Working with a Weak Co-worker

Scenario: “My co-worker is not pulling his weight on the job and I don’t think our supervisor notices. There are three of us providing similar services but only two of us doing any actual work. I’ve made it clear to my co-worker that he needs to be more responsive to customers and not disappear when the big jobs come in, but he says I have no right to imply that he is not working hard enough. The next time it happens, I’m going to tell our supervisor and ask him to do something.”

Preparation: Are you sure your co-worker is not doing any work? Challenge yourself to look at the situation objectively. Does your other co-worker also believe that there is an imbalance of workload between the three of you? Your frustration with the situation may be prompting you to exaggerate the problem. Perhaps it’s not that your co-worker does no work; maybe he is choosing to only do one or two types of work and avoid other types? You’ll want to identify the correct problem in order to achieve a successful outcome.

Judging from the scenario, “I’ve made it clear to my co-worker” and “not disappear” and “working hard enough,” it does not sound as if you engaged your co-worker in a discussion about the problem. It sounds as if you may have told the employee what the problem was and how it was his fault. You might want to try giving your co-worker feedback using the STATE process before going to your supervisor.

Think of four to six examples of times over the last 90-days when you perceived that the co-worker did not carry his share of the load. Be prepared to share these examples in a factual, calm manner with your supervisor (or with the employee himself if you decide to try a discussion).

Your objective in the discussion with your supervisor needs to be focused on the impact to the business. Avoid language that sounds as if you are having a personal problem with the co-worker. Keep your emotions in check and do not let frustration with the situation take control of your message.

Realize that you will probably be doing the majority of the talking in this discussion. Your role is to present the issue that is impacting the running of the department or area and provide examples. Your supervisor, because s/he will not talk in detail about one employee to another employee as it breaches confidentiality, will probably ask clarifying questions and listen. It may be that your supervisor is aware of the problem already and in the process of taking steps; however, again, it’s doubtful that your supervisor would share this with you or should share this with you.

Initiation: After setting up a time in advance with your supervisor for your discussion, make it clear you are focused on the effectiveness of the team’s work output, such as: “Over the last few months, I’ve gone back and forth with myself if I should talk with you regarding a concern I have with the way our team is working together. I don’t want you to perceive me as being negative or being unsupportive of my co-workers. However, an incident happened last week that made me realize that I needed to speak with you. I know you want us to achieve our department objectives and I am seeing something that may get in the way of us providing excellent customer service. Specifically, some of our customer orders are not being completed as timely and effectively as they could be because, during significant chunks of each day, only two of the three of us assigned to xyz appear to be fully engaged. The two who are engaged is me and NAME. I have a few examples and observations that have occurred since MONTH that illustrate my concerns. May I share them with you?”

Discussion: STATE: Share your facts; Tell your story; Ask for their view; Talk tentatively; Encourage testing.

Let your supervisor know that you have attempted to speak with the employee regarding the work load and your concerns but it did not bring about positive change. This shows you have taken initiative to try to resolve the situation. If you feel as if you might not have handled the conversation with the employee particularly well, go ahead and own up to it now with your supervisor. It’s best that he hears it from you. Chances are if the supervisor talks to the employee about the issues, the employee will be sure to let the supervisor know that you didn’t do such a good job in expressing yourself.

Don’t let your supervisor get the impression that you and the other “hard working” employee spend a lot of time discussing the (perceived) problem employee. You don’t want to be perceived as making a problem worse by becoming unproductive yourself.

With each example you share, be explicit about a negative business impact it has. If you want to have some notes to refer to during this conversation, feel free to do so. If you are concerned you may end up appearing overly frustrated or angry about the situation, the notes may help ground you.

Conclusion: Unlike most discussions, this time you probably won’t know what next steps the supervisor will take. Be comfortable leaving it in his or her hands to address as they think best. A conclusion might look like, “Thank you for listening to my concerns regarding our team’s workload and the importance of all of us working toward the department’s objectives. Do you have other questions for me? Based on the examples I’ve shared with you, is there anything that you’d like me to do differently on the team?“