There have been a number of questions where people have been dealing with coworkers who were not pulling their weight. The common perception seems to be that this is due to lack of effort or ability.

I realize that it is not my decision on what to do with this coworker, but I also fear that my doing extra to compensate is obfuscating the problem to management who let us do our own thing because we get the job done.

So when I am faced with a senior coworker that is not putting in an effort and it is causing extra work for me or holding up my end part of a project, what can I do to make it more visible that my coworker is the one dropping the ball? I prefer to do this in a way that does not appear to be me throwing him or her under the bus, or making it obvious that this is my intent.

For the sake of this question please assume that reasonable attempts have been made to persuade/motivate the coworker and have met with either resistance or failure, and management appears to be in denial or ignoring that there is any issue.

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    Well, is that your true intent? to throw this person under-the-bus? Concealing one's intent "works" if you are Machiavellian-- but in reality it backfires in a nasty way if/when you're found out. Perhaps a better approach is to name who you would like to work with instead, or just be upfront about wanting to mitigate your increased workload?
    – teego1967
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 21:11
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    @teego1967 - I would say that rather than throwing under the bus its more making sure that the path of the bus is such that low/non-performers will need to either get out of its way or make sure that the bus needs to actively avoid them. Throwing someone under the bus is generally a reaction to a failure and needing someone else to take the blame. I am looking to be proactive so there is no need to be reactive. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 14:01
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    FWIW - This is not a situation I am actively trying to deal with. But it is a situation I have dealt with many times in the past with varying levels of success and failure. Coming into a situation like this can make the workplace that you have really enjoyed become very unpleasant. I know we have had other questions that probably could have been altered to ask just this. So I think some quality answers could help others including myself in the future. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 19:08
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    Take the advice in David K's linked question, it's the managers job to manage his/her employees, let the manager take care of this, and you keep working away. Let the employee fail on his own.
    – New-To-IT
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 14:53
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    confront him and tell him to seek medical help ...I can't imagine a version of this conversation that ends well.
    – BSMP
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 15:58

9 Answers 9


What you need to realize is that the root cause of this problem is a difference in motivation and pacing (and possibly ability) between you, your coworker, and your boss. You cannot solve this problem by injecting more motivation, drive, and ability into the situation.

It's your manager's job to manage

I say this in all seriousness, but not in the way it's normally meant. What I mean is that you feel so driven to make sure the project is completed at a high quality and on time that you are trying to take on some parts of your manager's job as well as your job and your coworker's job. Your managers can't see the problem because you won't let him/her (I'm going to say him from here on out for brevity). You need to step back far enough to let him do his job.

One thing you need to do is alert him to the problem, as tactfully as you can. Maybe something as simple as "I feel like I'm always playing catchup because the designer is usually late with the assets." If you're willing to do it and you have the kind of relationship with your boss where it's feasible, you can try simply pulling him aside and telling him flat out what you believe the problem is. I've done this myself with mixed results.

What you're not trying to do here is get the manager to instantly see the problem and fix it. In my experience, this doesn't happen, in part because the manager's perspective is very different from yours and in part because he's not just going to take your word for it that his valued employee is a slacker, nor should he. Instead, you are just opening his eyes so that when you step back, he will see exactly what is going on. You may even find that he and your various team members have been asking you to step back in their own ways, and due to the fact that you felt that if you did the project would fail, you didn't do it. Do it.

Yes, in the short term you need to get projects out the door, but in the longer term everyone needs to be fully capable of doing their jobs. If you always do everyone's job that can't happen.

Here are some things that can happen as a result of this:

  1. Everything is just fine. In this case, you worried over nothing, and the level of performance that wasn't up to your standard was at least good enough to meet the business requirements.
  2. The project wobbles a bit, the boss sees what's going on and fixes the problem. This is the one you want.
  3. The project fails, but the boss and hopefully the coworker learn from it and hopefully things get fixed.
  4. The project fails, but people believe that it is because you stopped picking up slack rather than because there was slack in the first place. Yes, you could get fired, but you're unhappy already. If your workplace can't resolve this situation to your satisfaction, you probably need to be on a team closer to your pace, drive, and ability. You strike me as a capable guy. You'll find a job in short order.

What to do with your coworker

I would suspect that if you're posting this question, you've already tried politely and maybe less-than-politely making suggestions on how your coworker could change her habits and have not met with much success. In my experience, trying to tell others how to do their job when they don't report to you has a very low success rate.

That said, I have found that as I pull back from where I currently work as I prepare to start a new job search, I am much more capable of phrasing such suggestions in a way that is likely to be accepted. I also believe that maybe my boss has caught on a bit and has done some nudging, but the way I word things is fundamentally nicer when I care less. So check out a little. Works wonders.

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    It's your manager's job to manage - I completely agree here but sometimes management appears to turn a blind eye to things, and telling a manager that their bestie is a slacker never goes well if it is true or not. It puts a target on your back and lands you under a microscope. This is especially true in a situation where the slacker is an employee and it is making a consultant look bad. A situation I have dealt with quite often. I am not sure if my question was not clear but I am looking for an alternative to being a tattle tale or confronting a senior and questioning their efforts. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 14:20
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    Hm I seem to have missed the part of your question where you said you were a consultant. In the situation where you're a consultant, it's your job to make the client and its employees look fantastic. If you can't do that, for reasons on your side or theirs, you should probably end the contract at the earliest opportunity. I'm not editing my answer, since it answers the question you asked. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 14:30
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    Yes, I think there's not really a way as an employee for you to fix this type of problem without confronting it in some way. You actually can fix this (or at least prevent it) as a contractor. I'll add another answer later that addresses the question you meant, rather than the question you asked. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 17:08
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    Jesus this is a great post that works in a variety of situations. The only danger is pulling back. Only if I knew a way to pullback and not fail the project!
    – Olórin
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 8:49
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    Re using "him" in brevity instead of "him/her". I would recommend singular they.
    – kubanczyk
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 22:50

I have been the manager who did not realize that coworkers were carrying someone and covering for how little work they were doing. Let me assure you, when I found out, I was not filled with warm feelings towards people who were arranging for money to go from the mouths of my children to the pockets of someone who was not contributing.

It's an easy trap to fall into. Whether you feel sorry for someone who is going through some personal problems, or just want to avoid conflict and argument, staying late and doing extra so the deadlines get met even though someone isn't working hard is a natural thing to do. It's nice. It's helpful. It's "taking one for the team." And once or twice, that's fine.

But when it's the norm, it's not fine. You're basically doing one of two things: you're either helping your coworker steal a paycheque they don't deserve, or you're believing someone to be lazy and not good enough when in fact, they're doing fine. And both of those are bad things to do in the long run.

What to do? First, have an informal chat with your boss. It might go like this:

I am not sure if I am doing the right thing or not, so I need a quick reality check. Sometimes I do extra work to make up for someone else being behind schedule or just not getting things done. I want to make sure we still meet our overall schedule, and I'm happy to pitch in with whatever the team needs. But I'm worried that by doing this, I'm helping someone deceive you about how much they are really doing. I might even be making myself look bad if someone notices I need to stay late a lot to meet my own deadlines. So, how much of this should I be telling you about? And how should I tell you?

Be prepared to answer questions like "how often does this happen?" "how long has this been going on?" and of course, "Who are we talking about?". That last one you can answer or not -- but you might as well, because even when people don't tell me who they were complaining about, I always know who it is.

Bosses vary so you might be told to stop helping, to help and document, or a number of other things. But you will not be helping a deception any longer. You might be told to work it out with the coworker. If so, you can try saying a few things but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that to improve anything. In my experience people who come to rely on coworkers to carry them don't stop when the coworkers object, even if they are threatened with exposure. You might even be told that the person in question is wildly overworked and is doing things you're unaware of, that your help is needed, and that you should keep right on doing it. That's why it's key not to say that you want to stop helping at the start of the conversation.

Bottom line for me is the way I felt a week after the departure of a poorly performing employee when the team as a whole got MORE DONE with less people and each of them individually confessed to taking entire assignments from this person, finishing them, and putting them somewhere the (now former) employee could get them and submit them as being finished (eg checkins or emails that identify who is submitting the work.) They thought they were being nice to someone having a tough time. I felt like I had been tricked into running a charity. It wasn't nice.

  • I wouldn't say you need to be perfect in every way, @JoeStrazzere, but you need a good boss. If you have a lazy boss who would rather believe the senior person or doesn't care if the workload is fair, then this approach may not work. Also, if you're supposed to be able to finish by 5 even though you don't get X until 4, this may backfire. Tread carefully and never assume you know the whole picture about that other person - but also don't assume the boss does either, especially if you're helping to hide some of the picture. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 20:11
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    @NicolasBarbulesco yes. I own the company. Every penny I pay an employee is a penny I do not pay myself. When I said the money was coming out of my children's mouths I meant it literally. Commented Jun 6, 2014 at 18:34
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    @NicolasBarbulesco on the comment "what about talking" the question clearly states "For the sake of this question please assume that reasonable attempts have been made to persuade/motivate the coworker and have met with either resistance or failure" - that is why I didn't address that. Commented Jun 6, 2014 at 18:50
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    @KateGregory I am encountering a similar problem and I find your post enlightening especially from an employer/manager's perspective. From the perspective of an employee, we see managers as people who doesn't care, and wield power too carelessly. Suppose I went to my manager and softly told him/er that an employee is slacking off. What are the chances any action will be taken? If the slacker improves, what then, it would reflect badly on me. Many employers are not as inquisitive as you are, and people fear putting themselves under a spot light. This is the quandary I face.
    – Olórin
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 9:09
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    @MathNewb that's why I don't suggest saying "X is slacking off" but instead the wording shown in yellow text. Questions are always better than accusations. And it will never reflect badly on you if someone else improves. Everyone, including you, your Manager, and even the slacker, wants the slacker to improve Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 12:19

The best way to properly gauge who's pulling their weight is adding documentation of who's doing what.

Getting some basic project management accountability can go a LONG way here. (not to mention is extremely helpful in team efficiency)

While ultimately a more complete solution can be put in place but for now start tracking all tasks that are assigned to you, when they were assigned, and when they were completed. You should also add any tasks you take over from your peer with the same basic information.

Use this documentation any time your boss goes around for status updates or to find whos working on what. The more your peers name winds up on your document the more visible they become.

In addition it's not uncommon for managers to grow to like this kind of documentation and require it of the entire team (this is where the slackers start to stand out in a big way) This also gives you a good starting point to setup proper project management tools to improve planning and accountability of all projects to the appropriate parties.

(the idea is you setup the policy that ultimately makes the slackers oust themselves)

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    However, this can be very difficult in highly collaborative teams. When multiple people cooperate on a task, it can get quite tricky to correctly assign "credit" - also, it might cause friction and additional work inside the team to keep track of all this.
    – sleske
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 9:54
  • @sleske It can cause friction among honest employees if done incorrectly. Typically if done properly the friction shows up with individuals who aren't doing their share. Most projects are broken into small tasks, update a server, write some code, create a new login screen, etc. Most of these tasks are done by one individual, the project as a whole is handled by the team but most components are handled on a one to one basis (exceptions apply) Sure someone could lose credit on a task, or some weeks a person will have a low number. A week is fine, what matters are trends. Is Bob always low, why? Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 14:52
  • Ive seen this go the opposite way where this type of tool is more or less an enabler. Using this recording the slacker can estimate high and then do little work or make a large number of small items and make it appear they have done much more than necessary. Management reviews and then people who have many items on the checklist look good while the people too busy doing the real work to stop and record 100 items and only record 3 big items get no credit. If you are a PM who knows whats up you can stop it here so I agree with you! If your doing technical work however your might get fooled.
    – JPK
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 9:26

The Contractor Answer

You've said in your comments that you are a contractor, and this changes the tenor of the answer somewhat. As a contractor, you theoretically have a layer of separation that can make this easier or harder. I have been a consultant/contractor in two different ways. The first is that you are completely outside of the organization and they hand you deliverables and you respond with your own deliverables. The second is that you're onsite, sitting by the employees, and the main difference is how you're paid and how hard it is to fire you.

You also haven't said whether the issue is that you are not getting resources on time from the client or if, when you get them, they are unusable. I have experienced both, and they have different solutions, where a solution is possible.


The best way to prevent this is when you negotiate the contract. If you are a completely separate entity receiving and returning deliverables, you're in a better place to negotiate. Here are the types of contracts I have been involved with:

  1. Fixed Price. In this case, they tell you the requirements, you quote the job, everyone signs and that's that. Don't ever do this. You are so laying yourself open to taking the hit for late resources, botched resources, scope creep, etc. If you feel you must do this to get the work, make sure the end date is specified, and if the date has to slip due to late/missed deliverables on their side, that should trip a switch to hourly. I have literally never worked a fixed price contract where the client delivered any significant percentage of their deliverables on time.
  2. Hourly. In this case, if you work an hour, you bill an hour. Obviously, this is better for you financially if the client has issues. However, unexplained overruns can make you look very bad with the client and could cost you the contract. Sometimes you can write in penalties for failure to deliver on time, but I usually feel like this starts out with a climate of distrust, plus they may well want to add penalties for your failure to deliver. And then when it comes down to proving who's responsible, well unless you want to sue, they're the one with the check.

On the one occasion I worked alongside the employees, it was kind of like a "take it or leave it" deal, so there may not be a whole lot of up-front prevention.


If you're completely outside the client, it's actually fairly easy to resolve the problem when it's late or missing deliverables from them, even if you took a fixed price contract.

  • If you're not fixed price, you can just say "I want to meet your expectations about what I'm billing, but I'm finding I need to do tasks x, y, and z which were not on the list of tasks I quoted. How do you want to handle this?" In this case, you haven't mentioned any names, and it's up to the manager if to either authorize more funds or get the guilty party to cooperate.
  • If you are fixed price, you can say something like "I'd like to continue to deliver in a timely manner, but I'm finding I need to spend additional time doing tasks x, y, and z that I thought would be handled on your side." Unfortunately, I only blocked out XX hours a week for this project based on what tasks we spoke about my doing, and I don't have any more availability than that. Can you expedite the deliverables on your side? If not, we may need to push out the deadline."

Crappy deliverables coming from them are a different kettle of fish, and you may be able to try one of the two approaches above depending on the nature of the problem. However, it's really hard to say "this is so crap it's costing me time" without crossing some line into appearing to throw the other person under the bus. You may just have to work like a dog and then exit the contract at the earliest opportunity.

If you're on site, just bill every hour you work, and don't work any more hours than your mental health can stand. In my one experience, every person who was there was billing lots of hours, so in my case there were no questions asked when I took extra time to untie someone else's snarl. If someone asks you why you're billing so much, say that you're picking up tasks, x, y, and z because you're committed to seeing the project succeed.


Most software projects fail, so don't take the weight of the world on your shoulders--especially with a company that's not committed enough to you to hire you full time.

  • 1
    That is not the type of consultant most developers I know are. This is more freelancer. Most consultants I know work for an agency and basically become employee augmentation. We are expected to integrate with and report to the actual employees of the company. Telling the client that their superstar developer is phoning it in tends to result in a call from the agency not to return to the client, and reduces the rate afterwards. Which is one reason that passively lighting up the mess is preferred. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 20:58
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    Hm, it seems you somehow missed the solution for you're on site just bill every hour you work, and don't work any more hours than your mental health can stand. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 23:45
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    That would be the solution for how to get by. But not the solution to make it better... Especially since a project failure for a consultant often results in an ended contract with out a good reference. Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 14:19
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    There are some situations that the person in them only has a limited ability to make better. That's just how life works. One thing you can do is to build your reputation to the extent that the people who hire you have less power over you. Commented Apr 29, 2014 at 23:58
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    I believe I read somewhere it was more like 60%. If you take the failure rate as the inverse of the success rate, this link mentions a success rate of 37%, similar to what I was thinking. Commented Jun 9, 2014 at 20:57

Coworker Route

Approach the coworker directly, and privately, bringing up your misgivings. This may be the most difficult approach, but it will most likely be the best received.

Mention the examples that you felt weren't up to par, and describe why it makes you frustrated (too much work already, short timeframe, team appearance to outsiders).

This approach has the least potential to wind up causing a long-term rift between you and the coworker. It's also the healthiest for the team (and your reputation) because you didn't have to go "running to the boss" at the first sign of friction.

Boss Route

If you have a boss that you feel comfortable talking with, this is an option as well. Ask for 1-on-1 time with your boss to discuss your misgivings about your coworker's performance. At that point, the boss should take care of it.

Be aware that some bosses may put you in the awkward position of bringing in your coworker to discuss it amongst the three of you (happened to me).

In either case, especially in small teams, the slacking coworker will know one of his/her teammates went to the boss. This could cause a morale issue in the team.

Another thing that could happen is your boss says "make it work". This is not the optimum outcome, obviously.

Documentation Route

I don't like this route as much because it can be viewed as passive-aggressive. Once you start identifying that your coworker isn't pulling his/her weight, you start copying your boss on emails so there is documentation showing that s/he isn't meeting expectations. I would only use this after discussing the matter with your boss, since seeing a ton of extra emails all of a sudden without context will be confusing at best.

You also run the risk of ticking off the slacking coworker, but it could be just enough to jolt him/her into getting back on track and up to speed.

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    It has been my experience that confronting people who have found a way to slide by, usually results in less than productive results. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 19:11
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    I have had the opposite experience. Early in my career I was the one slacking, and when a mentor (senior dev) pulled me aside and had a talk with me about it, it had a real effect and a change that I remember nearly 8 years later. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 19:27
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    Documenting shouldn't be about singling out the offending coworker. Documentation should be about demonstrating your day to day work load, what you're getting done, what you reasonably can get done, etc. Your coworker only gets in trouble when the boss looks and goes. "Didn't I assign that to Bob... and that... and that?" This could create tension between you and Bob, but it's not as bad as if you said "Hey boss, Bob's dumping all his work on me" even though it's effectively the same. In my opinion everyone should document, perhaps Bob doesn't realize how much he really dumps on you. Commented Sep 5, 2014 at 14:57

Try to make the person feel more part of the team. This can be a real challenge with people you don't respect their work ethic. The label "senior" can come with a lot of baggage and inconsistencies in the corporate and social structures: age, interests, life-style, topics of discussion, as well as, tasks deemed "beneath" a person of this stature.

Social Events This could be lunch or an after-hours drink. Be mindful that someone who is senior may not want to go clubbing. Once in a while, pick something they'll like. The natural tendency is to get away from them and talk behind their back. Never works.

Share Accomplishments It's not always the formalized task log or Scrum standups and retrospectives, but when everyone is talking shop. Make sure this person is included. Ask about something they've done. Maybe they have experience with a technology no one else on the team has used-what it was like back in the day.

Ask for Help Give your brain a rest. Don't even start working on something you know is going to be stressful. If this person sees himself as some sort of authority, they'll fall right into this one. Of course you may have to put up with some posturing and bragging, but that may be better than being stuck with all the work. Or just ask to do some other dependent task. Some people just don't take the initiative. It's not always a sign that they don't care and are lazy. We have to get over wanting them to want to do it.

Most people when they are surrounded by like-minded people who accept them, will start behaving like everyone else. Humans are naturally social; some more than others. You can't just stand there watching a bunch of people shoveling manure and call yourself a gardener. If you don't feel the need to chip in, find another hobby.

Persevere Get feedback from someone outside of your group and ask if they think this person fits in. Maybe find out what he thinks of the rest of you. Don't stop after a few attempts or if this person seems to be really put off by the invitations. It will get better before it gets worse. Think about trying to get a stray dog to eat out of your hand. The first try could be painful.


If the work the co-worker is not doing does not affect your own work, then it is not your problem. It's annoying, but if the manager wants to let them do less work, then so be it.

You're speaking more of the case, however, where it is affecting your own work. The first step is to speak to the coworker:

When I get done with my foo step and give it to you for barring, I never get it back for my final checkoff until the day it is due. It takes me several hours to get my last part done, which means I need it the day before it is due. Can you get them to me at least the day before they are due from now on? Is there something I can do to help in this process so I get it earlier?

If that doesn't work, then you go to your manager and ask how they would like you to handle it:

I have a problem, and I'd like to know how you'd like me to handle it. Chad always gets the barring done on the day it is due, which causes me to have to work extra hours in order to get the checkoff done that same day. I've asked him if he could get it to me earlier, at least by a day, but the problem still exists. What can I do to resolve this that I haven't yet tried?

You need to asking for ways to you to change your own process, and try very hard for it not to be a rant against your co-worker. You're asking for advice for how to work with someone who isn't doing their job, and let the 'not doing their job' issue be between them and their manager and a be a side-issue.

  • I am doing everything I can but Bob is not doing his work and its preventing me from completing my tasks... smells a-lot like an excuse and throwing someone under the bus. The point of this question is to avoid doing that. Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 14:12
  • @Chad - you should have used 'thursday' instead of 'Bob'. If I'm using your name in vain, you might as well use mine! Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 15:44

Does it affect your job?

Is it tangibly and directly harming the business beyond your belief that he's not doing as much as he's supposed to?

You should leave it alone.

There may be things (medically) that you do not know about. It is not your business to discuss those things. Your manager may already know and it would be likely be illegal in most jurisdictions to discuss those with you (again, because it's medical).

Ironically, you could create a situation where your company is actually harmed if they choose to terminate him and it actually is a medical problem, depending on whether they're willing to accommodate.

Something we say to our children may apply here as well:.

Minding your business is a full-time job.

  • Moderator note: This answer was posted on a duplicate question and merged here. Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 14:00

If his output, or lack thereof, is causing your performance or output look lower/worse than what it is, you might want to talk to your (hopefully) mutual supervisor, without bringing in the excessive toilet breaks in to the picture. You can mention his absence of 15-20 minutes multiple times a day and how it affects you adversely, showing quantifiable results. Otherwise, i.e., all you can do is a hear-say, just stay away from bringing this out, as it will not do good to anybody in the long run.

  • 1
    Moderator note: This answer was posted on a duplicate question and merged here. Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 14:00

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