8 Ways to Deal With Colleagues Who Aren’t Pulling Their Weight

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Thursday, February 1, 2024

Team members not doing their fair share of work can cause problems within a business, so make sure you have a plan to manage this issue.

Article 8 Minutes
8 Ways to Deal With Colleagues Who Aren’t Pulling Their Weight

Team members not doing their fair share of work can cause problems within a business, so make sure you have a plan to manage this issue. 

Building and running a successful business is difficult, with data showing that 20% of new companies in the US fail during their first two years and 45% close within five years of opening.

To stand any chance of succeeding in the long term, every employee needs to do their bit and make a meaningful contribution to the firm's performance and productivity.

When this doesn't happen, and it becomes clear that some people are working harder than others, you need a plan to ensure everyone on the team is pulling their weight. One study highlighted that 93% of workers believe they work with at least one person who isn’t putting in the same effort as them.

8 tips for dealing with coworkers who don't pull their weight

Here are some strategies for managing situations where coworkers may not be meeting their job responsibilities:

1. Define clear expectations

In a team environment, clarity is the cornerstone of productivity and collaboration. Uncertainty about roles or expected standards can hinder individual performance, resulting in an uneven distribution of the team's workload. Establishing clear expectations is a proactive measure to avoid problems that arise when team members are not contributing equally.

Clarify roles and responsibilities

  • Document job descriptions: Ensure that every position has an up-to-date job description that outlines the duties, responsibilities, and performance criteria
  • Communicate objectives: Leaders should clearly communicate the team's objectives, individual targets, and how each role contributes to the larger goals of the organization
  • Set specific standards: Define what success looks like for each role and provide measurable standards for evaluating performance
  • Regularly review expectations: As projects evolve and organizations grow, roles can change. Make it a practice to review and update expectations regularly

Establish accountability

  • Performance metrics: Implement concrete metrics that allow team members to assess their own performance against the set expectations
  • Feedback mechanisms: Create a system for ongoing feedback, where employees can receive constructive critiques and recognition for their work
  • Personal development plans: Work with each team member to develop a personal growth plan that aligns with the role's expectations and the individual's career goals

Promote transparency

  • Open discussions: Encourage open discussions about roles and responsibilities in team meetings to ensure mutual understanding and transparency
  • Availability of information: Make sure that all team members have access to the necessary information and resources to understand their roles fully

By defining clear expectations and clarifying roles and responsibilities, you foster an environment where all team members are aware of what is required of them. This approach not only helps in dealing with coworkers who don't pull their weight but also empowers every individual to take ownership of their contributions to the team's success.

2. Find the root cause of the problem

In the majority of cases where an individual's productivity has dropped and it's affecting the rest of the team, you're likely to find there's a deeper reason why this has happened.

There are many possible causes of a sudden decline in an employee's output, such as:

  • Problems in their personal life
  • Financial worries
  • Lack of engagement in their role or the business as a whole
  • Workplace problems such as bullying or harassment

A good manager will look for the fundamental reasons why a particular team member's performance has diminished and think about measures to address these issues. As well as helping you manage this particular scenario, this approach will minimize the risk of a similar situation arising again in the future.

3. Look for constructive solutions

Once you’ve invested the time and effort in finding out why certain team members have been falling short of expectations at work, you'll be in a stronger position to develop positive, lasting solutions that lead to good outcomes for all parties.

If some people are struggling to get their work done because of a distracting, disruptive or even toxic atmosphere in your workplace, it's clear the business needs to find an effective way to manage this problem so your staff can happily get on with their jobs.

Similarly, if a worker's productivity is suffering because of stress, anxiety or mental health issues, think about positive actions you can take to help them, such as:

  • Training line managers on how to have conversations about mental health
  • Providing information on resources and organizations available to support them
  • Coming up with a plan if they need to take time off and make a gradual transition back to work

If you can get to the root cause of employees falling behind and find sustainable solutions to these issues, the benefits will be felt not only by your workforce, but by the entire business.

4. Start conversations with a positive tone

When you feel the time's right to talk to someone who isn't putting in as much effort as other members of the team, it's crucial to adopt the right tone going into the conversation. 

Being aggressive or accusatory will make this colleague feel like they're being attacked, which could lead to them feeling defensive and angry. Suffice it to say, these emotions aren't conducive to a calm, constructive discussion that will lead to the solutions everyone is looking for. 

A key factor to bear in mind is the sort of language you're using in these situations. If you want to start the conversation on the right foot, ask the employee how they're feeling and if there's anything on their minds they want to share. This could naturally lead to a talk about underlying issues that might be hindering their performance levels at work.

This will prove much more productive than going into the discussion with a blunt question such as: "We've noticed a decline in your performance, can you explain that?"

5. Find the right time to act

One of the most important decisions senior team members and managers need to make is when to intervene and take a more serious stance on this matter.

Minor issues can get blown out of proportion due to misunderstandings, gossip or poor communication within teams. Some people might think their colleagues are shirking their responsibilities, for example, but this could be the result of crossed wires or inaccurate ideas about what certain roles on the team entail.

Make sure you gather as much information as possible so you can make a fair judgment on whether there’s a genuine problem with some employees not taking on their fair share of the workload. You can then decide when the time’s right for management to get involved in finding a solution.

6. Don't cover for them

Covering for a lazy co-worker that isn't pulling their weight is never a good idea. Not only does it reduce the productivity of the entire team, but it can also create resentment among other team members who are actually putting in any effort. A lazy worker is a weak link in the team, and their lack of contribution will eventually drag the rest of the team down.

Instead, it is better to talk to them and try to find out why they are not performing. If the problem persists, then the manager should be informed so that appropriate action can be taken. Covering up for a lazy co-worker is not only unfair to other team members but also a disservice to the organization.

7. Don't engage in workplace gossip 

Gossiping about an underperforming colleague can be tempting, but won't help the situation. Not only can gossiping lead to hurt feelings and a hostile work environment, but it does nothing to actually improve performance issues or address their lack of effort.

Instead, it's better to be direct and practice honest communication when dealing with the colleague in question. This can be done in a respectful manner, but it's essential to ensure that the co-worker knows their performance is lacking and that there is an expectation that it be improved.

By avoiding gossip, managers can ensure that the situation is handled professionally and that the co-worker is given the opportunity to address the poor performance and lack of effort. This creates a better work environment for everyone and can help to ensure that all employees are held to the same standards.

8. Involve management as a last resort

If your attempts to resolve the issue within the team haven't worked, you might need to bring the situation to management's attention. In such cases present a clear and detailed description of the problems caused by the uneven workload distribution. Then provide concrete instances to support your points and show how this imbalance is affecting team productivity and morale.

When communicating with senior stakeholders, concentrate on the wider impact on the team and the organization. Highlight how the current issues are hindering job performance. Propose actionable solutions that align with the company's goals and values. Enter the discussion with a constructive, team-first mindset, underlining that involving management is a step toward establishing a more equitable and efficient workplace. If the issue persists, management may need to consider disciplinary measures to emphasize the importance of equal contribution to the workload.

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