I have a co-worker who constantly misses deadlines, hands in incomplete work, or claims that things he doesn't want to deal with are 'too hard'. For reasons beyond the scope of this question he will stay employed.

For example, he was asked to center a button for over six months and never 'got around to it'. I learned about it yesterday and had the button centered in less than five minutes.

Today, he commented on the change, saying it's the 'favorite commit' of the person who requested it.

We're a small company without a strict org-chart, so the two of us are roughly equivalent in rank. I do have the ear of others in the team, as his behavior has affected us all. The other developers have to deal with his work which is full of short-cuts, chunks of useless code, large queries that are run and never used and he refuses to learn new technology (a rather large problem, as some of the things he uses were deprecated in 2009).

In addition, his attitude affects us all - it's difficult to maintain a 'hurrah team' attitude when a major portion of the team doesn't care about the rest.

Any comments about his behavior are met with some variation of "Haha, I know, right?"

How can I explain to him that this behavior is unacceptable?

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    Addendum: I know long-term solutions like 'look for a better job' are probably my best bet. This question is specifically asking "what do I do now?" Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 20:31
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    You say his behavior has "affected us all" - how? I don't see anything in your question other than 5 extra minutes of work in 6 months that got you singled out for praise. Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 21:19
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    Only related to the title of your question, but I wish more people thought their own shortcomings were funny. Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 13:00
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    "deprecated in 2009" <-- you don't know how good you have it.
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Mar 30, 2014 at 0:55
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    Sometimes people act humorous about their shortcomings when they are actually feeling embarrassed, as a way to save face. Maybe he has some sort of issue he doesn't want to reveal, or would benefit from help but is afraid to reach out. Something to consider.
    – Ella
    Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 19:41

9 Answers 9


Assuming that he also knows that he won't be fired, he already knows and doesn't care that his behaviour is unacceptable. Some options are below (or use a combination of them):

  • Go to your manager with a specific example of how his lack of work is making it hard to do you job. Then, ask your manager "How do you want me to handle this?" In other words, don't make it about him, make it about you: you want to do the best job you can, and how is the best way to deal with this roadblock?
  • If his work is not actually affecting yours, pretend he is a curiosity, and look at him as more of a odd characteristic you encounter on your job. So, don't take it as personally.

Do not work extra so that work he doesn't do is handled, unless you're also getting recognition for working extra. But this is also an opportunity to really shine, especially in comparison to him, and make your bosses really love your work and attitude.

None of this changes him, but really, you can only change yourself anyway.

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    +1 The worse he looks, the better you look by comparison. Since you are not the one making him look bad, I feel like this is a great opportunity to stand out without any guilt should he be upset or resent you for looking good. Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 21:38
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    How do you want me to handle this +1. Commented Aug 3, 2014 at 18:05

I had to deal with people like him in the army where you don't get paid pretty often. It was very frustrating since you can find them in all ranks, even as your superiors. I feel your pain.

They sometimes even take pride in doing less and it feels like it's a life attitude. It is my experience that people who do this are not bad at office/company politics at all - which is part of how they're able to get away with it.

Here is how I'd deal with him, it might be contradictory to some of the other advice here and is based only on my own experience.

  • Don't create a conflict - do your job, do it well. Don't go to the manager accusing them, don't highlight their shortcomings, don't gang up on them. These would make them your enemy and would waste your time in annoying endless office politics you don't want to be engaged in. This bit me before - it creates nothing but a bad vibe in the office.
  • Do treat them with respect - remember, that person is still your colleague, you want a healthy relationship with them. You don't want them saying bad things about you to your boss either.
  • Remember, it's not your problem - the amount of output, and the lack of effectiveness of another employee is not your problem. It's your boss and the company that have a problem when a peer performs badly. It's not you who is losing money or clients. It can be frustrating, kind of making it your problem but try to remember in the grand scheme of things that since you are not his manager it is not your responsibility.

So how do you deal with him?

  • Work Harder - make improvements outside of your time frame, make things better on your own initiative. Build the work environment you want to work in with your other peers. Deliver. When you do that - and he doesn't, your boss will see. This extra work doesn't have to be a lifetime thing now, but it goes a long way to show the gap in my experience.
  • Help them - negatively encouragement only works to a certain extent, implement peer control mechanisms like tighter code review. Encourage them to take an interest in their work, consult them. Giving people peer respect, responsibility and a sense of accomplishment goes a long way. It's no fun being in the "incompetent developer" slot.

The other answers are good, but this is what worked for me time and time through my experience with these people. Where the advice there did not. I hope it helps you :)

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    Thumbs up for "dont create a conflict" and "do treat them with respect" Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 22:34

I would try taking all of this at face value. That 5 minute thing is someone's "favorite commit"? Big smile, thanks for telling me, we're here to help right? Possibly "bet you wish you'd gotten around to it, eh!" Something is "too hard"? Sympathetic face, "would you like me to get it reassigned to me? I think I can handle it next week." Encourage him to be clear and open about what he cannot or will not do, so at least you know about it, and everyone else does too, because the work items get reassigned in the tracking system, for example.

If he is keeping you from doing a great job, because things take too long or you otherwise look bad, that's something to deal with. But if he is unfireable, and knows it, and enjoys his privilege, well what can you do? The world is full of people with privilege and they're generally pretty happy people. Getting unhappy yourself won't do anything to them. If you like your job, you're good at it, and nothing is happening to you when he messes up - in other words the company is wasting a salary it could be paying you with, but nothing else - then hey, life is like that sometimes and it could be worse.

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    +1 for "Bet you wish you'd gotten around to it, eh!" and "[sympathetic face] would you like me to get it reassigned to me?" :) Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 13:48

Your fellow devs and you need to step up to the plate and meet with the boss to convey the gravity of the situation. Otherwise, this fellow will continue what he is doing, because he is getting away with it. The only way to make him stop is when he realizes he is not getting away with his act. If none of you complains and puts the boss on the spot to do something, don't expect anything to change.

I am assuming here that this character is not related to the boss or the owner. But even if he were, you've all got to say something and let the boss know what's happening and where you stand.


I have been in this situation. I have found it to be a reliable indicator that one can earn much more at a different company. If they are unaware of his lack of contribution, then chances are that they don't value your contribution as much as they should.


Act only if you are an owner of the problem or if an owner ask you to act.

There are principals and there are agents.

If you are just an employee - not own shares of the company - then its not your problem. Let its owner(s) handle it.

If an owner - directly or through any of his agents (employees) - ask you to act then you act but act only if you are either getting paid or you want to do a favour.

If you are not his manager then its not your duty to ensure that he work efficiently. If manager is not doing his job then dont support him by doing his work for him. Let him fail. Sooner he fail better its for company. He would either be replaced or improved. Or the company get weak and another company somewhere else will have its fair chance to rise. Dont deprive that other company from rising.

In general, if somebody ask you for a favour - do something without a benefit - then do it only as long as you are not doing greater bad. Don't deprive a person improvement, don't take away chance to rise from another better person or company.

If you are not asked for a favour then make sure you get compensated. Do that extra work in office time you are already getting paid for as long as your work not get intense. Remember there are two dimensions of efficiency. You dont work all the time you are in office and you dont always multitask. If any of these two loads increase then you are not getting compensated time-wise. In such case make sure you get compensated some other way. Be it monetary or even just a praise. But if its a praise it has to be official that is it has to be in front of your boss's boss or people equivalent to your boss. If there are no such people - your boss is also the owner of company - then such praise is not official and dont really count.


Your best bet for a solution to this, is to talk to your boss. Get your boss involved and explain that you'd like to help this person get his/her act together. Explain that firing this person isn't the solution because it'll only hurt that person more. If you're up to it, be there when your boss talks to your coworker and try to help guide the person. Explain that you care about them and the company cares about their employees. If none of the above is true, then idk...

Edit: Just reread your question. Do it as a team if no one can step up to be the boss.


You cannot explain to him that his behavior is unacceptable because it is not your job to do so, if you do so you may offend him and also his direct manager.

However, since I was in this situation I have a few suggestions:

  1. Don't create conflict - In addition to what Benjamin said, I would add that it would only bring you grief and frustration
  2. Take it easy - As frustrating and annoying as it is, it's not worth it.
  3. Think hard whether this is how you want to work - If this person is going to remain in the company as long as he wishes to, take time to think whether in the long run you can work like this.

While it's possible that he's just a selfish person who knows his behaviour affects you all but is too lazy to do anything about it, it's equally likely that organisation, meeting deadlines and staying on top of work are areas in which he's trying to improve but is really struggling. He's made a joke of it as a preliminary conversational gambit intended as a segue into a serious discussion.

In addition, if he's been like this all his life, it's likely that at some point it will have become a humorous trait as a way of separating those who are just mildly curious from those whom his behaviour legitimately concerns.

I would recommend persevering beyond the initial, "really need to clean up my act, haha," making it clear that the discussion is about the effect this has on you, not on his own affairs, as he's quite likely to be used to this sort of commentary being focussed on his own life. If anything, being hounded about affecting other people will be a welcome break from the usual patronising monitoring of his own affairs underlying this genre of inquiry.

By making it clear that while you understand that this is difficult for him, this discussion is really about the effect his disorganisation has on you, he'll understand that this is also how you see the situation and will better respond to you.

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    this post is rather hard to read (wall of text). Would you mind editing it into a better shape?
    – gnat
    Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 17:38

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