about the project or task, and explain why it matters.

Your energy and enthusiasm might just be contagious, inspiring them to jump on board and give it their all.

3. Collaborate

Teamwork makes the dream work! Include your lazy colleague in discussions, brainstorming sessions, and problem-solving activities.

By actively involving them in the process, you're helping them feel more invested in the project and showing them that their input matters.

4. Set smaller, achievable goals

Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither is a successful project! Break down tasks into bite-sized chunks and encourage your coworker to tackle one step at a time.

By setting smaller, more attainable goals, you'll help them experience a sense of accomplishment more frequently, which can be a huge motivator.

5. Provide guidance

Lend a helping hand and share your wisdom! If your coworker seems stuck or overwhelmed, offer your expertise and support to guide them through the task. Sometimes, all they need is a little nudge in the right direction to get going.

6. Create friendly competition

Let the games begin! Encourage a bit of friendly competition among team members by setting up challenges, leaderboards, or progress trackers.

A healthy dose of rivalry can inspire higher productivity and engagement, as long as it's all in good fun.

7. Suggest incentives

Sweeten the deal with some rewards! Suggest implementing a system that recognizes and rewards employees for meeting deadlines, completing tasks, or going above and beyond.

This could be anything from shout-outs during team meetings to bonuses or special perks. Everyone loves a little extra motivation!

8. Develop their skills

Encourage growth and learning! Suggest that your coworker attend workshops, training sessions, or online courses to improve their skills and boost their confidence.

By investing in their personal and professional development, they may become more engaged and enthusiastic about their work.

9. Share responsibility

Give them a chance to shine! Involve your coworker in decision-making processes, giving them a voice and a sense of ownership in the project.

By entrusting them with responsibility, you're showing faith in their abilities, which can inspire them to step up and prove themselves.

10. Address underlying issues

Get to the root of the problem! If your coworker's laziness seems to be stemming from something deeper, like burnout, disinterest, or personal issues, try to offer support or point them toward resources that might help.

Sometimes, tackling the underlying cause can make all the difference in turning a lazy coworker into a motivated and productive team player.

My experience dealing with a lazy coworker

As an experienced project manager, I've always been proud of my ability to lead diverse teams and bring out the best in everyone. However, there was one project that truly put my skills to the test.

It was a high-stakes project for a major client, and my team was under immense pressure to deliver outstanding results.

Among my team members was Jack, a coworker who initially seemed to have great potential but soon began to slack off.

One day, while Jack was struggling with a task, I offered my guidance, hoping it would be the catalyst for change. However, my help didn't seem to make a significant difference, and his performance remained subpar.

I realized I needed to try something else. I set up a friendly competition among the team, hoping that a bit of rivalry would ignite Jack's motivation.

To my surprise, the competition only led to a temporary improvement in Jack's performance.

Frustrated, I decided to take a step back and reevaluate my approach. I began by sharing my enthusiasm for the project with Jack, hoping that my passion would be contagious.

At the same time, I encouraged Jack to attend a workshop to develop his skills, thinking that perhaps a lack of confidence was holding him back.

To my delight, Jack returned from the workshop invigorated and with a newfound eagerness to contribute to the project.

However, our journey was far from over. As the project progressed, I noticed that Jack was slipping back into his old habits.

I decided to get creative and implement a reward system for meeting deadlines and completing tasks. While the incentives did have an impact, it still wasn't enough to keep Jack consistently engaged.

At this point, I realized it was time for a heart-to-heart conversation.

We sat down and had an open discussion about Jack's performance and what might be causing his lack of motivation.

It turned out that Jack was dealing with personal issues that were affecting his work. Empathizing with his situation, I offered my support and suggested resources to help him cope.

This conversation seemed to be the turning point for Jack.

As we moved forward, I continued to use a combination of strategies to keep Jack engaged. I involved him in decision-making processes, giving him a sense of ownership and responsibility.

I also set smaller, achievable goals for Jack, allowing him to experience a sense of accomplishment more frequently.

Simultaneously, I made an effort to actively involve Jack in team discussions and brainstorming sessions, ensuring that he felt like a vital part of the team.

Throughout this rollercoaster of ups and downs, Jack began to open up and grow both personally and professionally. Our team, too, learned valuable lessons about adaptability, empathy, and the importance of addressing underlying issues.

By the time the project was completed, Jack had transformed into a highly motivated and productive team member.

His growth not only contributed to the project's success but also served as a testament to the power of perseverance, understanding, and employing various strategies to help a struggling coworker reach their full potential.

In the end, we emerged as a stronger, more resilient team, ready to tackle any challenge that came our way.

Frequently asked questions about dealing with lazy coworkers

Should I report a lazy coworker to my manager or HR?

Before reporting a lazy coworker to your manager or HR, consider trying other approaches first. It might be more effective to have a conversation with the coworker about their performance, offer support, or suggest resources that might help them improve. If you've exhausted these options and their behavior continues to negatively impact the team or project, it may be appropriate to bring the issue to your manager's attention. When discussing the situation with your manager, focus on the impact of the coworker's behavior on the team and the project, rather than making it personal. Remember, your goal should be to find a solution that benefits everyone involved.

Is it possible that a coworker appears lazy due to other underlying issues?

Yes, it is possible that a coworker may appear lazy due to underlying issues such as stress, burnout, personal problems, or a lack of engagement in their role. These factors can significantly affect a person's work performance and motivation. Before labeling someone as lazy, try to understand the root cause of their behavior. Be empathetic and consider offering support or suggesting resources to help them address the underlying issues. By helping them overcome these challenges, you may see a significant improvement in their performance and motivation.

Written by:
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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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