Five ways to survive an underperforming or lazy colleague

Five ways to survive an underperforming or lazy colleague

Most everyone has experienced an underperforming or lazy colleague that somehow did just enough to stay employed. Working with a lazy coworker can be extremely frustrating and trying, but it certainly shouldn’t be debilitating. The good news is that you can survive your colleague’s underperformance and laziness. And even better yet, along the way you can potentially help your colleague, too!

  1. Keep your attitude positive

    Positivity can rub off on anyone, and when positivity infiltrates a team environment it can be especially contagious. What it all really comes down to is that you, and only you, get to decide your attitude.

    • Remind yourself why you like your company and colleagues; share those sentiments with your coworker.   
    • Remind yourself of the value you bring to the company. Solicit your colleague’s input and ask them how they want to be valued by management.
    • Be aware that your colleague’s underperformance or laziness may not be entirely their fault. Many different factors can result in an underperforming or lazy member of a company. It may be that lazy workers, just like ants, are serving a particular, much-needed purpose, says professor Eisuke Hasegawa.

      In the short term, lazy ants are inefficient, but in the long term, they are not.

      Eisuke Hasegawa

      Essentially, as the workload increases, more often than not lazy workers get right to work.

    • It may be that the colleague is experiencing troubles at home and it’s affecting their work performance. Health and financial issues, personal problems or low self-esteem are other possibilities that can dampen their performance. These reasons are quite sensitive and may never be known to you. That’s fine, just be attune to the possibility of these situations existing. Additionally, the colleague may be searching for a new job or is juggling their own business on the side. In all, remind yourself that there may be times when things occur outside of your control.
  2. Be a willing and thoughtful leader

    Where there are obstacles, there’s often opportunity. Therefore, this obstacle could be a prime opportunity for your leadership skills to make a positive difference. This particular situation calls for setting a good example for your colleague, understanding them and hopefully inspiring them.

    • Be the best at your job as you can. Be timely, be organized and be assertive: these are some key leadership traits. Be open for communication and offer to help colleagues who need a nudge towards increased production, or a smarter and more efficient work performance.
    • Make sure your underperforming colleague knows that there are many times their work directly impacts the work and operations of their coworkers. Try to share your insight that the supervisor has expressed a desire for a joint team effort and ask your colleague if they have suggestions on the best way to achieve this. Something professional that could be said: “Let’s work as a cohesive team to get this project done well and finished before the deadline so our supervisor gives us kudos and more responsibility. What do you think?” Empower them to be part of the solution.
    • Give positive feedback when it is warranted. Figuratively pat your colleague on the back. It just may give them a psychological lift.
  3. Don’t let your colleague slow you down

    First and foremost, the company is the most important entity in all of this, so be a quality employee to the best of your ability and help your underperforming colleague when it’s appropriate.

    • If you both have the same job roles or are occasionally assigned similar projects, work on that task or project together and you’ll both learn and improve. Plus, you just might get clear insight into the areas in which your colleague struggles versus areas that your colleague chooses to coast. Do they not understand the task at hand? Is the work assignment beyond their ability? Or are they unwilling to roll up their sleeves and get to work? Answers to these questions can determine your approach.
    • When beginning a new project or task with your colleague, write down specific goals and expectations of each other. This will help you both stay on the same page and be accountable to one another. Agree to frequently check each other’s progress insuring deadlines are met.
    • Offer to help your colleague with their shortcomings. However, do be careful to not bite off more than you can chew. Avoid falling behind on your own work by setting boundaries.
  4. Avoid contributing to office gossip about your colleague

    Contributing to workplace gossip or general complaining should always be an absolute no-no. If you engage in office gossip, not only is it possible that others will see you as being overly negative, it’s quite possible that the constant discussion and reminders will bring down your work psyche and attitude.

    • Don’t participate in the negativity. Remember – if you don’t participate in any workplace gossip, you will not have any tracks to cover.
    • Furthermore, be a positive voice to do your part in stamping out any lingering gossip.
    • Do be aware of what you are hearing. If workplace gossip seems to be getting out of hand, confront the gossiper and tell them in a professional manner that this type of behavior is not appropriate and will not be tolerated.
  5. Continue to learn and keep your eye on the ball

    Observe how other employees and the boss interact with the underperforming colleague and follow their lead. As you deal with the frustration caused by your coworker, keep your focus! This way you will survive it.

    • Ask questions that will further your knowledge base not only for your specific position, but for the greater good of the company. Keep engaged so to not let frustration distract you. Keep the big picture in mind.
    • Volunteer your time and talent inside and outside of work. Be present, active and willing to go the extra mile. This can go a long way towards keeping your priorities positive.
    • Soak up everything like a sponge no matter whether it’s technology training, leadership training or job shadowing.