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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Lazy Coworker

Dear Sue: I work two days a week with a woman who is a few years older than I am. She is not very reliable and when she does come to work, she does as little as possible. I have to constantly tell her what to do or she leaves more work behind for me and then she ignores me when I ask her about it.

I like to get along with everyone and it makes for a bad day when I have to work with this lazy individual who purposely is behaving this way because she feels she should be in my position. I was hired before her so she really wants my job and I feel they all want me to quit.
She and my boss have been co-workers for years and my boss is definitely favoring this woman and has told me that I should not talk with this co-worker anymoreóthat she will relay the message. What do you think I can do to make this situation better?

- Sick of lazy coworker

Sue Says: You know what doesnít work; now you need to figure out what will work. Youíve talked to your boss, youíve tried talking with your coworker and your boss has talked with her too. The only thing you havenít done is talk with the three of you together.

My suggestion is for you to request a meeting with your boss and coworker. If your boss discourages it, tell him (or her) you feel it is necessary because of the tension that has occurred due to the lack of communication. Let him know you are committed to working things out and creating a more positive environment. Be the one to initiate the meeting and lead the conversation, but check with your boss before you do. Donít ask if it is okay; tell him you feel it is the only way to work through the problem you are having.

If you can get away from the office and talk with them over coffee or lunch, do so. The more neutral the location you meet in, the better.

Take responsibility for what has transpired. Let them know that you regret the dynamics that have taken place as a result of your own indirect communication. Make it clear that your intention is to effectively and peacefully work with each of them and to be as productive as possible.

Apologize if necessaryófor whatever harm you have caused or accusations you have made. Then proceed to address whatever the core issue is, giving each person the chance to offer their suggestion for a solution.

The key is for you to speak in terms of what YOU are struggling with and need rather than blaming your coworker for what SHE isnít doing.

It may help to discuss and get clear about job duties, roles and expectations to make sure you all are in sync. You might start by stating your understanding of what she is to be doing on her days at work and how it affects you when it doesnít get done. Talk in terms of your experience-- what is working and what isnít (not knowing when she will show up, having to repeatedly ask for something to be done, etc.)

Be more assertive by being clear and direct in your communication. Rather than complain about what isnít being done, request what you need. And listen closely to what your coworker tells you.

I hope this helps. Let me know what happens.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

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