The evidence may be elusive: you find yourself frequently staying late and working long hours to finish projects, while your coworker skips out the door at 5:00. You may be suddenly struggling with what has been a manageable workload, and work is of poor quality and submitted late.
Often this behavior will escape your manager’s notice, as they are concerned with project completion and may not observe that one person is doing more than his or her share of the work.
This situation is not your poor performance, but rather poor judgment as you become overwhelmed while covering up for another. Often this begins as a genuine attempt to help a friend, or a coworker who is struggling with work. Sometimes it’s even a case of showing off to your boss. But if action isn’t taken, it settles in as persistent enabling of the poor work habits of a coworker.
In any event, it’s unfair to everyone: to you being swamped with extra work, while your own projects may be suffering; to your supervisor or manager, because the team is not running as smoothly as it looks, and resentment and burnout are building; even to your family as you’re working longer hours and perhaps bringing stress home with you. The only winner is the slacker, but even he or she loses by getting a false and inflated view of their own abilities.
If you or a coworker is in this position, the time to address it is now! Correct the situation now and begin 2013 with a clean slate. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Once the behavior is established, it’s difficult to undo it. But it can be done and the best time is now.
Begin by recognizing that there is a problem, then resolve to take action with the following steps:
- Set aside a time for a private conversation with your coworker. This discussion is too important and confidential to be handled via texts or email.
- Remind him or her of how you’ve been covering for them. Be prepared with specifics such as tasks, report names and projects. State clearly that beginning immediately, you can no longer cover for them.
- Set boundaries for future collaborations. You may be willing to help your teammate in an emergency. Make it clear that this will be decided on a case by case basis.
- If your coworker becomes bullying or threatening, be sure to report this behavior.
- Consider admitting the situation to your manager. She should be aware that you have been doing your own job plus. She should be impressed at your work ethic, pride in teamwork, and upfront communications. This may involve admitting that you’ve lied to her, but by being honest and sincere now, you should be able to restore the trust that’s vital in a good employee/employer relationship.
Whether you are directly involved, or as Human Resources you counsel an employee or manager in this situation, remember to reach out to your EAP for help. An EAP professional can help counsel both an over-stressed worker and the lazy worker, both of whom may have personal issues creating workplace problems.