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I am an employee in a small company (under 30 people). I have a colleague who is basically not really productive. We've been at the company for about the same amount of time, and we both joined while the company was very young (~5 people).

He doesn't pull his weight and it's difficult for me to psychologically ignore, even though I've consciously tried to accept the situation as it is. In the two years that we've both been at the company, he has basically produced almost zero value. In fact, I would say he has really mismanaged some of our relationships with external parties. In contrast, I've developed internal tools used by our upper management on a daily basis, taken the lead on many projects and pushed them to various stages of completion, and am in many ways a one-man department.

I am rewarded for my productivity by a salary that is high within the company and especially relative to my age. What is really a drag on me mentally is that, being a small company, there is simply an enormous amount of work to do, and even if I work efficiently, I like to have work-life balance. However, since my colleague is not picking up the slack, there are important things that aren't getting done.

My manager realizes that my colleague isn't productive but he keeps trying to "make it work." This has reached the point of explicitly asking me to hand over some projects to my colleague because he promised him ownership of that work. It's not getting done. Also, because everyone sees me as the go-to person in my domain of expertise, I'm constantly asked about the state of various projects. It's frustrating that any delays on his end will be reflected in my public perception, whether warranted or not.

Why is he still at the company? Basically because he is a "chummy guy" that people feel sorry for. He has a mortgage and a family and poor health, and I think people just can't bear to let him go. I feel sorry for him too, however, I don't think the company is a charity.

What is the right way for me to deal with this situation, either by reconfiguring how I think about it or in how I interact with management about this?

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    His manager knows the problem and should know that there is no value provided by him for two years. So they either see a value, that you currently do not see, or they decided to keep him anyway for other reasons. In both cases it is the decision of your manager and in principle none of your business. If you want to see it that way, it is part of your job to accept this colleague, that your manager wants to keep. If you're having a problem how to deal with this situation personally, you may want to ask the same question on interpersonal.stackexchange.com. – allo Apr 3 at 14:49
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    Just to mention it, if your username = actual name, please be mindful of sharing info about yourself and others. – Dpeif Apr 3 at 15:53
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    You mentioned "poor health". Is that a disability, a disease, or just their current state? Disability could justify some things. – Clockwork Apr 3 at 17:19
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    Respectfully, a 30-person company running on venture capital is not a charity, full stop. If I were working at Megacorp XYZ, I wouldn't really care, but when this guy's salary is a significant % of the total amount of money we have left in the bank, it's a little different. – Marcus Emilsson Apr 4 at 4:11

13 Answers 13

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I am sorry to hear about your situation. I can understand your circumstances from your detailed description and apply some of my first hand knowledge to hopefully give you an acceptable answer.

I previously worked with an older gentleman that was in woodwork supervisor/instructor role. I was in the same role but teaching younger people IT instead of woodwork. At the end of each month, I was asked to type up his monthly report (about an hours worth of work) as he was not as experienced with computers and was slow at typing. This differs from your situation as the coworker had a limitation that was based on skill.. or so I thought.

He was about 30 years older than me. I said to him one day "You owe me big time for doing all your monthly reports". His reply angered me at first, but then it was like an awakening. He said "I don't owe anyone in the world anything. The reason they ask you to do it for me is because I never said I would even try it. If you make yourself available for a task, eventually that will make yourself responsible a task". Again, angry at first.. then I thought about it and understood what he was saying.

Our coworkers don't owe us anything. It's very nice when everyone puts in the same effort but if our employer is happy to pay them, that's the minimum they owe to the company. We come into this world owing no one. We leave owing no one. If you stress about the unfair situation, you will suffer twice. Once while it's happening and then again when you let it get to you.

Here is my final advice specific to your circumstance: If you know you do the best job you can in your role, every achievement will be earned and you can feel proud of it. If your coworker is not trying their best, they will never reach their maximum potential. That is one of the only things we have control of. Our maximum effort and potential. I kinda feel sad for the other person that they don't have your strong work ethic and will always be doing "the bare minimum". I feel happy for you as you sound like you enjoy knowing you have a strong moral compass and will realise your full potential.

Stay strong and I hope for you a happy result.

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    Thanks. I found this answer to be the best of all those posted here. – Marcus Emilsson Apr 4 at 2:37
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    In particular, I take great comfort in the fact that people will ultimately "reap what they sow" -- if I work hard and do the best I can, then I'll be able to stand tall and feel proud of the role I played, and in contrast, I'm pretty sure my coworker is well aware that I do 10x+ of what he does and probably feels pretty shitty in comparison. In and of itself, that immediately satisfies all of my negative/vindictive desires and thoughts. – Marcus Emilsson Apr 4 at 2:45
  • @ElizabethLin you already reap what you sow by getting a better salary and in future maybe getting more responsibility. – some_coder Apr 4 at 5:27
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    @ElizabethLin but what if your coworker knows that you do much more work than he but doesn't feel bad about it? What if he's actually happy and proud of his work? Would you still feel satisfied? Or does your satisfaction depend on the misery of your coworker? – awelkie Apr 4 at 8:01
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    @SystemX17 So your main idea is that what's assigned to you is your work, regardless what the work is and who "should" be doing it. You are not doing the report for him; rather you are assigned to work on Mr. X's monthly report. Is this correct? – Alic Apr 5 at 19:27
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My manager realizes that my colleague isn't productive but he keeps trying to "make it work."

What is the right way for me to deal with this situation, either by reconfiguring how I think about it or in how I interact with management about this?

The right way for you to deal with this situation is to realize that managing this colleague is not your role. That belongs to your manager.

Not everyone is going to be equally productive. Some of your colleagues will be far more productive than you. Others will be less productive. That's just the way the world works. Once you internalize that, you'll no longer have this mental drag.

You should do your work. You should let your managers do their work.

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    I like this answer. I would just add that it is important that there is visibility from management into your work. Make sure that if you step up and complete something that should be done by another person it is recognized. Don't enable him by covering it up. Basically ensure there is a good tracking mechanism to display productivity and then yes let management do their job. If management will not or can not its your choice if you want to stay or find another job. – Joe Apr 3 at 16:12
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    I think it would be helpful to address the part of the question dealing with the perception of poor performance of the OP due to the other employee's slow or nonexistent productivity. – CramerTV Apr 3 at 17:07
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    This answer is not really applicable to my situation. Not sure if you've ever worked in an office with just 20 people, but we don't really have the time or flexibility to think in terms of static "roles" instead of collectively aiming at what's best for the company. – Marcus Emilsson Apr 4 at 2:49
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    @ElizabethLin Let your tasks that your manager has reassigned to this person proceed without you. Even if nothing is done. Your only responsibility is to communicate with your manager that they aren't done to make sure s/he knows. If you complete those tasks you are interfering. I was employee #11 in one company if that helps. Best wishes. – J. Chris Compton Apr 5 at 13:18
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    @ElizabethLin If you're a share holder of the company - then you can absolutely kick up a fuss and say that person X isn't pulling their weight. If you're not, then you're being paid to do a job - and unless that job includes managing this person, then what they do really isn't very much to do with you, no matter how it impacts you. – UKMonkey Apr 5 at 19:13
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There are several problems listed here that are out of your control, and there are several that are in your control.

Focus on the problems you can control:

  • You can control whether you waste time thinking about this employee
  • You can control your work/life balance
  • You can control the projects that are assigned to you

Let go of the things you can't control:

  • If a project is assigned to this colleague refer all queries to that colleague; ask those who are asking you—to ask him. Avoid using this as a passive-aggressive attempt to highlight the lack of productivity. Instead use it as a way to allow this colleague to truly own the projects that are assigned to him. You might be contributing to the lack of productivity by not allowing full autonomy and ownership. I'm not blaming you, just asking you to step back and give him a chance. You are protecting him from failure and protecting him from success.
  • If there are important things not getting done, that is your manager's concern. Let your manager manage it. You cannot be indispensable. Take care of the work that is assigned to you and allow the company to manage the important things that are not assigned to you. This may sound like a rehash of the above point, but that was about doing your unproductive colleague's job. This point is about not trying to do your manager's job.

Do your job. Don't try to take over anyone else's job. Help others be successful by doing what you do well and by being willing to give any support that is asked for.

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    Agreed. The OP can achieve better work/life balance by only doing what is their job. – Dragonel Apr 3 at 16:20
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    Best answer for addressing both the personal, mental concerns and the practical, actionable concerns. – jpmc26 Apr 3 at 22:32
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    What is good about this answer is it sets the stage for solving other kinds of problems. Being able to objectively separate what things are inside or outside your control is the first step to making a plan of action. After all, it's foolish to plan to change something that, by definition, you can't change. – corsiKa Apr 4 at 14:05
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I'm sorry to hear that you're having a difficult time dealing with a situation.

The tl;dr here for you is: It's not your problem, and really none of your business unless you're blocked by their work. Even then you just report it as a blocker to your manager, and how that is dealt with is up to them. If you don't like it, leave.

The longer story:

This person may not pull their weight in your mind, and in the minds of your co-workers (allegedly, co-workers are notorious for just agreeing with angry complainers), but to management, they're worth having around. This is not your decision to make. Management's perception of important may be vastly different.

Congrats on being successful, and making fantastic contributions to your team. It sounds like you are being rewarded for it.

As for why he is still there, that is just perception. Anything management tells you is likely just to get you to go away and not bother them. Companies that take care of their workers during difficult times are also great companies. He was there when they were just starting out. It's really not your problem. The company can operate how they like. Don't like it? Leave. You're clearly competent from what you've said.

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    "Companies that take care of their workers during difficult times are also great companies." I'd rather be working somewhere that was willing to help me through a bad time instead of making it worse by firing me. – Joe McMahon Apr 3 at 17:26
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If management is aware of this situation and won't get rid of him because he is a "chummy guy". Then this is your managements problem, there's nothing you can say or do that will fix the issue if management are already aware.

All you can do is make it more clear that his lack of productivity is costing the company e.g. Say to your manager that your work is being heavily affected by the lack of work he is producing. As long as you get your work done and your colleague doesn't. You shouldn't try to pick up his slack but expose that you cannot do all the work by yourself.

Other than that you really just have to question the judgement of the management in your company. There's only a certain amount of chances someone should receive.

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You say that your efforts are respectively acknowledged by salary so that right there tells me that upper management is at minimum aware of your skills and contributions. Bravo, not many companies are willing to acknowledge this so easily.

The value of your colleague is not one of which you should concern yourself with. You are one person that is legally obligated to work 40 hours per week and management knows this.

The statement which concerns me is:

What is really a drag on me mentally is that, being a small company, there is simply an enormous amount of work to do, and even if I work efficiently, I like to have work-life balance. However, since my colleague is not picking up the slack, there are important things that aren't getting done.

Are you doing insane amounts of overtime? You should actively work to reduce that. Learn to be great at planning, time management, and estimation and soon you will be able to properly guide your boss to manage their expectations. If you are not doing this already then learn the following phrase:

I see you need me to get started on project x, unfortunately I don't think I can start that for at least 6-8 weeks. I am currently in the middle of projects a, b, c, d, e, f, and g. If project X is urgent then which project(s) would you like me to put off?

Put the onus on your boss to manage your time. You are a finite resource so make sure to value your time and skills more than the paycheck which is larger than everyone else's.


As of now your colleague is not the problem in this situation; unless of course they are actively working to sabotage your contributions.

The problem rests in both you and your manager. Your manager is mismanaging you as a resource and you are happily obliging to the abuse.

Stop drinking the poison and expecting someone else to suffer for it.

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Although it is not your responsibility, you could try and identify the problem. Is the problem solvable?

Do they lack the skill do there job?

Recommend: Sending them to training.

There are a number of issues that can be solved by training.

there is simply an enormous amount of work to do

Otherwise recommend hiring another person to help with the work load. Seem like there enough work for 3 or more people here.

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The way you are looking at this problem is too focused on your colleage. There is always someone who is not passionate or skilled as others in a workplace. Unfortunately, as other answers state, you can't do anything about it (and neither should you since you are compensated by higher salary).

Your real problem is you have too much on your plate. You can tell your manager that there is too much work for the two of you (you and your colleage) to handle. Then, he will either hire someone else or make your colleage work harder. Either way, the outcome decrease the work on you.

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My manager realizes that my colleague isn't productive but he keeps trying to "make it work." This has reached the point of explicitly asking me to hand over some projects to my colleague because he promised him ownership of that work. It's not getting done. Also, because everyone sees me as the go-to person in my domain of expertise, I'm constantly asked about the state of various projects. It's frustrating that any delays on his end will be reflected in my public perception, whether warranted or not.

Let him own those projects. When anyone asks you about those projects, direct them to your colleague. This will ensure that your reputation is unaffected. If the work on those projects doesn't get done it is your colleague's responsibility to explain why. This will help prevent you from getting emotionally involved in those projects, so you will hopefully be less affected by his lack of progress.

As your manager is aware of your colleague's productivity, it could even be a test for your colleague. If you step in and do the work then the manager can't see how your colleague works on his own. Your colleague may rise to the challenge and start working better when his output is visible to others and he can't get away with relying on you to do his work.

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The best way to highlight other peoples deficiencies is by focusing on your A-Game all of the time. Keep delivering a high quality, and professional service, and people will naturally see that he is not pulling his weight.

Natural selection is a slow process, and you cannot accelerate it by pointing fingers. It will only stall your own development, and peoples opinions of you.

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You're not this person's manager. The manager is aware of his productivity level. You still have this guy as an employee - those are just the facts.

The problem is that you don't have enough resources to complete all of your projects. Holding this other employee to your standards is not a realistic expectation - they will not become as productive as you. This is just a fact.

The error you've made is to focus your blame for the workload problem on this underperforming employee, fixating on it as a root cause for the overall productivity problem. While it is true that if this employee increased productivity you would get more done, it is not a sensible strategy to invest in the notion that this will ever happen.

Therefore, to get the work done there are two options:

  1. You work harder to make up the difference
  2. You hire more help

I'd firmly suggest that the only sensible option is to hire more help. Growing companies need to do this all the time. It doesn't matter that the company doesn't want to let this guy go - if they want to keep him around, so be it. That doesn't change the fact that you still need more boots on the ground to get the work done. So tell your manager you need to hire. Let them sort out this guy.

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I really think you should consider taking on an attitude of "This is not going to bother me". Its an issue between your co-worker and the company. Not your issue.

I adopted this mindset early in my career and its helped my immensely to wade the waters of the corporate lake.

You need to realize that there are serval factors that could come into play: A: Maybe this person is related to an owner or executive. (In this case your negativity toward this person could actually hurt you). B: Maybe this person has some insite or knowledge that the company finds valuable.

Its best not to worry about it.

Here's an example: I worked for a manufacturing company where the purchasing manager (Alton) was always reading the paper or sleeping at his desk. He was an elderly man who had worked there for 30 years. People around the office use to talk about how he never did anything...etc. One day I told a group of people, "Look, on any given day, Alton could make a decision about buying just one screw that could save our company millions of dollars. He does more for the bottom line than any other person in the company." The gossip stopped.

So try and be humble and empathetic.

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My manager realizes that my colleague isn't productive but he keeps trying to "make it work." This has reached the point of explicitly asking me to hand over some projects to my colleague because he promised him ownership of that work. It's not getting done.

Your manager is giving you the opportunity you need by allowing you to pass ownership to your coworker. You should do exactly this and stop allowing his productivity to be "lumped in" with yours, which is the cause of your problem. It will play out in one of two ways:

  1. The coworker is no longer "enabled" and is forced to step up and get things done. Problem solved.
  2. The coworker fails at these projects and is forced to take responsibility. As there now exists clear separation between what is "his" and what is "yours", you look great by comparison and his failures can no longer be ignored (or even if they are, they no longer have anything to do with you). This is not good for him, unfortunately, but it's out of your control.

Either result is good for you and you're now able to focus exclusively on your work.

Also, because everyone sees me as the go-to person in my domain of expertise, I'm constantly asked about the state of various projects. It's frustrating that any delays on his end will be reflected in my public perception, whether warranted or not.

The key here is to maintain the separation of ownership. When asked about a project owned by your coworker, defer to him. This is the professional thing to do and, again, forces him to take responsibility while allowing you to focus exclusively on your own work.

protected by Jane S Apr 5 at 0:57

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