3 Ways to Politely Get Lazy Coworkers Back on Track

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Sara London for Hive
A 2019 study from Mavenlink reports that the workforce’s biggest pet peeve in the office is lazy coworkers. And with many still following a remote or hybrid work model, lazy coworkers can feel even more challenging to reach. However, there are several key ways to identify lazy coworkers and help them shed their lackadaisical attitudes by politely setting them back on the right track.

What makes a lazy coworker?

They’re a distraction

According to Zippia, 92% of workers polled have at least one annoying coworker – but their irritating nature doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re terrible people. Sometimes, your lazy coworkers could be trusted friends, entertaining companions, or long-time colleagues experiencing burnout.
Unfortunately, the attitudes of lazy coworkers can spread faster than the next variant. While you might begin your days passionate and ready to work, spending too long with someone who’s not doing their fair share can also make you feel like phoning it in. You’ll know that a lazy coworker has become a distraction when you start responding to their texts rather than listening to your meeting or sending them memes over sending important emails.

They’re a gossip

Another hallmark of lazy coworkers is their talkativeness. They’re not just hanging out by the watercooler chatting, they’re constantly going on about something irrelevant during meetings and in emails, and they could even be derailing work activities with their comments. Mavenlink’s study states that 43% of workers believe their chatty teammates are one of the biggest productivity killers.
One thing to remember about your lazy coworkers is that their gossip may not be an intentional way to distract or bother others, and they may not even realize that their behavior is a problem. It’s good to know if your coworker is self-aware because if they are, your conversation about cutting back on all of the small talk will sound different.

They’re a pain

The most difficult part of dealing with a lazy coworker is knowing that even if they do not intend to be a jerk, they can still come off like one. You can identify a lazy coworker by the feelings that emerge when you approach them for a conversation. It’s possible that talking to this teammate may feel like a chore. You could feel bad-tempered hearing false promises or vague statements of feigned reassurance, and those feelings can sit with you for minutes or hours after the conversation.

How to deal

1. Don’t assume that they’re malicious.

Your lazy coworkers aren’t being lazy just to spite you or the company, and they’re not being lazy because they want to irritate you. Whether they’re an older teammate who’s been in their role for years or a new teammate who just joined a few months ago, it’s more than likely that their issues run deeper than just laziness.
Perhaps your lazy coworker’s work isn’t stimulating enough, and they need a new challenge. They could be depressed or isolated, and they’re expressing their inner turmoil by being unmotivated at work. They could even be overwhelmed by tasks and feel too paralyzed to start working – then, they defend against that paralyzed feeling by embracing and defending their lazy lifestyle.
Rather than getting angry and assuming the worst, be empathetic and talk to these coworkers with compassion and understanding. By attempting to understand why they act the way they do, you can help them break unhealthy cycles and reflect on their behavior more thoroughly.

2. Don’t rat them out.

Unfortunately, though it may be tempting to run and tell a superior about your lazy coworkers, that’s probably the least effective thing you could do. Reprimanding your teammate for slacking may make them slack more, especially if you’ve noticed a pattern of passive-aggressive behavior. They could also end up feeling worse about their laziness and produce a negative mindset, which could also impact their productivity.
Additionally, if you turn around and talk about this coworker behind their backs before you have an honest conversation with them, it can foster mistrust. The lazy party will feel ganged up on, and you’ll never get anywhere.
To get to the heart of the issue, go to your coworker before going to your boss. First, come to them with kindness, and tell them that you just want to check in and make sure they’re doing alright, as you’re concerned about their work habits. Offer them an ear, and take their complaints about work seriously. Then, brainstorm solutions together, and use this talk as an opportunity to bond. Only if your lazy coworkers are defensive or rude should you go above their heads and speak to a supervisor about the next steps.

3. Don’t let it affect you.

If you’ve talked to your lazy coworkers and discussed this topic with friends and colleagues alike, but you feel that you’re getting nowhere, you might start to feel drained – and you’re not alone. The above study from Zippia shows that if your relationship with coworkers is driving you up the wall, you’re not alone – 57% of those polled have thought about leaving their jobs just because of an irritating coworker.
Letting your lazy teammate’s behavior get in the way of your work is one of the worst things you can do. A simple, polite way to get them back on track is to lead by example and don’t let their laziness cause you any frustration, dejection, or disappointment.
Try sitting down with this coworker and working together on one project, especially if you have complementary skills in certain areas. If they begin to slack, don’t let their absent-mindedness bog you down – just keep working and don’t engage their attempts at small talk. Instead, gently remind them that you would like to finish this portion of the project with them before you take a break.

4. Don’t take on their work.

Lastly, the best way to politely get a lazy coworker back on track is to let them stand on their own two feet. If they’re falling behind, don’t offer to take on their work, even if they try to push outstanding deadlines onto you or other coworkers. Make sure that they can’t be bailed out by you or anyone else on their team, as it could be the kickstart they need to begin putting in the work on their own.
This tip might be a bit more difficult for those who haven’t cultivated their boundaries quite yet. Still, every new challenge is an opportunity to learn, and this is your chance to practice combining firm boundaries with a respectful, kind demeanor. Tell your coworker that though you can offer guidance or advice, you can’t help them with the work because this is their moment to show off their skills and shine, not yours.
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This article originally appeared in Hive — the world's first democratically built productivity platform. Learn more at Hive.com.

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