4.19.2006

RANT: If you work with a slacker collegue

via BusinessWeek - I speak to a lot of employee groups, and the folks in the audience always have terrific workplace questions. There's one question that comes up in almost every group, and everyone laughs when it does, but it's almost impossible for me to answer it on the spot. The question is: "What do you do about a co-worker who goofs off all the time?"

When I get that question, I have to ask the inquirer to see me afterward, so I can learn more about the situation. The reason is that over the years, I've learned that there are two very different kinds of workplace work-shirkers. One might be called the Optical Slacker, and the other could be nicknamed the Physical Slacker. And there's a huge difference between them.

... The Physical Slacker works with you so closely that you rely on his or her results. That's a problem, because the Physical Slacker doesn't do what he or she promises to. When you say you need something by Friday and he says "Sure," you're lucky to get it the following Tuesday. When his part of the report has to be finished before you can start on yours, he's nowhere to be found. When you turn up late on three of your assignments and all three depended on his participation, he has a list of reasons why he let you down, and none of them are his fault. The defining characteristic of a Physical Slacker is that he is messing with your work or, as buttoned-down types like to say, negatively impacting your output. That's not fair to you. It's materially getting in your way. You have to act.

The Optical Slacker doesn't slow you down in your work. It's not clear that he or she slows anyone down, and in fact, his manager may be very happy with his results. It's not that the person isn't getting his work done -- it's just that you see him on the phone to his girlfriend, or taking a long coffee break, or otherwise not working really hard. The problem isn't material, but it sure is visible...

You have to confront the (Physical Slacker) directly... Talk about the interaction you'll need to have. Talk about potential pitfalls along the way to project completion. And if you can wend your way around to it, talk about lessons learned from the last few fiascoes, and how to avoid another misfire. You have to give the man a chance. If you crash and burn on the next collaboration, you're ethically free to go talk to your manager about the issue -- framing it, of course, as a request for help getting the process to be smoother, not an attempt to get Bucko fired.

Now what about the Optical Slacker?... the solution to the problem is to repeat these five words to yourself: It's None of My Business...

Deal forthrightly with the Physical Slacker, and leave the Optical Slacker to manage his or her own spoke. You may find that there's more to career success than being (or being perceived as) the busiest little beaver in the lodge. The other lesson is that if you've been managing your time based on the "keeping busy" standard, there may be higher-impact activities that deserve more of your attention. As pleasing as it is on any given afternoon for a manager to look out over the bullpen and see the troops hard at work, at the end of the day (or month, or quarter), it's results that count.

So the next time the question rises to your lips, "What do you do about a slacker co-worker?", stop and consider: Is the presumed slacker slowing you down? If not, it's a good bet that you have bigger problems to solve.

Category: C++ Quant > Fix the Job You Got

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