Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is on staff at InHerSight where she writes about data and women's rights.
They’re always past deadline, not pulling their weight on the team, turning in sloppy work, they’re taking extra-long breaks, scrolling social, and ultimately—bringing you down.
We all know what we would like to say to lazy coworkers, but what can we say that will actually help solve the problem?
Before you say anything to your coworker
Don’t assume laziness is the problem. You might not know the whole story. Sure, sometimes employees can just be lazy, but the problem might be the result of something else entirely—they might have too much on their plate, someone you can’t see is actually holding up their work, they’re dealing with a health problem, or perhaps they’ve been inadequately trained.
Second, if the lazy coworker is not directly affecting your work, stay out of it. Chances are, someone else has noticed the problem, or will. Don’t intervene with a coworker if their laziness doesn’t affect you.
What to say to a lazy coworker
Talk to your coworker directly
Talk to your coworker about how their lack of contribution is affecting your work.
Don’t start out by accusing them of being lazy. You might not know what’s really going on (they might have a lazy coworker you can’t see, holding them back, too). Instead, let them know that by failing to complete their tasks, your work is suffering.
You could say:
Hey Michelle, I noticed that you haven’t finished projections for next quarter. I need those in order to plan for my team, which is due to my boss by Friday. When will you have those ready? Is there a reason for the delay?
Hi Ray, it seems like you’ve been late on the last two assignments, which has put me behind, too. Is there something that’s holding you up? Maybe I can help you solve the problem or we can work with our manager to find a fix.
I really need your support in this project, which I feel like I haven’t been getting. What can I do to make sure you know where you fit into the work that needs to be done?
Let them know how the problem is affecting you. Don’t assume they’re lazy. Give them an opportunity to let you know why the problem is happening. Offer to help them find a solution—but don’t offer to do the work.
Read more: Mean Girls in the Workplace
Don’t pick up their slack
Don’t do the work of a lazy coworker. If they’re not completing tasks and projects, you’re not the one who needs to do it for them.
If they’re going to get in the way of your doing your work, talk to your manager.
Talk to your manager
Talk to your manager as early as possible. If you wait until the day a project is due and let your boss know if won’t be done because of your coworker, it’s just going to look like you’re passing the buck.
You could say:
I’m concerned about being able to deliver a plan to you by Friday. I’m waiting on projections from Michelle, but they’re two days late despite my reminding her. That being said, I plan to deliver a plan regardless, but it won’t be very accurate without those projections.
Let your boss know why the problem is late without assuming why Michelle hasn’t done her part. Commit to doing the work you can do.
You could also say:
For the last month, I feel like I’ve been doing most of the work for the team. I’m not seeing Michelle contribute and deliver, which sets me back because I wasn’t able to deliver an accurate team plan to you on time, and that sets the team back because they weren’t able to get started on time. I can’t help but believe we could be more successful as a team if everyone were pulling their weight.
Let your manager know who is not pulling their weight (unless they know, they can’t do anything about it) and how it’s affecting your work and the health of the business.
More tips for dealing with a lazy coworker
Make sure task responsibility is clear
If you have a coworker who is consistently dropping the ball, document who is responsible for completing certain tasks or projects and share it with the lazy coworker and your manager (and their manager, if you don’t report to the same people).
Document tasks with due dates, the name of the person responsible, and statuses—this will make it easy to see at a glance who hasn’t been pulling their weight.
Don’t gossip about the problem
Talking trash about the lazy culprit is not going to solve the problem. It’s frustrating, but avoid the temptation to gossip to other colleagues.
Read more: How to Master the Art of Arguing at Work
Copy your manager on emails
If the problem persists, copy your manager or the lazy coworker’s manager on emails. If you’re sending your coworker a note asking where that report is, copy your boss so they’re in the loop too—this can also pressure your coworker to speed up their work.
Proceed cautiously, though. You don’t want to appear passive aggressive. Copy your manager on emails only if you’ve talked to both the coworker and your manager about the problem already. You might add to the note: Copying you here, [manager name], so you’re aware of timeline.
Don’t let them hold you back
While your coworker is still riding the lazy train, the best thing you can do is a good job. Don’t let their laziness hinder the good work you can do.