Seven Tactics For Coping With Slackers

by Susie Amundson

“Have compassion for everyone you meet.” ~ Miller Williams

Last week I savored a couple of friends. I love these events where it’s one-on-one with a good friend and the conversation can “get real” quickly, genuine, and perhaps a bit down-and-dirty. Afterwards connecting with both wonderful friends, I felt energized and content. Our talks hit on the usual suspects – the ever-feisty 80-year-old mother who eats maple bars and smokes cigarettes for breakfast, unrequited love, the economy, the teenage daughter almost in line for a driver’s license, health, and of course, work.

As you might know, I always lean in a little closer for those work conversations. I saw my friends individually but they both brought up the same workplace problem. Serendipitous? Perhaps. But it was a ubiquitous topic. The under-performing co-worker. As in. Slacker. (OK, for starters, name-calling isn’t nice. And I’m going to use this term.) This is the colleague who isn’t pulling his weight on your team and you’re carrying some of his load.  This is the staff member more focused on a personal agenda than a professional one. Most of the time. This is the co-worker who is under-performing and everyone around them is wondering why in the world she is still there.

The Geyser of Resentment

Have you noticed that the more your pathways and responsibilities cross with the workplace slacker, the more your resentment and ire builds?  Frustration. Disbelief that management isn’t doing anything about the slacker’s poor performance. Anger with the unfairness. I’ve been smack dab in the same place, pretty much wanting to take down any loafing slacker. (And in my fantasy life, I think I could.) And yet, we can’t. Managers, myself included, aren’t always comfortable managing slackers. Some managers don’t like confrontation. They don’t want to see someone lose a job. They don’t want to embark on the trail of documentation toward firing. They want to be liked. They don’t want to expend energy with contentious feelings, day in and day out. Sometimes, it’s just easier to look the other way. We all know slackers that even get promoted, to make them someone else’s problem. No matter how much the under-performing worker affects other staff members and the organization, slackers remain with us.

Say It Isn’t So

As long as you and I go to work, there will be people around us in the workplace who are not productive. Who spend most of their time in extraneous activities. Ordering shoes online. Incessantly texting their friends and family. Moonlighting on their web design business. Enjoying Texas Hold’em over the Internet. Chatting it up. Primping in the mirror. And not getting their job and responsibilities accomplished at work.

Turning Toward What Grows You

If we spend too much of ourselves dealing with the under-performing colleague, we drain ourselves emotionally, mentally, and physically. Even though workplace unfairness can hook us like no other issue, it will also steal away our human wholeness. Every day. Every hour. Every minute. Have you felt the drain of the hook before? None of us wants to waste our time perseverating on a co-worker’s limited performance or have our work moments consumed in angst. Here are seven tactics that help us foster our better selves – even when we are agitated with a workplace slacker.

1.  Focus on Building Your Skills. Expending energy about an under-performing co-worker is useless. Instead spend that time to capitalize on your talents, tap your strengths, and be creative. Maybe it’s time to learn a new computer program, create a new product, or seek training on a new planning process. Go for it!

2.  Sort Out Your Emotions. The hairs on my and most people’s necks stand straight up when a slacker’s work assignments get transferred to them. Frustration, anger, and resentment quickly emerge. Know what you’re feeling, and soothe yourself. Get yourself to a steady place so you can calmly discuss the issue with someone else.

3.  Talk To Your Co-Worker. The first point of contact is with your colleague. If you share responsibilities and your co-worker isn’t pulling his weight, tactfully express what needs to be corrected without any accusation. Occasionally, this approach works well. Other times, it can back fire. Hold emotionally steady and sustain your healthy boundaries.

4.  Discuss With Your Supervisor. If your co-worker’s inadequate job performance is getting in the way of your or your team’s work, seek help. Be sure to state the facts without any emotional tone except the one of concern for you getting the best job done and representing the organization in the best way. Although it’s tempting to dump out all of the transgressions of your co-worker, stick to your observations, not your interpretations. Again, hold steady.

5. Gain Distance From The Slacker. If you and the under-performing co-worker are on the same team, ask for a request to get transferred. If it’s not possible, set up protocols or ask managers to communicate work tasks and checkpoints. Get your work station moved. Visual and auditory distance will buffer you and dampen your triggers. Set your own firm yet fair boundaries.

6. Stop Thinking About It. Put this person and issue out of your mind. It can eat you from the inside out with absolutely no effect on the slacker or arriving at a positive outcome. Move it from your mind. Refrain from colluding with other staff members about it. Whenever you think about this co-worker, flip it; and think instead about someone you admire in your life. As hard as I find this to do, the peace is worth it.

7. Harbor Compassion. We never know the struggles of someone else. Miller Williams kindly sums it up. “Have compassion for everyone you meet, even if they don’t want it. What appears bad manners, an ill temper or cynicism is always a sign of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen. You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.” View your co-worker as a human first. When we are able to stay connected to our best selves at work, we certainly are happier, more peaceful, and productive.

This day, as always, may you be wise at work.

Image Credits Feet on Desk