7 Ways to Respond to a Lazy Co-Worker

I’ve always valued hard work and usually resented lazy workers.

There. I said it. I have a bias against laziness.  

I started working when I was 12 years old in a grocery store. I worked hard, gained the recognition of my managers, and was rewarded with all the hours I wanted to work. The store was a revolving door of workers it seemed. I worked with some much older than me who didn’t last long, because they really didn’t want to work. They wanted to sneak into the break room and have a coke or take an extraordinary amount of time taking the trash out each night.

Please understand, I’m not talking about people who protect their family time (I do that) or people who work smart so they can enjoy life. (I try to do that too.) I’m also not talking about people who honestly want to work, but can’t for legitimate health reasons. 

I’m talking about people who are lazy. People who don’t want to work. They often have a job, but give far less than their best to it. They want a paycheck, they want to eat well, but they don’t really want to earn their pay. 

(I told you I’ve usually resented people like this. Can you tell? 🙂 )

Something even more frustrating — if you are in a equal position to a lazy person, and you are not their leader and no one seems to do anything about it. You feel taken advantage of because of your hard work.

Not long ago I was stopped at a conference and asked if I saw laziness as a problem on church staffs. The questioner is in a large church where most of the staff work extremely hard, but a few barely get their work done. They are, in his opinion, lazy — and seem to get by with it. He wanted to know if this was unusual.

Of course, I assured this frustrated person, lazy people exist in every field. Wherever you find people you’ll encounter problems with people. Churches are places where people work, so some of the same problems that exist outside the church exist inside the church.

His real question, however, was “What should he do?” I shared a few thoughts and told him to read for a post to follow.

Here are 7 ways to treat lazy people:

Make sure it’s not a perception problem

Make sure you aren’t confusing a different work style with laziness. Make sure you aren’t lumping your overachiever mindset on them. People approach work differently. This is not always laziness. It could be they’ve found a way to work smarter and more efficiently. Look at the person’s performance based on results, not based on style.

Model hard work for them

This is your best offense. Some lazy people are encouraged by watching what they should be doing. Some will adapt to the environment if the environment is working hard. The completions will spur them. Certainly though, over time the lazy worker will be exposed. Then it is up to leadership to address the issue. (I know the question here — what happens if they don’t? That would be the subject of another post. This was is about co-workers.)

Pray for them to step up or leave

This sounds harsh, but if they are impacting your morale they are most likely impacting it for others. They are damaging the credibility and momentum of the organization for the rest of the team. Laziness is a sin. They need a heart change more than anything.

Don’t let them take advantage of you

You only enable them if you cover for them or do the work they were assigned to do. Lazy people seem to seek those out who will pick up their slack.

Challenge when necessary

If it’s clear a person is lazy and taking advantage of the situation, there comes a time when it’s right to challenge them. You should do so in love, but use the Matthew 18 approach — going to them first — then bringing along another if it continues. Work through the chain of command. It’s better to challenge lovingly than to let the resentment in your heart destroy your witness as you develop bitterness towards the other person. If you’re the senior leader — do your job to handle the problem.

Make sure it’s not personal to you or the organization

Could laziness be the result of something else? Could they be reacting to issues within their own life, or with a vision disagreement? That doesn’t mean they should stay or go, but it should impact the way you respond.

Help them with specific tasks

Sometimes you can help a lazy person, even if they don’t report to you, by helping them find things to do. Lazy people typically aren’t looking. If there is work to do they can do, ask them to help you or to assume responsibility for it. Structure is often the key need.

Have you ever worked with a lazy person? What did you do?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 27 Comments

  • Anonymous says:

    Hi

    My coworker is a Christian. We are both Christians. She is incredibly lazy and it’s making me angry. All the talks in the world don’t help. I’m not her superviser and I’m not in management.

    I’m getting really resentful. And plays on her phone, talks incessantly, and pretends to be busy. Could u pm me and keep me in your prayers.

    I’m beginning to joke aloud about how lazy she is. I’m not proud of myself but I’ve really had it.

  • Joseph chiseka {am from Africa, Malawi} says:

    “7 ways to respond to a lazy co-worker” is a nice book & I have discovered I should not follow a lazy person but I should rather make them follow to emulate my hard working spirit. My mentor! May the good Lord give you wisdom to continue doing this wonderful job. GOD BLESS U.Amen.

  • […] 7 Ways to Respond to a Lazy Co-Worker. Ron Edmondson writes about how to respond to lazy co-workers, “People who don’t want to work. They often have a job, but give far less than their best to it. They want a paycheck, they want to eat well, but they don’t really want to earn their pay.” […]

  • […] a leader, you may often have to deal with lazy co-workers. I’m thankful for Ron Edmondson who writes on how to deal with lazy co-workers in an effective, gracious […]

  • Jim Watson says:

    “Make sure it’s not a perception problem” This is EXTREMELY important.

    I admit that I have considered myself to be lazy. I admit that I don’t like working (but I still usually get the work done). This led my bosses to give me every lousy job that has come down to us. Nearly forty years ago, I asked my boss why I got all the lousy jobs. He told me that they gave me every job that no one had ever done before, that I would find the easiest way to do the job, and that they would then have everyone do it that way. It was a problem with my perception.

    What was actually occurring was that I was the person “creating” better jobs. I took “lousy” jobs and made them easier to do and less tedious. I guess the truth is that I don’t mind working. I just don’t want to waste any effort doing it.

    Of course, if my perception of myself is wrong, the perception of others could easily be wrong. We need to be careful when labeling others.

  • angelinajhon says:

    I have witnessed twice in one week at the local Wal-Mart workers refusing to do price checks, being rude as hell to an elderly shopper, and other behaviors management needs to be aware of. Two middle aged workers were rude to a 65 year old woman who asked for a.price check. When they were asked twice to check the item, one made the comment the customer should have read the price on the shelf or have taken it to the checkout and dealt with it there. There wad no price on the shelves for these particular items in home and garden. These women then proceeded to make fun of the elderly woman as she walked away. If this had been a family member I would have tild them both off. Instead, from now on I will ask to speak to management and report their a__es. If this does no good, I'll go up the corporate chain and report both floor workers and management. Don't like your job or dealing with the public? Retire, quit, or stay home.

  • robboy says:

    I been in my job for nearly two years i worked hard there done the company loads favours now we have this lazy boy who not been there long always on his phone or in toilet and they on about giving him promotion can you believe that?

    • ronedmondson says:

      Crazy

      • Tina Lopez says:

        I work for 11 months in the Olympic grocery store in town. The manager is friends with the 2 women that work in the morning shift. They leave the kitchen part like pigs have been in there. Dirty dishes, food on floor stove all dirty and lots of other things. Took pictures of the mess show it to the store owner and the manager nothing get done to them. Night shift has to clean it up. Finally had enough so I just quit. I prayed but I guess my prayers were not strong enough. I needed that job to complete my 7 credits I need for my social security. Now I need to find another job. Just because those lazy women got away with it. Not fair my God.

  • Terry says:

    Hi Ron: This is my first time ever to post on twitter. So this is more of a trial run than anything else while I learn how to do the twitter thing. I do like though what you had to say about the 7 ways how to treat lazy people. Pray for me and wish me luck.

  • These are excellent tips that anyone can use when it comes to dealing with lazy coworkers. I think, in reality, the challenge is that you can't really change someone else. You can encourage, take the time, effort etc., but ultimately, changing someone in the workplace from lazy to productive is a very difficult and challenging task. Thus I think, after attempting to reconcile the challenge yourself, the next step is to bring a supervisor into the loop so he/she can properly handle it while eliminating the stress/burden on you.

  • Set the expectation and make the lazy worker accountable to deliver. Keep assessing the performance and share the feedback at regular periodic intervals. Give him a second chance, if warranted.

  • @MzMeggs says:

    Your blog helps me so much! I recently stepped into a leadership position and it seems everything I am dealing with – you tweet/blog about! God bless you and thank you so much for all of the great info you share.

  • Dan Black says:

    I have worked with a lazy person, in fact I work with a few right now. I try and set the example and encourage them to do their best. (though this is hard because we are peers) But if I was their leader I would do the same thing but then let them know if they want to be lazy then in due time they will out of work. ( I would not be as blunt in saying it)

  • postadaychallenge2011 says:

    I have had to pray for a co worker to be removed from my work place, instead I ended up leaving. It is a blessing because three places I have left completely went out of business. God protected me. I love this blog. Found you on twitter.

  • I think this is a bigger problem than most of us realize. My wife deals with this on a daily basis and has at every place she's worked. It frustrates her. Good tips… passing em along.

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