How to Handle a Slacker Colleague – 3 Do’s and Don’ts

slacker colleague

It would be great if everyone around the office pulled his or her weight.

But the reality is, when a deadline looms, the true work ethic of your colleagues becomes apparent: who stays until the work is done, who runs off early to a nightly Zumba class and who sits at his laptop checking Facebook while you work.

If you’re finding that you’re always the one picking up the slack, it can be frustrating to bear the burden time and again—particularly if you feel that your manager fails to recognize that you are the engine behind the team.

But take heart: while there are certain traps to avoid when dealing with slacker coworkers, there are a few, key strategies that can help you maintain your sanity and thrive in spite of them.

How to Handle a Slacker Colleague


  1. Don’t fall into the slack trap

Slacking loves company. For most people, neglecting work isn’t quite as fun if they’re left alone. Lengthy lunch breaks and water cooler gabfests are easier to justify if they’re done together. Don’t get dragged down. Your colleagues may try and distract you or take your focus from the job at hand but don’t let them. Be polite and not judgmental in your refusal so that you don’t create enemies but don’t be afraid to pave your own route to success, even though it may look like more fun to hang out with everyone else. 

  1. Don’t tattle

If there’s one thing that upper management hates it’s a tattletale. To your boss, your willingness to throw your colleagues under the bus will make you look like the toxic element on the team. Some bosses may even feel that by tattling on one of their employees, you’re assuming they can’t do their job of managing their own reports. Better to lead and show your boss through your actions that you’re the one running the show than to run and complain. 

Also read: 3 Ways to Come Out on Top if Your Colleague Throws You Under the Bus

  1. Don’t get passive aggressive

The work product should never suffer because you tire of coming to the rescue for your colleagues. Don’t stew in your anger and vow not to finish a task you think your coworker should have completed. Remain dedicated to producing the best possible work and refuse to get caught up in only doing what’s fair. Chances are, your coworker will be oblivious to your passive aggressiveness, and the work will simply be left incomplete.

Also read: 5 Steps to Handle an Aggressive Colleague


  1. Divide and conquer to create accountability

Many times, you may believe that a coworker is lazy when she simply does not realize that a task or project has been divided into deliverables you each manage. Expectations are meaningless without communication. When a major project falls to your team, bring everyone together and help create accountability by dividing it into portions that everyone can agree to manage. Write down a task sheet with each assignment, its deadline, and its owner so that you can return to it later if something remains incomplete. Don’t be dismayed if you still end up having to carry the majority of the project—at least you can return to the task sheet at the end to help hold everyone accountable. But remember, you’re managing laterally here: these are coworkers and not your reports, so tread lightly and be inclusive. 

Also read: Drowning in Work? Here’s How to Quickly Delegate

  1. Try communicating with your colleague

Sometimes you may find yourself dealing with an employee who is chronically late, absent or distracted. You may be puzzled as to how he got hired in the first place. But that’s not your concern. While it may not be effective in every scenario, see if you can find a few minutes with this colleague to try and see why he is so checked out. Maybe he has a new baby at home keeping him up at night; maybe he’s dealing with a sick family member or maybe he’s simply looking for a new job. While he may not disclose anything to you—and you should never pry into his personal life—simply trying to relate to him may give you insight and understanding that can help you feel less taken advantage of when you’re picking up the slack. After all, you have to find a way to manage your emotions first.

  1. Take the opportunity to shine

The best possible strategy with any workplace challenge is to treat a crisis as an opportunity. Where others might see an underperforming team forcing you to stay late and grind hard, you should see a chance to show your superiors that you are reliable, hardworking and a natural leader. By demonstrating your best qualities, you may find yourself asking to take on forthcoming deliverables alone so that you aren’t forced to rely on a less committed team, and your excellence is more clearly showcased. Either way, your positivity is guaranteed to shine through and make a great impression on your superiors.

About the Author

R. Kress is an Emmy Award winning journalist whose reporting and writing has appeared in national media from NBC News to the International Herald Tribune. She has covered news from cities around the world including Jerusalem, Krakow, Amman and Mumbai.