June 28

Dealing with lazy coworkers? – Stop tearing out your hair

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It almost seems like a crime to call your coworkers lazy. After all, aren’t we supposed to be nice and supporting colleagues? But sometimes, the work isn’t done, and your colleague’s excuse is just lame.

Lazy coworkers aren’t the easiest to deal with. But in this article, we share some practical tips that you can use to help yourself.

Recognise that your ultimate responsibility is to yourself

As a former social worker, I met many clients who complained about colleagues who didn’t do the work, but would direct others to do the work. They were known as the ‘Taichi’ masters, great at pushing away work from themselves.

This left my clients in a very difficult place. On top of their own workloads, they now had the workloads of others to deal with.

But the first mindshift to have is to realise that the first and ultimate responsibility is to yourself. Too often, we fail to take this mindset because we are always taught to care for others and to help them whenever we can.

dealing with lazy coworkers
Why not care for yourself before caring for others?

Stop that. You are not helping someone else, and you’re not helping yourself. You’re actually supporting someone else to be lazy. Why are you doing that?

First be clear about expectations

The most important thing in any team is to be clear about the expectations you have of each other. Expectations is often the unspoken undercurrent in any team, which can impede your progress.

In my previous team, I never knew my boss’ expectations of me. Until I got issued with a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), a get better or get sacked plan. This was when it was first laid out to me about how I wasn’t fulfilling my part of my duties as a team member. I used to think of others as lazy, but until I saw my own inaction listed, I never knew how much I was impeding the team.

Take time to clarify your expectations with your team members. They might not necessarily know that they are failing your expectations.

In my team currently, I also realise that a major failure has been my inability to communicate my expectations of my team members. I’ve expected them to ‘know’ what I want, without even telling them what I need.

That’s resulted in mismatched expectations, and the inability to get the outcomes we want.

Take time to communicate, and face up to difficult conversations.

Don’t fall into the blaming stance

When we get into these difficult conversations, often the first thing we may do is to blame. We end up saying,

You didn’t do this…

You were late…

What can be helpful is to use ‘I’ statements. For example,

I felt disappointed when the work was handed in late.

The next thing you will observe in the above statement is that it focuses on the action, rather than the person who was guilty. Rather than saying, ‘you were late’, it points to ‘the work was handed in late’. This ensures that the person doesn’t feel blamed.

Rather you are speaking objectively about an action that happened.

Be careful of the superiority complex

Often, when we see laziness in someone else, we may end up glorifying our own work. It’s important that you remain humble about what you are doing, rather than comparing your work output to what the other person has done.

This can end up ‘dehumanising’ the other person, putting you ‘in the box’. This concept, from The Arbinger Institute, talks about we often place ourselves in the box, seeing ourselves better than others. This can result in you seeking ways to confirm your perception of the other party.

Sometimes, we may see ourselves as better than others, and in doing so we put ourselves in the box. Credit: The Arbinger Institute
Sometimes, we may see ourselves as better than others, and in doing so we put ourselves in the box. Credit: The Arbinger Institute

For example, if you were convinced that your colleague was lazy, you may constantly search for the things that confirm your viewpoint. You may take every action your colleague does as a confirmation of your hypothesis that he is lazy.

The best way to overcome this is to take time to ask,

What if he was doing the best he could?

This question, from Brene Brown, often forces us to think the best of others. It can help to move you to your colleague’s side.

But I can’t report him to my boss!

Nah. You can. If work’s not being done, the fault shouldn’t be yours. Even if you work in teams, and leaders talk about actively covering each other’s ass, there’s a point when that can no longer be done.

You need to be willing to escalate it. We often think that we have to try to solve things at our level. But you have a boss for a reason. You don’t have to resolve everything at your level. You can always escalate it.

Lazy colleagues, may not always be lazy

It’s a question of perception. In my previous company, I used to think that a colleague was particularly lazy and toxic. She would often spend work hours watching dramas, and then yell at us whenever something was not done to her standard.

Naturally, I avoided her.

But on the day I left, she came forward to thank me for the chocolates I had given her. She was earnest and sincere, and told me that if I ever saw her in the streets, I had to wave hi!

Dealing with lazy coworkers
Even though I left my company, my colleague still treated me nicely

That was more than I ever expected. I expected that she would be happy to get rid of me, given that I was the subject of much of her scolding over the years.

But this was the first time I had done anything for her. But that simple gift, reminded me that she was human, just like I was.

Sometimes, in treating lazy colleagues, it’s important to take a step back and remember that they are also here to earn a living. Think the best of their intentions. Some things may have happened that may have made them react the way they do today. But don’t give up on them.

You may be surprised.


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