This is how to deal with your incompetent coworkers

You know the person who doesn’t pull their weight? Here are a few dos and don’ts to getting things to change.

This is how to deal with your incompetent coworkers
[Photo: nd3000/iStock]

In almost every workplace, there is bound to be someone who isn’t pulling their own weight.


When you’re an ambitious, hard-working employee who is committed to growing your career and the company, it’s frustrating to work with someone who seems interested in only doing  the bare minimum.

Here are the dos and don’ts of dealing with a lazy colleague.

Don’t: Vent your frustration to your colleagues

You probably know that talking bad about your colleagues is a no-no. But it’s easier to succumb to this temptation than you think. As Lydia Dishman previously wrote in Fast Company, it’s natural to want to blow off steam. But as Jeffrey Lohr, a professor at the University of Arkansas, told Dishman, venting anger is similar to “emotional farting in a closed area.” And instead of making you feel better, you’ll probably end up being angrier. And you definitely don’t want to be known as the ill-tempered person in the office.

Do: Try to see their point of view, and act accordingly

Admittedly, this is hard to do. But sometimes, you can get them to pull their own weight when you understand why they’re, well, not. As Alyse Kalish wrote for The Muse, people are motivated by different things. Kalish cited Gretchen Rubin’s “four tendencies,” which categorizes people into upholder, obliger, rebel, and questioner. Someone with a “rebel” tendency, for example, does not respond well to authority and needs to feel like they have complete autonomy of their actions. This means that when you phrase a request to them, you don’t do it as a command. Kalish gave the example, “Jill isn’t sure we can get the presentation done by this afternoon. What do you think?”

Related: How to be more assertive at work when that’s just not your personality 

Don’t: Complain to your boss without talking to your coworker first

As tempting as it is to rant to your coworkers, it’s also tempting to go running to your boss–particularly if you know that they think of you as a high performer. It’s not going to make you feel better, for starters. It can also make you sound petty, and as Ask a Manager‘s Alison Green pointed out, your boss might already be aware of the problem and is trying to do something about it. Perhaps it’s not having an effect, but you moaning it about it isn’t going to make a difference.


Do: Focus on what you can control about the situation

So you’ve tried to adopt your ask based on your coworkers’s personality, but that doesn’t seem to be working. It’s true that ultimately, your coworker’s actions aren’t in your control, but your actions are. One thing that you can do, Kalish suggested, is offer to help them. She gave the following example as a way to start the conversation:  “Hey, I noticed you’ve been staring at your screen all day–I’m free for a bit, anything I can help out with?”

Don’t: Constantly overcompensate for their lack of efforts

You might be tempted to pick up your coworker’s slack if you’re not the confrontational type. After all, you don’t want to get in trouble for their lack of efforts and shoddy work, right? But as Courtney C.W. Guerra, author of Is This Working?: The Businesslady’s Guide to Getting What You Want From Your Career pointed out, this approach is only acceptable in two situations. The mistake (or work) is so minor and doesn’t take long to fix, or the colleague in question is just having a really bad day, and you want to help them out. When it doesn’t fall into those two situations, you’ll just make yourself more angry and resentful, and that can impact your work. Don’t let someone else’s laziness ruin your reputation.

Related: How to deal with a passive-aggressive coworker 

Do: Keep a documentation of your work and interaction

When all else fails and you do need to bring it up with your manager, it always helps to have documentation. Whether it’s setting expectations with your coworker over email or writing down your conversations and evidence of their behavior, you need to make sure that it’s based on facts, not feelings. Yes, it can be hard to be objective when every part of you wants to call this person out. But as Maurice Schweitzer, coauthor of the book Friend & Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and When to Succeed at Both, previously told Fast Company, “If you lose your cool, you will be in danger of looking undignified.” Don’t put yourself at risk of that.

About the author

Anisa is a freelance writer and editor who covers the intersection of work and life, personal development, money, and entrepreneurship. Previously, she was the assistant editor for Fast Company's Work Life section and the co-host of Secrets Of The Most Productive people podcast.