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We have a colleague who prefers to waste time at work instead of well... working. He's either watching movies, playing online games, or he's always on social sites. This is all on company time, with company's resources.

We (the other people in the office) thought that, hey, this sometimes happen. Not everyone is a professional and in a big company like ours, sometimes people unable to pull their own weight just ride along with the inertia.

Most of us never paid any attention to the behaviour. We just thought: what a childish thing to do and carried on with our work. We do our job, we get paid, it's management's business to deal with bad or useless employees.

But lately the situation is starting to bother us. Projects have increased in number and we are dealing with tighter and tighter schedules. More and more people are getting stressed, overtime increased, there is tension with upper management etc. And there is also this guy that doesn't do anything all day long.

Professionalism aside, I'm a human being and the situation is bothering me because I'm working hard while he does nothing. I'm staying late while he goes home at 5:00. He could give a hand (he's not incompetent, he can work if he puts his mind to it) and take a part of the burden from the rest of us but he doesn't care.

It's the same with my other colleagues, they work very hard while he does nothing... It's like that song from Alesha Dixon, "The boy does nothing".

So my question is how do we deal with this?

We either want him out or find a way to be able to ignore him again.

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A little more information about your organization would be helpful. Is is private or public sector? About how big is the dev team? Who is in charge of the dev team? etc –  Jim In Texas Sep 10 '12 at 20:46
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"Some employees quit and leave, some quit and stay, which is far worse". Seems your co-worked actually has quit the job (or was never in it) –  Darhazer Nov 14 '12 at 10:48
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Ignoring him is easy: Ignore him. That's your decision. Managing him is management's responsibility. I've known people who can appear to spend all day fidgeting and still be productive; there have been times when I myself have found that stepping away from a problem and letting the back of my mind work on it produces better results than trying to force the solution. If he isn't producing, management will notice. If he is, maybe you're spending too much time watching him and not enough on your own work. –  keshlam May 31 at 6:41
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Just to nickpick: 1. "This is all on company time, with company's resources" company time, sure, company "resources" well... if those aren't "special" resources, i.e. thing he doesn't have anyway at home, I don't really think it counts; 2. "I'm staying late while he goes home at 5:00." that's your choice, you can choose differently. –  Lohoris Jul 3 at 16:57

9 Answers 9

up vote 42 down vote accepted

People tend to balance their output to expectations, regardless if they are high or low. Sounds to me that this person is not expected to produce much, so consequently he's not.

This is a management and allocation problem - your PM/manager has no overview over which tasks are allocated to whom and apparently does no follow-up on results. Otherwise, this person would quickly be identified as under-allocated and given additional work. You can help here by hinting to the PM that this guy could probably achieve more if properly motivated and challenged.

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You're an optimist –  superM Sep 10 '12 at 11:24
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@superM I am :) But the darker, more cynical backside to that coin is that if you raise expectations on someone, and they fail to deliver, it will be noticed and that person can be dealt with based on measurable facts rather than anecdotal observations such as "spends all his time on social networks". –  pap Sep 10 '12 at 11:28

So my question is how do we deal with this?

You focus on your own work, and don't burn up valuable energy and good-will by trying to force this person to change.

The fact that there are more projects, increasingly tighter deadlines and "tension" with upper management signifies a problem. It appears that the way your organization has decided to deal with the problem in the long term is simply to "work harder". This is a far more serious issue than just one under-performer.

You might never know why an otherwise competent worker has decided to mentally check-out, but it could be for lots of reasons. Maybe he knows something that you don't know? Maybe he feels everyone else is on a project death march and doesn't want to be taken advantage of?

If you take the advice of going to management with this problem, you have to ask yourselves whether or not you really want the help of someone who is being forced to help you out. In most cases that kind of help is worse than no help at all.

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Look at it another way. What has your company and/or supervisor done, to give you any indication they think you are working hard?

  • positive review
  • bonus
  • tracked the things you get done

Hopefully they're applying the same evaluation methods to the other employee and he's not doing as well. You don't know, he may be on the way out.

If they're not rewarding/recognizing the good employees, they're probably not weeding out the bad ones.

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+1 for If they're not rewarding/recognizing the good employees, they're probably not weeding out the bad ones. –  enderland Sep 11 '12 at 15:34

Have you discussed the situation with your/his management? They should probably be made aware of his lack of accomplishments. Take a look at the commit logs for your source control for whatever projects this guy is on - see if he's actually not committing at all, or if he's doing little stuff or what have you. If he is making commits similar to the rest of the team, what's he checking in?

You need to be able to SHOW that he's not doing work - saying that you always see him on social sites or playing games, or whatever could come off sounding a little bit whiney, but if you can show that he's had no impact on any of the projects that he's associated with, it will be easier to convince management that there is a problem.

Also, note that management's first response is likely to be to give the guy a talking to. Be prepared for him to push back in some way - he might not, but it's entirely possible that he'll start trying to give the APPEARANCE of working, while actually slacking off. This can be even worse than the previous problem if he does it by making ill-advised changes to the code.

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Why are you assuming that this is a software project? There is no indication in the question that this is the case and it's also not relevant. –  ChrisF Sep 10 '12 at 12:32
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Hmm not sure of that. The only thing you should do is prove you're doing the work you've been asked to. –  ChrisF Sep 10 '12 at 12:39
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@ChrisF - the OP wants to deal with a co-worker who appears to not be doing his job. My statement is that the OP will be in a better position to talk to management about the problem if the OP can prove the assertion that co-worker isn't actually doing anything. –  Michael Kohne Sep 10 '12 at 13:07

I do not know if this is in line with the site's desired response output, but based on my experience up to now:

There are unfortunately cases where this not only happens, but is expected to happen. Some examples that me or people close to me have encountered (please note that I would not believe them if I had not seen them):

A person with a problematic background: A company hires someone let's say with drug issues in the past, because of policy/HR reasons such as quotas or because it will give good ranking for some indexes. At the same time they do not want to give any real responsibility to that person, because they still see him/her as potential liability. So they let him/her stick around for a bit and if after some months everything is OK, then small tasks are being gradually assigned, until eventually that person fully integrates.

Internship scenario: An intern is being placed for an average of three to four months (again for PR reasons such as ties with the community, social responsibility or tax breaks). Suppose that at the same time the inherent complexity of the position of department she lands, needs an average of six months of working experience, involving consuming other employees' time, until the intern is productive (or in some non-IT cases, reliable). Again here the intern is de-facto unable to do anything meaningful, with the exception of occasional administrative tasks.

Corruption/Favouritism/Planting: Your organisation is affiliated with a big client (usually state/state-owned). A Representative of the client at some point during negotiations (politely) requests if there is a position for his nephew/niece etc. Person comes, favour granted, contact signed but organisation got a new redundant employee. The impact that a monthly salary can have to a multi million contract is minimal. I know of at least one case when this thing happened and the persons involved became highly productive when... actual work for them actually showed up.

This can happen in the case of having the co-worker "planted" from someone higher up in the hierarchy.

These above are examples that the situation described in the question can happen and it is normal. In some later stages this type of co-worked gets some responsibility in an area that does not affect the core of the department's activities. I do not know if this has been studied or if there is any other material on the subject.

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Instead of attempting to get him into trouble or ignoring the whole situation, why not attempt to motivate your colleague into performing work?

Self Worth

Let him know he's needed and that your team/dept/company has work piling up and could use his expertise in getting it done. Tell him that you guys can't do it without him. This usually motivates them into at least doing the work to keep things caught up.

Set Goals/Create Competition

"Hey, management doesn't think we can finish y and z in x days. Let's prove 'em wrong, then I'll buy you a beer to celebrate."

This is great for the guy who is the competitive type and likes a challenge. A lot of times when highly motivated people work for big companies, they don't feel that excitement of a challenge due to the monotonous day-to-day grind, so they become lazy and uninterested in their work. Create a competitive setting and build some goals that are common to your own. If he he's more of a solo worker, tailor the goals to be where it seems like he would be the hero if the goal was met.

Who knows... if you're successful and management sees this, you could be up for a raise or promotion ;)

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The author is better of spending his time doing his own work then making somebody feel better about themself. –  Ramhound Sep 11 '12 at 15:12
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It's that kind of thinking that's the problem. Have you ever worked in a company where your co-workers encourage you to be at your best? Have you ever encouraged others to be at their best? If not, then you have no idea the power that it creates to break deadline barriers and how it creates a work environment that you love coming to. Your comment sounds very bitter and cold. You may want to look into the power of motivation and what it can do not only for the people you motivate, but what it does for you as a result. –  Mechaflash Sep 11 '12 at 15:42
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+1 For Mechaflash; @Ramhound - in most organisations where I have worked motivating other team members to deliver is called "leadership." I value people who can work hard, but those who can make a team as a whole deliver what is needed are outstanding. –  GuyM Nov 11 '12 at 17:32

If you are in such large company, tell your manager. If the person you claim is doing it, there are records, either on his computer or via the firewall/server records will corroborate your claim.

Every computer logged onto a server will have a record of everyone’s networking activity, as detailed as what documents they view to possibly what websites you are going to. It all depends on the details that the Network Admin wants recorded, too much and it slows down the network, so the data may just show application and web usage. That being said, the computer should have specifics.

If the employee is doing what you are saying, then there are records… If you can’t get proof, your boss though the network admin will be able to and confront your co-worker. Just don't shake a bee's nest you aren't willing to subjugate yourself to as well. Because if you push this, everyone in the group may be scrutinized.

Hope this helps.

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Management should be able to weed out someone who isn't doing their job. Most of the time they know about it, but fail to do anything about it. In very large places what often happens is management knows someone is deadwood and just stops giving them raises hoping they will leave. Or they butter someone else's bread and get them out of their group. Others just hire contractors to do the real work while the deadwood drinks coffee all day.

If this person is in the way of you and others getting work done, then you must talk to management about it. But the thing you must understand is that you judge work by output, not by input. If someone gets their work done and appears to be playing around the rest of the time, you don't have any complaints then. But if they don't wear a tie like you and arrive at their desk exactly on time as you do, this isn't your problem unless it actually is in the way of your work and others.

Otherwise you are going to drive yourself crazy with people who don't do their job. I've been on projects with 300 people and there were only a handful that I would hire, the rest in my opinion were mostly deadwood. I focused on those who were excellent and ignored the rest.

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I suspect the manager(s) know what's going on.

There are times I would go on a tear writing code, and after a couple of hours of high intensity effort I would burn out. At that point I would pull up a news site to do a search on some topic to get my mind off the code and let my brain recharge. I would also take a break, make some tea, perhaps chat with coworkers, or in some context 'do something else' for awhile. However, I might do something like this for five or ten minutes, and then get back into the code.

If the person 'goofing off' is really good in some niche (SQL Server stored procedures or ETL or something) (s)he might be worth the salary to the employer, although perhaps not in the context of the impact on morale. However, I have also seen (and I have to admit, there were times I did this myself) people waste large parts of their day. The one situation where I was guilty of this I was bored to death, after a year I quit and went contract, and have worked fewer hours but more intensely in each hour. This is the likely fate of this individual.

In the US, larger employers have a tendency to do layoffs during some business downturn, so that it appears that people are being let go for cash flow reasons rather than performance reasons. Your working associate may already be on the discharge list, the actual deed will occur when the company, stock market, or economy gets hammered.

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