Lazy Coworkers: How to Deal With Them Professionally

Lazy Coworkers.
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Typically, every office will probably have at least one coworker that most would deem lazy. And with the rise of more employees working remotely or hybrid, lazy coworkers might appear to be more common. 

After all, how can you really ensure they aren’t “goofing off” when you don’t physically see them often? It’s sometimes a reason why some companies push back to the office. But even being in the office doesn’t guarantee there won’t be coworkers looking for ways out of doing work. 

So how do you identify lazy coworkers working remotely and how do you deal with them professionally? And more importantly, how can you also motivate them to become more productive in their role? I cover it all in this guide!

What is the DNA of a Lazy Coworker?

It’s usually pretty easy to spot when a coworker is being lazy, as there are common signs.

For example, you’ll notice they are very good at distracting you, overly talkative about non-work items, ignore important emails or messages often, make excuses for delays in tasks, and generally become a pain to work with. 

And even if you are working remotely, most of these above traits apply and are pretty obvious. But some additional things to ask yourself when working from home that may signal laziness:

  • Does a coworker take hours to respond to your Slack messages? 
  • Do they tend to keep their cameras off on video meetings or rarely chime in about work?
  • Is the work becoming sloppy or lacking details, causing you to want to take over?
  • Are they asking you for help a lot on various projects or tasks? 

Does this Coworker Need to Be Addressed? 

Before we go into some details about dealing with lazy remote coworkers, you have to decide if YOU should be the one to deal with them. Pending your role in the company, this might be something for a manager or an HR leader to address. 

Of course, you don’t want to snitch on the coworker or go behind their back as your first move. That typically never ends up going well. Don’t worry, I’ll dive in more below about “when” and “how” to tell your manager about a coworker being lazy. 

But also remember: not everything necessarily means that a colleague is being lazy to get out of doing work. For example, remote work can be hard for some to adjust to. And maybe there is something personal going on in their lives causing distractions or lack of focus.

Ask yourself a few questions about whether this is something you should address. 

  • Is their laziness affecting my productivity and my other teammates? 
  • Does their lack of focus and work reflect on my job and career in the company?
  • Do I seem to have to take over their work or correct things before others see it?
  • Are their own deadlines constantly being missed, stalling my or my team’s progress?
  • Is their lazy behavior negatively impacting the company as a whole?

If any one of those is an obvious “yes” to you, then you’ll probably want to jump into the steps of dealing with this lazy coworker. Otherwise, if it’s not impacting you or detrimental to the business, it’s probably best to let it go and stay focused on your work.

How to Deal With Lazy Coworkers

Okay, so the lazy coworker is totally impacting your work and productivity…now what!? Well, it’s time to follow a plan to professionally deal with the issue and hopefully make some progress. Follow the tips below.

1. Connect with them 1:1

As mentioned earlier, you should not go to your boss or manager first. Instead, you want to professionally have a direct conversation with them. It’s good business etiquette, and ratting them out first can do more harm than good. 

Use this as a time to say how it’s affecting your job, how it’s impacting teammates, and you see how your own performance is decreasing. Be direct, open, and honest without resorting to angry or aggressive behavior. 

When you do this virtually, mind your body language and mannerisms as well. It can be harder for others to read someone remotely, so you need to pay more attention when you are on video. 

Sometimes after this respectful conversation, it might resolve the issue, and a new sense of productivity kicks in for the offender. But don’t necessarily count on that either. 

2. Be sympathetic, but don’t be a sucker

You might learn that your colleague is having some personal things going on. I’ve seen this before where people were burnt out, had gone through a recent divorce or death in the family, or had some other situation that impacts their work. 

This happens and it helps you better understand that this is something that caused this lack of focus. Naturally, this can’t linger on forever, but you can be more understanding and sympathetic. 

Beyond that, it could just be a lack of motivation and self-awareness. Most lazy coworkers do not have bad intent to negatively impact you or the company.

I also wrote don’t be a “sucker” too because you may find a coworker is actually being manipulative. If you’ve addressed this a few times and there are always excuses, you can’t allow yourself to keep falling for it. At that point, this colleague is intentionally playing games. 

But whatever the case may be, an honest conversation is a great way to better state your case and understand what your coworker might be going through. 

3. Offer support, lead by example

Start by offering support for the coworker, to see if you can get them out of this rut. Maybe it’s personal issues or lack of direction, but you may find ways to get them on the right track. 

Again, not every employee who appears lazy is really trying to get out of doing work. You never really know what someone is going through until you talk with them first. 

But this can be a good time to show your listening and leadership skills. Help them reach goals or deadlines, and even provide tips on how you stay on task. This could be helpful if you all are remote workers, which sometimes distracts people from getting work done. 

4. Don’t take on their work

You might feel you need to pick up their slack to ensure projects get done. And while that is a natural reaction, you want to be cautious of doing so. As you are now starting to enable the lazy coworker to take advantage of you. And the employee may even get lazier! 

It’s okay to remind them of projects, tasks, and various deadlines, but if you aren’t their manager it is not your job to babysit their every move. That is a time-kill, can impact your own productivity, and creates more aggravation for you. 

Guiding them is one thing, but doing their work does more harm than good in the long run. 

5. Connect with others 

Before going to your manager or HR representative, connect with others you know about the situation. This isn’t a time where you want to create controversy or gossip, which can hurt your reputation in the workplace. But you may want to seek advice from those you trust. 

My go-to recommendation would be to consult with your mentors or colleagues at other organizations to get some input.

You can also talk to a trusted colleague on your team as well. In a study by Mavenlink, it was found that 47% of employees feel that lazy coworkers are their number one pet peeve. So more than likely, your other colleagues are noticing it too.

You’ll want to be cautious with how you bring this up, as you don’t want to trash talk someone behind their back to other coworkers.  

6. Document your observations and conversations

Lastly, one of the best things you can do is document your observations and conversations you have with the coworker. This allows you to provide evidence if needed about the lazy coworker and protects you. 

Of course, this should not be something you do all day or try to “trap” anyone. Instead, save emails, chats, or screenshots of anything during your correspondence. It can also help to write down dates and times with some notes about the conversations too. 

This can show you are telling the truth if you need to present this to your boss and shows you took initiative to try and solve the issues.

How Do You Tell Your Boss Your Coworker is Lazy?

How Do You Tell Your Boss Your Coworker is Lazy?

You’ve followed the steps above, but nothing has seemed to improve. In fact, maybe it’s getting worse and you feel the team morale is not in a good place because of it. At this point, it is time to address it higher up. Here’s how you can tell the boss about your lazy coworker. 

1. Discuss the situation

Often your boss might not completely realize the lack of performance coming from this coworker. And this is especially true if you and your co-workers are picking up that person’s slack.

But you want to have a chat with them in a respectful and professional tone about the situation. Share your observations, how it’s impacting you and the team, and that it’s been consistent behavior. 

2. Explain the steps you took

Along with sharing the situation, it’s important to discuss the steps you took first before coming to your boss. It shows you took some initiative to address it head-on and that this is not some petty work drama. By talking about this, it shows you were serious about confronting the lazy coworker to find an agreeable resolution. 

3. Provide the honest evidence

Always document everything, the steps and things you did, along with dates. You want to provide an accurate timeline, but also protect yourself if a situation would potentially escalate much further. This should include saving any chat logs, emails, or documents that back up this conversation and your claims. 

4. Offer additional solutions

While you took the steps to find a solution, offer additional ideas to your boss. As you are discussing this, your manager may have thoughts or ideas to help you too. And you can ask them for guidance on how you can next address it.

At this point, you can ask your boss about their next steps and offer any support as needed.

5. Be careful about what you say

As you communicate, you don’t want to come off as a gossiper or a complainer. While this may be somewhat of a complaint, avoid harsh language or criticizing remarks of the coworker. You want your boss to respect you and see you as someone with genuine concern. Not someone looking to cause drama or even looked at as a tattletale.  

How Do You Motivate a Lazy Coworker?

If you are the manager or team leader, then it’ll be more of your responsibility to try and work with the lazy coworker. Before you consider reprimanding them, there might be some ways to motivate them and get their productivity back on track. 

More positive reinforcement

Show more appreciation for employees’ work, including when the lazy offender does something solid. That positive feedback can be a good motivator and encouragement to keep doing good work. 

Improve your communication

Communication is an important skill for all employees, especially managers and company leaders. And it becomes more critical when you are in a remote work environment. Look to see how you can better communicate and mimic how the lazy coworker tends to consume information. 

Offer more help and support

A good leader will always offer help or support, but maybe you need to do more of this. Sometimes other team members might be reluctant to ask for help. But this might be a simple way to get unmotivated coworkers in a better groove, knowing you are there for them.  

Scale back “water cooler talk

Certainly, conversating and getting to know your employees is important. And that social aspect matters for remote teams too. Often this is dubbed water cooler talk. But sometimes, a lazy coworker is TOO wrapped up in socializing. 

There is a good way to provide these social conversations and a disruptive way that is more about gossip. Reel these conversations in and find a process that removes too many personal conversations. 

Get them involved in new projects

As I mentioned earlier, sometimes a coworker appears lazy because they aren’t motivated. Maybe they complete their work too fast or find it boring. This is a good time to get them involved in new projects or ask for help on different tasks. This can be motivating and get them refocused if they were looking for new challenges. 

Become a better leader for them

Look at how you can be a better manager and leader. Maybe you are micromanaging too much or ordering teammates around too much. You want to take charge and be respected, but you also don’t want people to avoid you either. Ask for feedback, learn what you can do better, test new approaches, and see how that impacts a lazy coworker. 

Sometimes a lazy coworker just needs some additional motivation. If they are genuinely a good person with potential, try not to give up on them right away. These little pushes can spark some serious results and improvements. 

However, if after everything they are still being lazy and not delivering, then it might be time to relieve them of their job duties. Firing someone is never easy, but at some point, it might be the right decision for the team and company.

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About Todd Kunsman

Todd is the founder of Remote Work Junkie and has been featured in numerous publications like Business Insider, HuffPost, CNBC, and more. He’s been a remote work advocate for close to a decade and has been working remotely full-time for 5+ years. He’s also a marketing, personal finance, and music nerd 🤓

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