Lazy Eye Exercise #01
How to Stop Covering for a Lazy Coworker
Regardless of the reason, covering for a lazy coworker can result in burnout and ultimately a great deal of resentment toward this worker on your behalf. Unfortunately, once you start covering for your lazybones coworker, you may end up creating a vicious cycle in which you may just place your own job in jeopardy while trying to juggle too much. If you cease to pay enough attention to what needs doing in your own pile of work, you're overstretched and at risk. Even if the covering up initially started out as a way of ingratiating yourself or being super friendly and helpful, it has to come to a stop. Here are some ways to stop covering up for a coworker's laziness.
Identify the ways in which you're covering up for your coworker.There is a difference between being a supportive team member and enabling a team member's laziness. If you've become so deeply mired in always covering your lazy coworkers tracks, it might have been so ingrained, you're barely noticing what you're doing anymore. Here are some key signals that you're being too helpful in covering your lazy coworkers tracks:
- You end up finishing projects he or she is responsible for because you don't want the team to look bad. Sure, he or she promised to get it done on time, but as the deadline loomed, it was patently obvious that this wasn't going to happen.
- You're finishing projects because his or her performance impacts your own job. Your coworker is slacking off but his or her inability or refusal to do a good job has direct ramifications on your performance.
- You're making excuses for when your coworker comes up short on a project or deadline. Rather than specifying the real reason as to why the deadline went whooshing by and the work remained incomplete (your coworker didn't provide what he or she promised), you fudge around the edges and blame it on everything from lack of printer ink to unverifiable information that has to be chased down from some archival vault halfway across town. This makes the entire team look bad, not just you.
- You find you're constantly having to micromanage your coworker in order to get tasks accomplished. From keeping the coworker on schedule to sending reminders of an important meeting, you’ve become his or her assistant without applying for the job. And guess what? He or she is loving it.
- You're lying to your boss about your coworker’s whereabouts every time he or she goes missing in action. Although it may not take a lot of time to make up a story about where Janet may be (you tell the boss she is in transit from one office to the other, but she’s really having a three martini lunch), this is a breach of trust and it's going to wear you down quickly. By lying to your boss you are just as culpable as your lazy coworker, and when the truths begin to surface (and they will), your lies may jeopardize your job.
Consider how covering for the coworker interferes directly with your job and even your personal life.Whether you're pulling double duty and doing his or her job and yours too, or you're having to make excuses or even lie on a daily basis, covering for a lazy coworker will take its toll. Some indicators of the toll covering up for a lazy coworker can have on you include:
- Time with your family dwindles down to next-to-nothing because you're too busy working two shifts––yours and your coworkers. If you're working two jobs, you most likely have no time for family or a social life, or you're squeezing everything pretty hard.
- You feel burned out and anxious. All work and no play creates an anxious individual. Plus, if you're lying for the coworker, guilt may be taking hold. Your health is starting to be impacted, with tension, stress and guilt mounting up.
- Your own work performance has started to suffer. With one job, you likely have the time to brainstorm and think of creative ideas. However, when time is limited, you can only attend to the bare necessities.
- Your boss has started to make negative comments about the quality of the work you're producing. Be wary when there are comments prefaced with "You used to be more careful than this..." or "I'm really surprised that you didn't pick up on that/made that sort of mistake... it's not like you to be so careless", and so forth. And you just know that your less-than-usually-stellar performance is all down to trying to juggle two workloads.
Acknowledge your stress and the impacts on the quality of your own work and home life.Based on this honest assessment, make a decision to put a stop to the covering up and running around for the sake of your lazy coworker. It's time this person pulled his or her weight or found something else to waste time on. There are a few things to face before you move on to telling your coworker what's what from here on though. Consider the following:
- Why are you covering up for this coworker? For some people it's all about perfectionism. It starts when said coworker turns in sub-standard work which you know you could churn out at much higher quality "just like that". And so, you do, instead of returning it to your coworker with a suggestion to redo it. The pattern is set and over time, the complexity increases and your lazy coworker has become ever more reliant on you fixing everything. Does this sound familiar? If so, you'll also need to tackle your perfectionism.
- Another reason may be a lack of assertiveness, especially if you were new to the team when this started. Lazy coworker eyeballed you and spotted your for a hard worker, got the praise in and once you were buttered up, sent everything your way and you just couldn't say "no". Now that the always accepting your coworkers botched jobs has become routine, you've never learned to say no and it just keeps on getting worse. In this case, you'll need to focus on building your assertiveness skills.
- One more difficult reason is fear. If your lazy coworker is a bully or has made threatening remarks about undermining you in front of the team or your boss, you may feel too afraid to say no to covering up for your lazy coworker. In this case, as hard as it is, you must find the courage to talk to either your boss or human resources to explain how you feel. If you are being intimidated or harassed, it's time the workplace took action to prevent this from continuing. Do not feel bad for your coworker––he or she should have known better.
Consider talking frankly but politely to your coworker from this point on.The next time your coworker comes to you with work half done or expecting you to make major fixes to vaguely thought through proposals, tap your hand on the chair next to you or wave him or her through to a private meeting room, and say very sweetly: "Have a seat. We need to talk."
Tell your coworker that you have something important to discuss with him or her and that you'd like his or her full attention.Don't waffle on about friendship or anything of that ilk, this is a professional talk and you need to get to the point as quickly as possible.
- Explain how you feel personally impacted by having to finish his or her work or cover for him or her. Give a few facts that demonstrate concrete examples of such occasions so that your coworker doesn't think you're just generalizing.
- Feel free to pepper some of this discussion with praise for the things you know that your coworker is good at and actually gets done. Indeed, use these occasions to prove to your coworker that you know he or she is capable and that it'd be great for the whole team if everyone got to see more of that capable side of your coworker.
- Ask him or her if there are specific impediments to getting the work done well or in a timely fashion. Probe gently and let your coworker lead with information about any issues that might be hampering his or her ability to contribute more fully. Don't agree with his or her statements, simply acknowledge that the experiences must be hard for him or her.
- You might like to suggest that both of you look into finding solutions that will help your coworker to be more productive, such as talking to the boss about doing a course, or sitting somewhere quieter, etc. However, don't too caught up in nannying their way out of it––there is a certain level of expectation that every employee is capable of asking for help with productivity issues.
- If your coworker is glib and refuses to divulge anything that might be causing lackluster work efforts, avoid getting confrontational. Simply acknowledge his or her point of view but stick to your story of the impacts on you of the inadequate work performance. This allows you to continue on with finding solutions rather than focusing on the coworkers challenging attitude.
- At all times during the discussion, relay your observations in a manner that is non-confrontational or non-aggressive. Don’t say, “You’ve made me lie to the boss” or “You made me finish the projects.” Instead, make it clear that you own your behavior in response to his or her laziness, remarking thatyoushouldn't have let things get to this state and that you've decided that it is no longer tenable.
State that you can no longer cover for your coworkers inefficiency or ineptitude.Avoid judging their behavior but instead, use the impacts on you to make it clear why it can't continue this way anymore. For example, you might say that because of "X, Y, Z failing to materialize on time, I was not able to attend my grandmother's funeral and I am never going to let that happen to myself again." Then proceed to discussing the way forward.
- Avoid discussing any personal issues of the coworker, such as marital or child raising problems. Divorce the work performance from personal things.
- State clearly that from today, you will no longer be covering for your coworkers efforts. This means that should he or she wish to slip out early today, your coworkers input willremain undoneuntil your coworker returns the next morning to complete it.
Refuse to be your coworker’s cover in the future.Now it’s up to you to stick to your guns. It may be difficult at first if this has become a bit of a habit between the two of you, but if you don’t follow through, the cycle will not stop and your coworker will keep pushing the same buttons.
- Stop lying for your coworker when your boss asks you questions. However, instead of completely throwing him or her under the bus, consider acting as though you don’t know where your coworker is or how many clients he/she has seen during the day. Just say something like: "Sorry boss, I know the report's due at 5 and it's already 3 but I really haven't a clue where she is right now. I saw her at 10am in the tearoom though, so I do know she came to work today."
- Don’t cover for him or her, even if it to do so would only take a few minutes. One small cover-up will lead to another, and then you are back to square one (remember how you got into this in the first place). Hold firm and stand your ground no matter what.
Embrace some failure in this process because, in all likelihood, it's going to be an issue.This means allowing your coworker to fail––even if it impacts your job. The only way your boss will discover who the weak link is, is to expose him or her through work performance (or lack thereof). If you're part of a creative team and your lazy coworker is the one who is supposed to write the copy, but up until now you’ve been writing it so the projects are completed, allow the copy to be absent. When the client or your boss asks, make sure he or she knows who is responsible for copy writing.
- If this seems too daunting to you, consider talking to your supervisor in confidence. Explain what has been happening, and howyouhave personally enabled some rather non-constructive behavior to grow within the team and that you're now putting a stop to it by making everyone own their piece of work. Your boss will be informed and may even be impressed at your honesty and willingness to take responsibility. Even if not, your integrity stays whole.
If you have the time and expertise, offer to assist your lazy coworker with anything he or she seems particularly stuck on.Perhaps the laziness is just a cover for feeling inadequate, incompetent or overawed. By offering to help with learning new skills, you can acknowledge the value of this coworker without unearthing his or her insecurities and take hold of his or her willingness to learn and make something good come out of this.
- Don't assume your coworker wants your help. Ask first.
- Be open to offering tips as you feel they're needed. Don't overdo it though and be friendly, not bossy. And be conscious of your coworkers reactions––sometimes it will be more than apparent that you've offended rather than assisted––be ready to apologize for overstepping any mark.
- Send links to helpful things on the intranet or internet that might open your coworkers understanding a little more––self-directed learning is often the most effective and doesn't smack of teaching the person how to crack eggs.
- Don't play psychologist. Your lazy coworkers work inefficiencies or personal problems are not your personal challenges. Avoid falling into the role of playing agony aunt or unctuous uncle. You can help with anything work-skill related but you can't be his or doctor, so don't try.
Return to improving your own work performance and restoring organization to your life.Whenever you feel tempted to cover for a coworker, remind yourself of where this leads and make strict boundaries for such situations. Obviously, covering for a coworker who is away sick for a week is a necessity but covering for an ongoing lazy coworker is never going to be part of your job description again.
- Let your coworker know that if asked, you'll be honest and truthful with your boss with regard to the coworker’s whereabouts next time.
- In some cases, even after you’ve discussed how your coworker’s inability to do his or her job has impacted your career and how you're no longer going to enable this, you may feel that you have no choice but to discuss the issue with the boss. Don't go directly to the boss without first trying to remedy the situation yourself but equally, don't keep silent where you've tried your best and it's clear that only upper management can really make a difference.
- Use your coworker’s goals and dreams to make things a little clearer. If he or she wants to be promoted or get a better job, point out how leaving work at 3:30 every day works won't be doing anything toward that goal.
- Explain organizational methods that have worked well for you. Tips may be as simple as not looking at a new project until the one you are working on is complete. Make sure your ideas apply directly to what he or she is struggling with in order to make a difference.
- Look carefully at the situation. If your coworker is just coming in on time and leaving on time without doing overtime, but you've let the excess work on the team expand to the point that you're covering for a real need for another person, don't just bring it to the coworker. Bring it to upper management. Sometimes a person who holds boundaries and refuses to just go along with every unreasonable demand can look lazy compared to someone who doesn't. Listen when you talk to your coworker for whether this is the case. Especially in salaried jobs, it becomes very common because the company doesn't have to pay any more for you to work two jobs and get only one check.
- Be sure to point out your coworker’s good qualities that could allow him or her to shine when discussing the issues. You don’t want to stir up animosity, especially if you work in a close knit environment. If at all possible try to keep it positive and upbeat and always focus on the problem, not the person.
- Never take the fall for a coworker in order for him or her to save face. Stay focused on your own career and work, as in all likelihood, this coworker may not return the favor should you ever need it.
Sources and Citations
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