Monday, March 23, 2009

Dealing With Co-Workers Who Won't Pull Their Weight at Work

It's late. Most of the offices are dark, and the only sound if the "squeak, squeak, squeak" of the cleaning guy's cart as he slowly wheels it down a nearby hallway.

At your desk, you try again to focus on the work in front of you. You've been working for 14 hours straight, and only grabbed some potato chips and a soda from the vending machine for dinner. Your head pounds and your neck and back are one continuous pulse of pain. You long ago shed your jacket and rolled up your sleeves. Your hair sticks up in spikes after you've run your hands through it about a thousand times in the last several hours. You figure you now smell as bad as you feel.

But you have no choice. You can't go home yet. Probably not for several more hours, you think angrily. Someone you stupidly trusted has let you down. Instead of coming through with his part of the report, he missed the deadline and then gave some lame excuse about how he couldn't work late.

"Sorry," he said, walking out the door hours ago.

So, that left you with the problem. You have to get the work done by tomorrow, because that's when the boss wants it done. You can't afford to lose this job, and that means that if you work 24 hours straight to turn it in on time, that's what you're going to do. But in the meantime, you hope karma really is a bitch -- you'd like to see your co-worker get a toe fungus that eventually overtakes his whole body.

Many of us have been through similar scenarios in our career. We trust our co-workers to come through for us, and when they don't, we're angry and vow never to trust them again.

Unfortunately, with today's lean workforce environments, we rely more than ever on one another to get the job done. Our success -- and our company's success -- depends on employees working together efficiently and productively. If one of those cogs in the wheel is faulty, then the whole operation can be jeopardy.

Let's look at ways to handle co-workers that drop the ball, and how to get them to pull their weight:

1. No one is a mind reader.
Make sure that if you need a co-worker's input by a specific deadline, you've made that deadline clear. Don't nag -- that's sure to annoy the other person and only lead to more communication problems. If you think there may be problem, be positive: "David, I just want to check in and remind you that our deadline for those figures is Friday. How's it going -- any problems? No? Great! That's wonderful news. I'll check back in a couple of days."

2. Don't be a martyr.
If you know the only way the work is going to get done is by pulling some long hours, don't get angry that you're probably the only one willing to do it. Instead, be proactive. "Mary, we've really got to make sure this report is done by Friday, and it looks like that means we're all going to have to pull some extra hours. What section do you want to tackle?"

3. Be persistent
. Most of us are working very hard right now, but we all know the people who seem to be extraordinarily talented at escaping their share of the growing workload. Don't give in simply because it's easier to do it yourself. You'll only end up hurting yourself because you'll burn out that much sooner and possibly ruin your health. Instead, be focused on your objective, which is making sure the co-worker follows through on a work commitment. It's best to do this when you're not under the threat of a looming deadline. Pick a quiet time, and say, "Bob, it seems that I'm usually the one who puts in the late hours when there's a deadline. I'm willing to do my part, of course, but I'd like to talk about ways we can split the work a bit more fairly."

4. Acknowledge contributions.
You may be angry and resentful by the time a co-worker does come through, but your sullenness won't help. Instead, be appreciative so that the co-worker's helpfulness won't be a one-time thing. "I see that you got the figures to Bob in time for us to include them in the report. That really helped us meet the deadline. Thanks."

What are some other ways to deal with co-workers who may not be shouldering their fair share of work?


Anonymous said...

One tool I like to use is a simple emailed status report. After checking with each team member, publish an email listing each team member, the task, and the percent complete. This email goes to all members of the team, the project sponsor, and whoever else is appropriate or needs/wants to know.

This provides excellent written documentation. A team member has to either perjure himself, which can then be dealt with if no work is actually forthcoming, or must actually do the work.

There are a lot of forms available in various project methodologies for this type of status report, but if your company doesn't use them, then an email works just fine.

Anita said...

Excellent suggestion! I especially like the idea that it provides written documentation for everyone to see just who is doing what.

Kevin said...

This falls under the idea of making people responsible for their own actions. In an office environment you have to make sure politics doesn't cloud your judgement. If you don't have clout with the boss you might have to pull all nighters. Watch "In The Company of Men" with Aaron Eakhart. Office politics at its best.

Anita said...

I haven't seen that movie and will be sure and check it out. I do think you have to be savvy about office politics -- there is no escaping it. I also think that total slackers end up being hurt by their own lack of responsibility because team members avoid them and badmouth their reputations inside and outside a company -- something no one can afford in this tough job market.

Steven said...

Unfortunately, lazy coworkers are a reality and their impact on people can be significant when it comes to health, happiness and stress. Finding the energy, resources and "guts" to have the difficult conversations in a civil yet assertive manner can be challenging. But the best steps are first having that conversation before ultimately bringing the boss into the loop. For most situations, I believe, the problem goes away within those first two steps and the "job description" stuff isn't even needed. Great advice and insight.