How can I not let a co-worker's incompetence and sloppy work ethic affect how I treat him? He's a generally very nice guy who can't seem to adequately learn our business nor our product to be productive, after having worked closely with him to train him for 18 months. He blows deadlines, doesn't proofread or use spellcheck on his communications including spelling clients' names wrong in emails to them and needs someone to remind him of his deadlines because he cannot routinely adopt time management tools provided to him.

We work for a very small company where our boss does not really get involved in our day-to-day duties and expects us all to be mature enough to set our goalsand get our work done with no supervision. The rest of us have the skillsets to do this.

Unfortunately, I cannot just ignore this guy because we share responsibilty for customer support and training. If left to his own devices, his training is mostly superficial and incomplete.

I don't want to be a narc because I don't want to sour my other coworkers to me but I don't like my job as much as I used to because of the stress of having to constantly babysit this guy and not lose my temper when he screws something up or lies to me about tasks he failed to do or clients he said he called when he didn't.

Does anyone have any suggestions for a strategy to deal with my co-worker?

  • 2
    I'm going to assume you don't talk with your current boss at regular intervals?
    – enderland
    Commented Apr 21, 2013 at 0:40
  • 1
    I do, and though my boss is aware of some of this worker's shortcomings, I am concerned that a candid conversation about this other person may backfire on me. The boss trusts me to the highest degree to handle client communication in even the most delicate situations but once I convey the depth of this co-worker's incompetence, I cannot unring the bell.
    – Val Theo
    Commented Apr 21, 2013 at 0:57
  • Who hired him? You? The boss?
    – jmac
    Commented Apr 21, 2013 at 5:31
  • @jmac, The boss and the office manager (who's been since fired) hired him. He misrepresented his proficiency with common tools such as MS Office, Outlook, etc.
    – Val Theo
    Commented Apr 21, 2013 at 6:30
  • It doesn't sound like this person has a reason to improve if you keep covering for him.
    – user8365
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 3:00

6 Answers 6


Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's

You were not responsible for hiring this person, and you are not responsible for firing him either. Any action you take should be based on the premise that the ultimate responsibility for this person lies with the people higher in the food chain who are paid to make these decisions.

Render unto your Boss what he needs to Lead

At the same time, it's not your job to protect a coworker's folly from your boss. If he is really this bad, then your boss should already know. If not, how can you expect your boss to make the decision?

You say, "I don't want to be a narc because I don't want to sour my other coworkers to me", yet if he is as bad as you say, don't you think they are already uncomfortable with him as well?

Fair and Balanced

To prevent this causing problems, you need to be fair and balanced in how you approach any claims against your coworker both with him and your boss. I suggest a two-prong approach.

Communicate with your Coworker

First, you need to explain to your coworker that his level of work could use improvement. This does not mean criticism, it means giving constructive advice on how to improve. Rather than getting angry for missing deadlines, why don't you just ask him how he manages his task scheduling, and explain your process as well to exchange thoughts/ideas? Of course your actual goal is to bring to his attention the fact that:

  • You realize he is missing deadlines
  • This is something that can be improved

If he ignores it, he ignores it, and you at least have given it the good ol' college try. A similar approach to his other errors can work too -- try to make it friendly, not managerial (you are not his boss), and at least try to help him improve himself before moving on to the second part of the approach.

Communicate with your Boss

If you manage to fix your coworkers' poor habits 100% this isn't necessary, but most of the time people are not able to change overnight. So even if your coworker is improving (but still making careless mistakes), you want to talk to your boss to protect yourself long term.

Since it is your boss' decision, you become a part of the problem if you hide information necessary to make that decision.

This does not mean complain about the mistakes. It means bringing up facts in an unbiased manner to provide guidance to your boss on what the situation is, and letting him/her decide how to handle it. Something like this:

Hey boss, as you know I've been working with Coworker. I was hoping you could find some time to work with him and help bring him up to speed with the rest of us. I've done my best to train him on X, Y, and Z, but he is still making some rookie mistakes like missing deadlines and sending out e-mails with the client's name spelled incorrectly. I'll continue to do my best to teach him what I know, but I think it would be best if you stepped in to help out.

You are just stating facts (things you should be able to back up instantly, especially deadlines and e-mails), and you are not making a judgment. You are stating you are doing your best to bring him up to speed already, and are saying you will continue to try (both should be true!).

Your Boss' Decision is Final

At the end of the day, respect your boss' decision. It is his/her decision to make. If your boss decides to have you continue to do your best to teach them, then respect that decision and ask how you should report progress to them (or more specifically, the lack of). Questioning their judgment or pushing for a specific result will have a much bigger chance of poisoning the well.

  • 4
    Thanks so much, @jmac. Your sound advice and strategy is precisely what I was hoping for from this forum. You struck a good balance of action and communication with my boss. I really appreciate your help!
    – Val Theo
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 1:30

The other people need to stop covering for him.

our boss does not really get involved in our day-to-day duties and expects us all to be mature enough to set our goalsand get our work done with no supervision

This doesn't sound like a manager who has delegated responsibility but one who has abdicated it. It's not necessary to micromanage someone on a day to day basis to determine if they are meeting their goals and getting things done. Yes, he expects people to work unsupervised, but at some point you have to check the results which this boss fails to do.

You don't know how this person is compensated. Unfortunately, this person may be performing to management's expectations because they are so low.

Your group is suppose to manage themselves. Stop cleaning up this person's messes. Take tasks off of his plate and put them on the rest of the team (Including yourself.), but make sure you do not increase your workload. Hopefully the boss will notice your team producing less and when he sees someone with nothing to do, he'll know why. If not, your boss is the problem which is where I'm betting.

  • 2
    'Take tasks off of his plate and put them on others, but make sure you do not increase your workload.' What, just give his tasks to everyone else, but take none on yourself? How does that work? Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 17:09
  • Thanks for the feedback, Jeff. Only he and I share the same kind of work. I've learned the hard way not to help him improve his work - he turns it in as his own and doesn't mention my contributions. Now I just take stuff away from him and turn it in after I finish it. I think I'll need to account for my time better so the boss will see that I'm basically carying the load for both of us.
    – Val Theo
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 18:37
  • @AmyBlankenship, right - it doesn't work that way at my place.
    – Val Theo
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 18:38
  • @AmyBlankenship - I didn't word that correctly. I meant the entire team.
    – user8365
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 17:04
  • @ValTheo - If you assign a task to yourself, you'll get credit. If it is asigned to your coworker, but you do it for him, it's much easier for him to take credit. The key here is not to cover for this person, but show he is not pulling his weight and the team isn't going to over-compensate for him.
    – user8365
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 17:06

I guess if his actions (and some of them seem pretty bad) hasn't created the kind of reaction that would draw attention to your boss, then it means that people in the company don't care enough about customer relations. Your case is a good reason why there should be workplace performance reviews, and that people who don't cut it after a probation period should not continue to be hired. Perhaps this is something that needs to be introduced, otherwise you just have to give your boss the hard work and put something in front of him so he can see for himself what the person is doing to the reputation of the business.

  • Thanks for your answer Michael. You hit on some areas that I need to remember when dealing with my co-workers. Keeping everyone's motivation in mind lends clarity to the issues.
    – Val Theo
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 1:33
  • Well, from experience the worst thing you can do is to make it personal. However, if someone intends on making it personal and will not take anyone else's perspective, then you have to wonder whether the person should move on so that the rest of the company is not affected in the long run. Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 1:36
  • Something tells me this guy will not be leaving on his own, given his work history. Our boss can fix that - if he's aware of the situation. Thanks again.
    – Val Theo
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 1:40

In my experience it doesn't help if you reference a co-workers inablity to do the job. The manager either knows, or doesn't care, or he's clueless. My co-worker lies and attemps to BS his way through everything. Thier resume is a complete fabrication and they are very sloppy. I addressed this with my boss and nothing happened or "The he's young" comment is thrown back. I like my job - I used to love it. My solution was simple - I do not talk to this person on a personel level. I answer work only questions infront of other employees or by e-mail. I respond with the answer " I will have to think about that or you should ask the manager" if this isn't possible. Its saved me several times when told my co-worker said I gave them this information or said to do it this way, then said "we or I" sabatoged them. HR is aware of my concerns, its all documented. Nothing is going to get done about it. My advice is to cover your backside and apply for another job. When I get asked why I'm looking or interested in another job I state I'm looking to better myself nothing negative!

  • this post is rather hard to read (wall of text). Would you mind editing it into a better shape?
    – gnat
    Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 21:47

I'm going to add in, here.

First @jmac has very good advice, and there's nothing I can detract from it.

Second, I've been through this very situation. The question I have is are you senior to the other person? You say you were responsible for his training. Did you actually train him, or did you just tell him what the job was and let him work it out for himself? Was he a new hire when you trained him, or was he in another role previously and he switched positions to your group, but has actually been there longer?

If the other person has been there longer, you may be in trouble, but not necessarily so. In a small company, it is hard to hire and fire because "managers" are usually doing work that would be done by directors or VP's in larger companies. They aren't solely inward-looking. They're probably also doing sales support, marketing support, and bid preparation, too. That leaves them little time to deal with internal matters and there is a lot of "hoping it all works out" that goes on. It (usually) takes a monumental screw-up to get someone fired.

That being said, there is a good option if you've been there longer: Mentoring. Say this, "Boss, (Guy's name) is trying, but you and I both know he's having trouble meeting the standards that we expect around here with regards to professionalism, deadlines, and thoroughness. I know that I was supposed to work with him on learning the ropes, but his work doesn't meet our standards. I think (Guy's name) has it in him to do a lot better, but he needs someone to show him what is really expected, here. What would you think of a more formal mentoring program for him for the next 6 months?"

Now have a plan ON PAPER on how you would expect this to work, and realize you just volunteered to be his supervisor. However, that's what you are pretty much asking how to do with this question.

The mentor program has to have metrics in it where you actually measure his performance in the areas you say he is deficient in. You need to have a plan to measure them now, and every month during the program, and show him and your boss his progress, or lack thereof.

Your boss will have to be willing to back you in this, and there should be some incentives on either side (pass/fail) for him to participate in the program. Your manager needs to be willing and able to back you up on both sides before you start anything.

  • My thoughts.

Does anyone have any suggestions for a strategy to deal with my co-worker?

Personally, I would lose my temper when he screws something up or lies to me about the tasks he failed to do or clients he said he called when he didn't. It would be mild at first, and mostly fake. Just enough to let him know that such poor behavior is not acceptable.

From there it would get worse, because frankly, his incompetence is endangering my livelihood. Especially in a small company, you can't afford to jeopardize clients or otherwise waste positions on dead weight.

Personally, I would try to have him fired before I get actually, openly angry with him. Anger can motivate and try to correct behavior but if it's going to work, it's going to work quickly. If it doesn't, exhibiting more anger isn't going to solve your problem.

  • We're on the same page here @Telastyn. The tricky part is that my anger triggers two things, more lying and avoidance by the co-worker and rejection by my other co-workers who think i should distance myself from the screw-up and let him fall on his own sword.
    – Val Theo
    Commented Apr 21, 2013 at 2:43
  • 3
    This isn't the best strategy when someone has condoned this behavior (by not saying anything or confronting the coworker) for nearly a year and a half.
    – enderland
    Commented Apr 21, 2013 at 17:36
  • @enderland, I did try to train the coworker and give him suggestions to get himself up to speed with our product/business/industry. At first he seemed enthusiastic and engaged but I see him slipping backwards and forgetting things he learned early on. Now if left alone he plays solitaire and hangs out on YouTube. His productivity is almost non-existant. I've tried pointing this out to him a couple of times and told him that we cannot be sloppy and inarticulate. Half-assed is not good enough. It's just not my job to supervise nor motivate him so much after 18 months.
    – Val Theo
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 0:45
  • and he brings a gun to work the next day...... Commented Nov 5, 2013 at 22:16

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