Monday, March 23, 2009

Dealing With Co-Workers Who Won't Pull Their Weight at Work

It's late. Most of the offices are dark, and the only sound if the "squeak, squeak, squeak" of the cleaning guy's cart as he slowly wheels it down a nearby hallway.

At your desk, you try again to focus on the work in front of you. You've been working for 14 hours straight, and only grabbed some potato chips and a soda from the vending machine for dinner. Your head pounds and your neck and back are one continuous pulse of pain. You long ago shed your jacket and rolled up your sleeves. Your hair sticks up in spikes after you've run your hands through it about a thousand times in the last several hours. You figure you now smell as bad as you feel.

But you have no choice. You can't go home yet. Probably not for several more hours, you think angrily. Someone you stupidly trusted has let you down. Instead of coming through with his part of the report, he missed the deadline and then gave some lame excuse about how he couldn't work late.

"Sorry," he said, walking out the door hours ago.

So, that left you with the problem. You have to get the work done by tomorrow, because that's when the boss wants it done. You can't afford to lose this job, and that means that if you work 24 hours straight to turn it in on time, that's what you're going to do. But in the meantime, you hope karma really is a bitch -- you'd like to see your co-worker get a toe fungus that eventually overtakes his whole body.

Many of us have been through similar scenarios in our career. We trust our co-workers to come through for us, and when they don't, we're angry and vow never to trust them again.

Unfortunately, with today's lean workforce environments, we rely more than ever on one another to get the job done. Our success -- and our company's success -- depends on employees working together efficiently and productively. If one of those cogs in the wheel is faulty, then the whole operation can be jeopardy.

Let's look at ways to handle co-workers that drop the ball, and how to get them to pull their weight:

1. No one is a mind reader.
Make sure that if you need a co-worker's input by a specific deadline, you've made that deadline clear. Don't nag -- that's sure to annoy the other person and only lead to more communication problems. If you think there may be problem, be positive: "David, I just want to check in and remind you that our deadline for those figures is Friday. How's it going -- any problems? No? Great! That's wonderful news. I'll check back in a couple of days."

2. Don't be a martyr.
If you know the only way the work is going to get done is by pulling some long hours, don't get angry that you're probably the only one willing to do it. Instead, be proactive. "Mary, we've really got to make sure this report is done by Friday, and it looks like that means we're all going to have to pull some extra hours. What section do you want to tackle?"

3. Be persistent
. Most of us are working very hard right now, but we all know the people who seem to be extraordinarily talented at escaping their share of the growing workload. Don't give in simply because it's easier to do it yourself. You'll only end up hurting yourself because you'll burn out that much sooner and possibly ruin your health. Instead, be focused on your objective, which is making sure the co-worker follows through on a work commitment. It's best to do this when you're not under the threat of a looming deadline. Pick a quiet time, and say, "Bob, it seems that I'm usually the one who puts in the late hours when there's a deadline. I'm willing to do my part, of course, but I'd like to talk about ways we can split the work a bit more fairly."

4. Acknowledge contributions.
You may be angry and resentful by the time a co-worker does come through, but your sullenness won't help. Instead, be appreciative so that the co-worker's helpfulness won't be a one-time thing. "I see that you got the figures to Bob in time for us to include them in the report. That really helped us meet the deadline. Thanks."

What are some other ways to deal with co-workers who may not be shouldering their fair share of work?

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Being on Time May Be an Impossible Task

Is being late a sin?

I can't tell you how many times in the last months I've been late somewhere, and I am never late. I'm not sure why this is, but I'm determined to get a handle on it.

Being late bugs me. It stresses me out. But I wait on a lot on other people who are late. They're late for phone interviews, they're late for meetings and sometimes they never even show up.

At work, we're all under some incredible deadlines, being asked to do more faster, better, smarter and -- did I mention faster?

So, if that's the case, are we now running later than ever because we set unrealistic deadlines? It's estimated that employee lateness costs about $3 billion annually, but lots of successful people run late: Bill Clinton is known for his inability to stick to a schedule.

Many of us have terrible commutes that we have little or no control over. We're juggling the demands of work and home, and many toil for our companies even when we're physically not at work through e-mail and phone calls.

I'm reminded of a hand-stitched sampler that we had in our living room while I was growing up:

"The hurrieder I go, the behinder I get."

Some will say that lateness is a way to control a situation, it's a head game the tardy folks play with the rest of us. It's the people who are whiners and slackers who are late, and the rest of us shouldn't have to pay the price. But does that still hold true in the workforce today?

Should bosses continue to punish employees for being late? It does make them mad, and ticks off plenty of co-workers.

So, maybe there's an "acceptable" amount of time to be late. If there is, I wish someone would tell me so I could quit chugging the Maalox every time I start to run behind. Is it five minutes? Ten? Twenty?

If you've found ways to stay on schedule and never be late, please let the rest of us know. I'm getting behinder more every day.


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