No matter where you work or what you do, there’ll be a time when you’ll notice a coworker is slacking.
Maybe he starts missing deadlines, or she doesn’t respond to requests quickly.
Or maybe you just notice that the focus, energy or spark that was once apparent in your coworker now seems to be flickering out.
Sure, it’s easy to complain to your buddies and cast the offending person sideways glances, hoping they’ll “shape up.”
But down deep, you know that doesn’t help a thing.
So if you think your coworker is slacking, what can you REALLY do about it?
Step 1: Get specific on what’s “slacking”
A contributor on tech board Reddit shared this story:
A large steel company, feeling it was time for a shakeup, hired a new CEO.
On a tour, the CEO noticed a guy leaning against a wall. The room was full of workers and he wanted to let everyone know that he meant business. He asked the guy, “How much money do you make a week?”
A little surprised, the young man looked at him and said, “I make $400 a week. Why?”
The CEO said, “Wait right here.”
He walked back to his office, came back in two minutes, and handed the guy $1,600 in cash and said, “Here’s four weeks’ pay. Now get out and don’t come back.”
Feeling pretty good about himself, the CEO looked around the room and asked, “Does anyone want to tell me what that goof-ball did here?”
From across the room, a voice said, “Pizza delivery guy from Domino’s.”
Slacking is in the eye of the beholder
Before you keep complaining or worrying about your coworker, are you clear about the role this so-called slacker really has in your workplace?
Are there specific measures and goals that aren’t being met that she’s responsible for? Is he dropping balls? Missing deadlines?
And most importantly, is your slacker coworker getting clear communication about her behavior and its impact on others through her leader and team?
If you’re not sure, you might not have a slacker issue.
You might have a leadership issue.
And no matter what your title, it may be time for you to step up and lead, by taking the next step.
Step 2: Seek first to understand
In Dr. Steven Covey’s classic professional development book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Habit #5 is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood®.”
Covey explains that we listen through the filters of who we are and what we already know, which often makes us biased or bending toward a particular point-of-view–our own.
Unless we take the time to be intentional about understanding someone else, we never fully know why someone does what they do, since we haven’t lived the life they’ve lived.
So, when you notice your coworker’s behavior, you need to realize whether they’re truly “slacking,” or whether they’re just making different choices about work than you are.
Too often, we jump to conclusions without collecting the whole story.
When we seek first to understand, we learn not only about the other person, but often, we learn about our own assumptions and views.
And often, it may be your own expectations that needs some work.
So to shift those expecations, it’s time to try the next step:
Step 3: Offer your help
Wwwwait–my coworker is slacking and you’re suggesting I help THEM? That’s insane!. . .
Offering help doesn’t mean doing the work for them.
That’s a sure-fire prescription for burnout.
Instead, you can help by making sure you’re honest about what you notice–and how you might be able to help them help themselves.
You can ask:
“Hey, Dave, that’s the third time we’ve missed the delivery deadline. That’s not like you and I bet you hate tackling those calls from our unhappy clients, too. Is everything okay with you? I don’t want to pry, but I care.”
“Angie, I’m noticing that we’re catching a lot of errors in your presentations. You see that too, right? What do you need from me to make sure it stops happening?”
“Gary, I’ve gotta be honest. When you show up to the meeting late and then ask questions we’ve already answered, that drives me crazy. It feels to me like you don’t really care about the rest of us. What’s going on and how can I help?”
You–as the spectacular human being you are– can be caring, curious, and kind, without benefit of a specific role or title.
Is it time to talk to their leader?
If direct conversations with the person in question don’t solve the problem, you may need to talk to his manager or leader.
Again, human, seeking-first-to-understand questions are powerful here, like:
“I wanted to let you know I’m concerned about Dave. He’s missed a handful of delivery deadlines, and something’s not quite right. If you’re already aware and you have a plan in place to help him, then I’ll butt out, but I’ve talked to him and it seems like he may need more support from you.”
Talking to someone’s manager doesn’t need to be a narc-y or backside-smooching behavior. It can simply be one human being in the workplace expressing concern for another.
After all, if something was seriously wrong with your coworker and you noticed a change but didn’t say anything, how would it make you feel when you found out about the problem later?
We never quite know what others see, think and feel–that’s all inside our complicated li’l heads–but if we don’t speak up, we can never know or know how we can help.
We all want to be seen, heard, and valued. Perhaps your coworker who is slacking just needs to know they’re seen by you, and that they matter.
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