How to Deal with Slackers on Your Team
People are much more willing to work long and hard if they see their coworkers doing the same. But how frustrating it is to give it your all while your teammate in the next cubicle enjoys the easy life! And how infuriating it is when the person heads out at five o’clock on the dot, leaving you no choice but to stay late to make sure the job gets done on time.
It might be reasonable to assume that slackers are not too bright, and it’s their ineptitude that leads them to take the easy way out. However, that’s not always the case. Often, these lazy people are talented and creative—just not willing to apply themselves. Often, too, they’re likable and fun to have around, making it difficult to take issue with their behavior.
Interestingly, many slackers don’t see themselves as slackers. They excel at coming up with excuses for not working, and if called on their behavior, they prefer to blame others. I remember a coworker who would spend twice as much time trying to cajole me into doing a task for him as it would have taken him to do it himself. (I refused.)
Slackers rarely change their behavior, so waiting for them to shape up might entail a very long wait. If the slacker is on your team, don’t assume your manager, seated some distance away, is aware of the problem. But before you complain to your manager, see if your coworkers experience the person’s poor performance as you do. Discreetly ask a couple of trusted teammates if they’ve seen instances of the person goofing off. Identify specific examples; you’ll never be able to make a case without evidence. See if they agree that something needs to be done. That way, it’s a team effort, not just you risking being seen as bellyaching about a teammate.
If you’re a manager who learns about or observes a slacker on the team, talk with the person before the other team members become resentful. In talking with the person, focus on the facts. Set explicit expectations, define goals, discuss when and how you’ll assess performance, and establish a timeline for subsequent discussions about performance.
The emphasis should be on improvement, not finding fault. Still, if the employee doesn’t shape up in a reasonable amount of time, you may have grounds to terminate the person. After all, if one person slacks off and gets away with it, how long will it be until another follows suit? Eventually, the poor performers start dictating the team’s or company’s culture, and top performers will pack up and go elsewhere.
Failure to address the problem of slackers has been referred to as false kindness and management wimpiness.
Have you seen instances of this in your workplace?