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Illustration by Cinders McLeod (Cinders McLeod/The Globe and Mail/Cinders McLeod/The Globe and Mail)
Illustration by Cinders McLeod (Cinders McLeod/The Globe and Mail/Cinders McLeod/The Globe and Mail)

Nine To Five

How does my lazy co-worker keep getting promoted? Add to ...

The Question:

There is a woman in the office who does literally nothing. The work she does do, when she’s not busy text messaging or watching YouTube videos, is shoddy at best, incompetent at worst. She calls in sick for important meetings that require her to follow up, and she passes off her work to administration or other staff. She comes in late and leaves early every day.

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And yet, she’s been promoted twice and has the boss wrapped tightly around her finger. When approached by numerous staff that her work isn’t up to par, she is defensive and the boss is dismissive. Customers have complained.

This is a unionized environment and while no one wants to see her fired, we would like to see her pull her weight. And we’d like the boss to see her for what she really is. How do you handle a lazy-yet-protected worker?

The First Answer:

Heather Faire

Human Resources executive

I’m curious. No one wants the incompetent, lazy, defensive, customer offending, regularly absent, shoddy worker fired. Did I get that right? Is there more to this story?

It seems you’ve had no success talking to either “Lazy” or the boss. So consider a different conversation.

If you’re looking for a “go big or go home approach,” consider talking to your union representative. Talk about the performance (“she’s late”) not about the person (“she’s lazy”). Talk about things you saw, not gossip you heard. Your union representative can convey your message for you. The boss is unlikely to be dismissive of an official union complaint. But remember, when you mess with the bull, sometimes you get stuck with the horns.

If you prefer a softer, gentler approach, and assuming “Lazy’s” not your supervisor, think about politely declining to do her work. Explain your decision with a smile and be prepared to explain to the boss, too. Make sure your reason includes your desire to complete the boss’s more important work on time. As “Lazy’s” work piles up, the boss will start to suffer and will likely begin to unwind from “Lazy’s” finger.

Whether you try one, both or neither of these suggestions, you might want to reflect on an old adage. “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Forget about “Lazy.” Let the boss worry about her. Spend your energy thinking about productive things you can do to get positive recognition and promotions for yourself.

The Second Answer:

Greg A. Chung-Yan, PhD

Assoc. Prof., Industrial/Organizational Psychology

University of Windsor

Few things are more frustrating than co-workers who do not take their responsibilities as seriously as we do. Such laziness is offensive to those of us committed to doing our jobs well. On the face of it, you have taken appropriate actions by talking to the individual and your manager. I am taking for granted that you did it respectfully; gave concrete examples of your co-worker’s underperformance rather than just sharing your feelings and opinions; and illustrated how it negatively impacted your own work as well as the unit and your co-workers.

Sometimes a manager might minimize these concerns because at the end of the day, the work still gets done. You and your co-workers are enabling this person’s bad habits by doing the work she “passes off” to you. Stop that! Picking up the slack for people who are not doing their job hides the underperformance issues from the manager.

Of course, you can go to your manager’s boss. Understandably, many people are reluctant to do this, but I tend to think that the risk of a negative backlash is often exaggerated. Nevertheless, only you can evaluate the risk that this poses for you.

Last solution: drop it. Unless it is affecting your own productivity or upward mobility, then you have enough to worry about with regard to your own career without worrying about someone else’s. It is unfair, but sadly, that is life.

Are you facing a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that minefield? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com. Confidentiality ensured. Weigh in with your view at tgam.ca/careers.

Follow us on Twitter: @Globe_Careers

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