There is a person at work who has been in the company for almost 5 months. She was trained by other people. The problem is, she is very lazy. She never offers to help me and she often works on trivial, easy tasks when there are more pressing issues. We were supposed to work as a team but I feel like I am doing everything myself. I tried swapping position with her for a week so that she could understand how hard my job is, but to no avail.

I am used to working alone or with someone who is competent. My supervisor wants me to deal with it; I think she was telling me to be rude if necessary. I am not the kind of person to do that well (e.g., I am not a native English speaker), and I really don't want to make the workplace uncomfortable. It is very hard for me to be passive aggressive, etc.

Is there a way to deal with this kind of situation? I lack leadership, I know that, but I am not sure how to be a leader without looking like a jerk. Maybe I should just be this jerk, and be mad, and tell her to do her job right.

  • 3
    Do I understand correctly that you have the mandate from your boss to give the other person instructions? Then do that. You can be respectful, but firm. This is not being a jerk, this is doing your job. Mar 21, 2018 at 4:33
  • yep. but I feel like this will make the workplace a bit awkward.
    – user31546
    Mar 21, 2018 at 4:38
  • 5
    Could you ask the manager to make that known to the person you are to instruct? If not, you would have to do this (tell her that the manager asks for her to accept instructions from you). Unfortunately, it looks pretty obvious from your description that the manager expects you to do precisely that. Mar 21, 2018 at 5:01
  • 4
    Sounds like this workplace is already awkward and uncomfortable, so I'm not really sure what you're worried about.
    – Erik
    Mar 21, 2018 at 6:09
  • 2
    Are you actually officially in a supervisory role, or has your supervisor just abdicated their responsibilities and left it to you to do their job for them? Mar 21, 2018 at 11:45

4 Answers 4


Tell her you are relaying the instructions from the boss. Make sure she understands what to do and is capable of doing it. If she doesn't do it, ask her why. Let her know it is your job to report her status back to the boss.

Do not do her work. Make sure you get your work done. Teachers have to be willing to let students fail. It is part of learning. Your boss will have to decide what to do if she doesn't get things done. He seems to think you can just yell at her or be firm and she'll comply. He is managing in the wrong century.

  • He seems to think you can just yell at her or be firm and she'll comply. He is managing in the wrong century. So true.
    – r41n
    Mar 21, 2018 at 15:54

Is there a way to deal with this kind of situation?

If you are specifically asking to deal with the literal situation in your title, "How to tell a coworker what to do?" then it really just boils down to doing legwork as others have indicated (make sure your mandate from your boss is clear, making sure the other employee understands that, etc.) and then addressing the specific problems in the work she is producing. But I don't think that's the most effective approach.

If you're really asking, "what do I do when someone else isn't doing their fair share of the work?" Or, "How do I change a coworker's work ethic?" then I would suggest you turn the question around and focus on yourself.

Changing other people is hard. You state that your coworker is lazy. If you try to "fix" that, as a peer, even with a supervisor's approval, you're right - it's just going to make everything awkward. And you're probably not going to make her any less lazy.

Why does this person's laziness bother you? Do you have a clear understanding of what your workload is? Does your boss understand your performance? Are you satisfied with your own career development and the results of your own effort?

If a coworker's bad habits are causing problems for you, you need to address those problems yourself, with your boss. Make sure you're addressing your own problem, not your coworker's problem. When you go to your boss, "my coworker is lazy" is a very different problem from "I have too much on my plate, can you help me understand my priorities?" You've made it known to your boss that your coworker doesn't pull their weight. "My supervisor wants me to deal with it" sounds to me more like your supervisor wants you to stop complaining about your coworker, rather than a specific mandate that your supervisor wants you to fix your coworker.

To get back to your question:

Is there a way to deal with this kind of situation?

Focus on your own improvement and your own workload, and work with your boss to address your coworker's impact on you, versus trying to fix your coworker.


You can't really blame her for being "lazy" or choosing to work on easy tasks if there's no one telling her otherwise. If your boss has appointed you to delegate tasks to her, you need to do as you're told. Don't be passive aggressive, be authoritative.

I know you're working [easy/unimportant task] but we really need to deliver [more important task]. I'd like you to switch gears and focus on this. Let me know if you have any questions or need help

These tasks are now owned by her. If she doesn't complete them, then the failure is her's and not your's.


Even with the discussion in the comments, this line is a little unclear:

My supervisor wants me to deal with it

Does she really?

If your supervisor is serious about you handling this, then you need to do so. I would

  1. Ask the supervisor to tell your co-worker that you are in charge
  2. Clarify what sort of recourse you have if she does not comply (can you send her home, fire her, etc.). It's likely this person will eventually need to be fired, so you should clarify what steps have to happen before she can be fired.
  3. Sit down with this person and tell her your expectations. You can be friendly, but be very clear. Don't expect her to offer to help you - explicitly order her to do what you want her to do, and don't be mad at her for not doing things you haven't clearly asked her to do.
  4. If she refuses to follow your instructions, use whatever recourse you have.

Or, your supervisor may be saying "handle it" as in "don't bother me." In this case, I think you should make your supervisor aware of the situation -- I would draft a memo (you may need someone to help you with the writing) where you say something like: "Here is a list of what I did last night: [blah]. Here is a list of what coworker did last night: [blah]. This happens every night. I wanted to document this so that I will not be blamed when things get missed. Please let me know how you wish to proceed." Then I would just do your work and ignore the coworker as much as possible.

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