Ask LH: How Can I Deal With A Slack Colleague?

Dear Lifehacker, I work for a consultancy. At core I'm a software developer but I'm often used as a generalist (for business analyst or project management work). A colleague is in a similar role, but he is never at work — we see him at most once every few weeks. He always has excuses: moving, affected by floods, no money for public transport, "I'm working from home".

Our workplace does encourage working from home, but just recently he has said that he has no internet connection or his internet has been throttled. I know I shouldn't be annoyed at this but I absolutely can't stand it. Everything is affected including other staff as we are required to pick up his slack. Any advice? Thanks, Picking Up The Slack

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Dear PUTS,

Why shouldn't you be annoyed at this? I'd be hurling dented tins of tomatoes at this point. There's simply no excuse for this kind of unprofessional behaviour. That said, hurling canned food won't solve the problem either.

There's often an idea that we shouldn't "dob in" slack colleagues. Applying that 'logic' at school leads to more bullying. In the workplace, it similarly leads to more people being unhappy. It simply doesn't make sense. Your colleague is paid to perform a task, not to upset everyone else.

The key step is to document whenever you're asked to pick up the slack because this person isn't performing their own tasks. Working from home shouldn't be the reason behind this. We're big fans of working from home at Lifehacker, but the benefits come with a clear responsibility: getting through the tasks that are assigned to you. If that's not happening, you need to point it out to management.

Again, you shouldn't feel bad about doing this. With this level of slackness, it seems unlikely that your colleague's behaviour has gone entirely unnoticed, but if work is ultimately being completed thanks to other people's efforts, more senior people may not be aware of the problem. Either way, pointing out the issue — and emphasising that it's the impact on the workplace you object to, not your colleague as an individual — is the first step towards solving it.

A related thought: if your employer does encourage working from home, do so yourself once in a while. It's harder to get dragged into fixing other people's last-minute issues if you're not on site yourself.

Good luck! If readers want to share additional hints, we'd love to hear them in the comments.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    You make it sound so clear cut.. There's often a lot of politics to how you 'play the game'.

    Without knowing the facts its impossible to know, but one alternate possibility would be that if you've noticed then someone else above you probably has to.. You could speak to your direct manager and in a casual way just reassert in their mind that it is that persons responsibility to perform that task. Then instead of complaining, work your ass off, go above and beyond your duties but never pick up slack for their duties.

    Its still being proactive, but you are letting them succeed or fail on their own merits, while coming out looking better than ever.

    A friend tried your solution and pointed out that a colleague wasn't doing any work. The colleague he outed, then made a report for racial discrimination (he was aboriginal, my friend was white), and said he was making that claim solely on his race. Everything worked out in the end, but he had to go through a lot of hassle, and said he won't be doing it again.

    It is so difficult these days with bullying, stress and discrimination cases can lead to the slacker getting an even easier ride.

    My sister is a FC for a large motoring company and what sucked was a worker that she hired worked fine for his probation period, as soon as he was full time he started dragging his feet. My sister told him in a nice way (and I mean nice, my sister has never yelled at anyone ever), he then claimed that he was being bullied in the work place, he went on 2 months paid leave while it was being investigated. He then came back for a month and said he couldn't cope with the work load and claimed another 6 weeks of stress leave, because of all the crap they had couldn't get rid of him on the spot. My sister was not happy at all, as her team had to pick up the slack.

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