An unprofessional, annoying, or incompetent coworker is the bane of any professional workspace. But they aren’t avoidable, and many can slip into a professional setting without hinting at the problems they’re about to bring upon your organization.
However, that doesn’t mean you should simply let their incompetence stand.
Whether you’re another worker or a team leader, there are a few things you should consider doing (and they don’t involve immediately tattling to the management or firing them on the spot).
Do Not Vent to Other Coworkers
First things first – maintain professional common sense in this kind of situation. Under no circumstances should you turn an incompetent coworker into a gossip topic.
While it might be really easy to succumb to this, and just blow off a little steam by badmouthing the one employee, it’s definitely not worth it.
Perpetuating an atmosphere that encourages gossip can be extremely toxic and does not make for a healthy work environment.
Document Everything You Can
The worst thing you can do when talking to someone a little higher up about what’s been going on is to come to them with pure hearsay. You need evidence, witnesses, and information. Gather as much of it as you can and keep it ready.
Most importantly, talk to them.
An annoying and incompetent coworker might be really difficult to work with, but there could be a good reason – not one that excuses incompetence, but one that might help you get them the time they need to sort out their problems before returning to work for a second chance.
Leave Emotions Out of It
Do not let things get out of hand, regardless of whether you’re the manager/leader of the group, or another fellow worker.
When an incompetent employee is being unreasonable in a professional setting, it’s not an excuse to drop all pretense and make things ugly.
Regardless of what words get flung around, do NOT resort to ad hominem attacks. Do NOT vent to other coworkers outside of the office.
If you find yourself close to a breaking point – take a break. It’s definitely not worth exploding and making a scene simply for the satisfaction of finally being able to say what you’ve been wanting to say all along.
Regardless of your position, do NOT let yourself get burned in the long-term for letting things get out of hand with someone who has dug themselves a professional grave.
Don’t Pick Up Their Slack
If you’re witnessing a coworker being sloppy with their work, your first instinct might be to ‘help’. But there’s a limit to how much help can actually do any good.
If it’s clear that your coworker is going through a genuinely tough time (or they mention it), then helping them is the right thing to do. It will be appreciated, and you know that their problems are temporary.
But if you decide to ‘help’ with a coworker who is refusing to do the work properly, all you’re doing is giving them even less of a reason to change or improve, while erasing any evidence of their incompetence.
If a coworker is unwilling to pull their weight, they shouldn’t count on others simply doing the work for them.
Furthermore, it sends a terrible message to the other workers in the group. They won’t be held accountable and won’t be as proud of their work as they should. They put in hard hours to see this business flourish while one person gets to take it easy without serious repercussions.
Yes, everyone has their limits, and there are variables in how much weight one person can pull. Some work harder and better than others, as expected. But when it’s clear that a coworker simply isn’t even doing their level best, that needs to stand on its own.
Unless it’s clear that they need help, and unless it’s an incredibly minor task, do not help. That’s where empathy stops, and manipulation (on their part) begins.
Be Prepared to Remove Them
If you’re the group leader or manager for an organization at a shared workspace, then it’s your responsibility to maintain a healthy work environment.
Even if you don’t own the space and share it with other businesses and workers, your team is your responsibility – the workers under your command reflect on you, and the organization, and externally, that reflects on the entire space.
That means knowing when it’s time to remove someone from your group.
Firing a worker unjustly is the last thing a small organization should do, but when there’s no room for growth or improvement, and it’s clear that the relationship you have with your coworker is adversarial at best, having them removed would be the healthiest thing to do – and the health of the business comes first.
The last thing you may do is fragment your team, either as a member of the team itself or as its manager. But regardless of how you feel about potentially creating a wedge, it’s important to know where you believe your priorities should lie.
In most cases, it’s better to prioritize a healthy and productive work space and a business that can continue to do work for its clients, than to avoid a confrontation with an incompetent coworker, who is unwilling to change or adapt.
It’s not a matter of cruelty or empathy – the needs of the organization come before the needs of the individual, and a difficult coworker isn’t just a problem for your group or business, but for the entire coworking space, putting not only them in a bad light, but your business, and in turn, the space itself (which can definitely hurt your reputation with its owners).
If you’re a coworker, document your coworker’s shortcomings to maintain evidence of their incompetence. Also, ask why they’re not finishing tasks.
If you’re a manager, then know that this is part of the job. An effective leader knows when it’s time to give leeway and push, and when it’s time to cut someone out of the organization entirely. Take responsibility.