Work Relationships

6 polite and professional ways to call out a lazy coworker

lazy coworker
Written by Michael Hoon

It’s not your job to motivate or police your coworkers. If it were, you would be their boss. But if you have a lazy coworker it can be a drag on your department or a team project—and in large and small ways, a coworker’s laziness can grate on you and affect your work life for the worse. Mix in a sense of unfairness about what some coworkers get away with, and you have a recipe for frustration and job dissatisfaction.

But you don’t just have to throw up your hands and despair—there are a few ways to make sure someone else’s laziness doesn’t create a dysfunctional work day for you.

1. Be direct

The worst thing to do would be to engage in passive-aggressive behaviors—jokes, subtle hints, and sarcasm rarely land the way you want them to and your message may not be taken seriously or received at all. Make it easy on yourself: sum up the problem and how it affects you in one sentence and ask to have a short conversation with your coworker. You don’t need to agonize over a carefully worded email. Don’t be too confrontational or accusatory; just keep it simple, like: Could you pay more attention to this? When you don’t, I have more work to do. Sometimes laziness continues precisely because no one points it out. The simple antidote? Be direct.

2. Be quick

Never call out a coworker when you are truly annoyed, because that will surely lead to unprofessional behavior. On the other hand, it’s best to address an issue soon after it happens, so your coworker is clear on a specific time they were engaging in lazy behavior, and they don’t perceive you as nursing a weird grudge. Waiting too long after the fact can make it seem like you’ve been stewing for days—and rehashing the past can add another toxic element to the mix, causing your coworker to become defensive. Again, be direct, and point out something concrete that will make things better, and help your coworker snap out of their lazy habits.

3. Ask a favor

If either of the first two options seem too confrontational, you can directly ask your coworker for help on a project. It’s easy for some to ignore a task; it’s much harder to ignore a human being asking for help. This puts the lazy coworker in an awkward position: either they have to take the strong stance of saying “No,” or simply help. Just something to keep in mind—a lazy person is not necessarily a discourteous person, but the favor will pit their laziness against their sense of decency to their coworkers.

4. Set up check-in meetings

A deadline can be a great taskmaster for the go-getter. Why not try this out for the lazy? A check-in meeting where each coworker sums up their progress on a project creates a certain level of accountability. The lazy coworker will be lagging behind, have nothing to report, and it will be obvious to everyone in the room. In essence, the lazy coworker will call themselves out, and the burden won’t be on you.

5. Suggest a better workflow to your supervisor

This doesn’t mean rat someone out or complain about their laziness to a supervisor, because that may not appear professional either. This option acknowledges that it’s not your job to pick up the slack for coworkers, nor is it your job to get them to do their work. If you see a better way to divide and conquer a task and you suggest it, this shows you are taking initiative and can help change the dynamic of how your team or department works together.

6. Form a bond

Sometimes the only real thing you can change about your work situation is how you react and feel about it. If your frustration over your coworker’s laziness has reached the boiling point, take it down a notch. You don’t know what personal life issues your coworker may be facing. Be friendly. Bond with your coworker and try to reach a better understanding of them on a personal level. This can help reduce your frustration and make it easier if you ever do need to call them out on their behavior in the future.

About the author

Michael Hoon