How to Deal with a Slacker Coworker

Accepting a friend request during work doesn’t seem like a big deal at all. But what if the total smartphone screen time leads to a huge amount of lost productivity?

According to research, the time spent by workers for cyberloafing can range anything between a couple of hours a day to a couple of hours a week.

Why are we mentioning this statistic in the context of employee slacking? Because times are gone when employees used to take frequent smoke breaks or had long water cooler conversations. These days, digital distractions have transformed the traditional method of slacking into a more time-consuming one.

Regardless of the method, we all have experienced the activities of a slacker coworker at work. Some of the most common slacking methods of such colleagues are longer lunch breaks, checking social media all day, missing deadlines frequently, arriving late at work, leaving early, etc.

Needless to say, working with such an incompetent worker doesn’t take much time to trigger frustrations. This becomes especially true when you need to pick his/her slack up and your manager doesn’t recognize your contribution.

In this post, we’re going to share the most effective strategies to deal with slacker coworkers. These should help you put the matter right effectively.

Identify How the Slacker Coworker’s Behavior Is Impacting Your Work

First of all, you need to figure out whether or not the slacker’s activities are impacting your work. Is your own work getting hampered because the person shirks his/her responsibilities? Or, do you frequently need to take care of the coworker’s work so that goals can be achieved on time?

If you don’t relate to any of these situations, it may not be worth giving importance to what the slacker coworker is doing. If the activities cannot drag you down by any means, you may consider ignoring the person.

After all, regardless of how much you try to change an incompetent coworker, the person may still continue to shirk his/her responsibilities. Therefore, it’d be prudent to accept his/her existence while focusing on your own work. The person will eventually need to face the consequences of his/her behaviors at some point.

However, if the person is impeding your success or the growth of the organization, you should definitely try to improve the situation. Consider applying the following strategies to avoid the problems a slacker coworker may inflict.

See If There’s an Underlying Cause of Your Coworker’s Slack

Identify Cause of Your Coworker’s Slack Image

Among the attribution theories in psychology, there’s one called the fundamental attribution error. It describes that we tend to assume the actions of a person depend on his/her personal characteristics instead of the social and environmental factors that may influence those actions.

Therefore, just because you think a colleague isn’t doing his/her part doesn’t mean the person is a slacker coworker. Slacking isn’t always an indicator of laziness. There can be some underlying problems as well.

There’re lots of factors that may make it difficult for the person to focus completely on the work. It can be some personal issues or maybe he/she is struggling to understand the project or lacking the key skills – different factors can come into play. It’s also not uncommon for junior colleagues to experience difficulties in understanding how certain procedures work, which may be another reason for slacking off.

So, instead of making assumptions, you should try to explore if there’re some underlying problems. Of course, having one cannot be a great excuse but it may give you an opportunity to lend the person a hand.

Lend Your Coworker a Hand If Possible

Sometimes your colleague may not have enough motivation to work on a project. In that case, sharing the importance of the project may help him/her become energized.

For instance, a colleague may consider a project less important. But once the person understands that his/her efforts will play crucial roles in the final deliverable, it can motivate him/her to work diligently.

It may also happen that the person understands the importance of the work assigned to him/her. However, a lack of skills or knowledge required to carry out the tasks may be the reason why the person is behaving like a slacker coworker.

If you identify this as the actual problem and have got expertise in those skills, you can try to help the colleague. You can discuss the steps that the person is planning to take to perform the tasks. If he/she is unsure of the right steps, you may offer suggestions to help your colleague get the ball rolling.

Sometimes, employees get bogged down in unproductive, inefficient processes that may portray them as incompetent workers. You may try to improve the situation by offering them a couple of helpful pointers.

Seek Help from a Mentor in the Organization

Seek Help from a Mentor in the Organization Image

If your colleague doesn’t seem to change even after receiving your suggestions, it may be the time to acknowledge him/her as a slacker coworker. Some workers are irresponsible and lazy by nature and hence, you cannot change them by lending a hand.

Find out an effective leader whom you can sit down with to discuss the matter. It’d be a much better idea than directly complaining to your manager about the activities of your colleague. Describe how your performance is getting harmed by the incompetent worker’s activities and seek advice about your next course of action.

There’re two benefits of applying this strategy. First, you may get some insider tips on dealing with the coworker. Second, it can uplift your image in the organization as a responsible employee.

When you seek help in dealing with an incompetent coworker, it proves that your main focus is on solving the problem. You don’t want someone else to take care of it. It also demonstrates your willingness to learn from others when you get stuck somewhere.

Talk Directly With the Slacker Coworker

A constructive and positive conversation with the colleague can help both of you stay on the same page. If someone isn’t pulling his/her weight, it’s better to let the person know of the results of his/her activities. However, it’s important to ensure that you’re having a conversation with the person and aren’t confronting him/her.

Approach the colleague without judgment and as an ally and maintain compassion throughout the conversation. Tell the person about the ripple effects of his/her behaviors. If you can mention specific examples, there’s very little chance that your colleague will think that you’re accusing him/her.

For instance, you may want to tell your colleague that how his/her missed deadline delayed a product’s time to market. You can also share the past situations where you’ve covered his/her behaviors.

Be sure to make it clear that you’ll no longer provide such cover. In many cases, slacker coworkers try to improve their performance when they cannot get away with their behaviors anymore.

Delegate Responsibilities Wisely

Delegate Responsibilities Wisely Image

If you’re responsible for the successful completion of a project, it pays to create a detailed plan. Be sure to outline each team member’s responsibilities and their respective deadlines. Involve everyone including your slacker coworker when setting goals and deadlines.

You’d also need to keep track of the progress of the project continually. It’ll help you immediately identify when someone is dodging the responsibilities.

Another effective strategy is to give the person fewer responsibilities instead of assigning him/her an important part of the project. This will help you ensure the project won’t suffer even if the person fails to do his/her part.

While this strategy may seem like you’re accepting the slacker coworker’s behavior, it comes with two major benefits. First, it’ll be a less stressful situation for you regarding the project’s successful completion. Second, once it’s successfully completed, you may explain to your boss how other team members took more responsibilities to get it done.

Approach Your Manager

If the situation doesn’t improve even after applying the above strategies, it’s time to discuss the matter with your manager. Your goal needs to be getting some help in overcoming the issue, not to get the slacker coworker in the problem.

Let your manager know that you’ve tried different methods to resolve the issue. Share specific examples about your colleague’s behaviors and their impacts on the work.

Be sure to leave your emotions out of the discussion. Frustration, anger, and resentment may be natural but remember you are approaching your manager the first time. Do not throw the bag of your emotions at once on him. If you cannot keep the emotions in check, the boss may think that you do not have emotional agility.

The manager may also start wondering if there’s something going on between you and your slacker coworker. Therefore, keep the discussion simple, clear, and related to its objectives only.

Handling a Slacker Coworker: Dos and Don’ts

 Slacker coworker Dos & donts Image

Now that you know the strategies to deal with a slacker coworker, here’re the dos and don’ts you should try to follow. These can help you remain sane and thrive despite facing difficult situations.


Maintain records of your own progress

When you’ve got an incompetent worker in the team, chances are that his/her behaviors may lead to dragging the entire team down. If something similar happens and you know who is to blame, you’d need some proof to justify your own efforts in front of your manager. That’s why you should keep track of how you’ve contributed to team efforts.

When your manager comes around looking for answers, you’ll be able to prove that you did your part. If the entire team does the same, except that slacker coworker, it’ll become pretty clear for whom a project failed or deadline missed.

Remain flexible

When having a conversation with your colleague, be flexible. Hear what the person has to say before arriving at a decision. Oftentimes, this helps to come up with an effective solution without having to get the boss involved.

Use your colleague’s behavior as an opportunity to shine

If you’ve got a slacker coworker, use his/her behaviors to your advantage. Whenever the person fails to do a task, you can try to take on that responsibility. It’ll demonstrate that you’re hardworking and reliable.

By seeing these qualities, your boss may ask you to take on more critical responsibilities. Even if that doesn’t happen, your commitment to work and responsibilities will be showcased clearly, which essentially makes a strong positive impression on the boss.


Cover for the slacker coworker

You may feel an obligation to cover for an incompetent worker because you prioritize delivering quality work. But whenever you pick up the slack of your colleague, it triggers two negative responses.

First, you’re damaging your own performance because you’d need to invest your precious time and attention to perform the tasks. Second, it makes the slacker coworker believe that his/her behavior is acceptable and he/she can get away with it.

Get distracted from your job

It’s much easier to justify longer water cooler chats or lengthy lunch breaks when they’re done together. Even if your colleagues try to distract you, keep focusing on your job. Simply refuse politely without being judgmental in your decision.

When it comes to getting promoted or receiving plum assignments, most companies consider employees who’re actually good at their work. Therefore, it’s best to focus on delivering your best performance to prove your true abilities.

Become the toxic element in your team

Even if the situation goes beyond your control, don’t tattle. It’ll make your boss feel that you’re the toxic person on the team. Some may even feel that you’re questioning their ability to manage the team. So, instead of tattling on the incompetent worker, prove to your boss through your performance that you’re the one who takes on more workload and responsibilities.


Whether you work in a traditional office workspace, a shared workspace, a collaborative workspace, a private workspace, or a virtual workspace, these strategies should help you deal with slacker coworkers efficiently.

However, it’s always advisable to act sooner than later if you observe that an incompetent coworker is dodging his/her responsibilities. Try to implement these strategies to improve the situation and to help the person become a productive employee.

You should understand that there’s no guarantee that it’ll solve the problem. But at least you won’t need to worry anymore that there’s still something that could be done from your end.

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