7 Ways to Respond to a Lazy Co-Worker

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There are lazy people in the secular world, and there are lazy people inside the church. What's the best way to work with them?

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, that 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.

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