This is no longer an issue but for future reference what is the best way to tell something a coworker did is not okay without making them feel intimidated?

For context, we were working on a project and there were some things that came up that were clearly not finished on their end. We were behind schedule and they mention that they are going to go home. I work in a pretty "chill" workplace but the expectation is we get our things done but I did not want to say "hey we still have a lot of work to do, you can't leave yet."

They ended up getting their work done the next day and luckily we still managed to get everything done on time but it definitely was not something I thought was okay. Is it better to talk to them personally about it or is it something I should go to the manager about? The only reason I am hesitant to go to my manager about it is that I feel it's important I am communicating with my coworker and not just running to my manager whenever something is wrong.

EDIT: Seems like there are lots of factors that matter. I apologize for not addressing them.

In terms of there not being a problem, yes it ended up working out and everything got done but this did end up making people in QA have to wait another day giving them less time to work which made them work over the weekend. You can consider that a problem if you want. The bigger issue was when we both came together to talk about what we had to turn in for QA and things were definitely missing and when asked why they were not done and said that they completely forgot.

I am not a supervisor over this person but, at least at the time, I was definitely "leading" the project on our end. By that I mean people were coming to me to see when things were done, I was doing the hand off, etc. It's hard for me to say I was their supervisor but I am a tad more senior in the team of only us two...

In terms of the "chill" environment, it's a startup so some people work 40 hours, some people work 50 hours, some people clock in late and leave early. It really doesn't matter as long as you get your stuff done.

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    Are you in some kind of team leadership, supervisory or mentoring role over this person?
    – Kent A.
    Commented Oct 4, 2015 at 23:54
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    No, your workplace may be pretty cool, but it's not pretty "chill". As a non-manager, a pretty "chill" workplace would imply you would put in your 40 hours a week and that's it. In any case, I don't see what's wrong with saying "hey we still have a lot of work to do, you can't leave yet." Waiting for a better way of saying it is not going to make it any easier. If anything, waiting is only going to make the issue more important in the long-run than it really is. Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 1:00
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    "He/she ended up getting his/her work done the next day and luckily we still managed to get everything done on time" - So then was there actually a problem, or just the perception of a problem because a coworker's approach to working differs from yours? Seems like the only thing that's "wrong" is that you personally dislike their working style.
    – aroth
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 1:11
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    Unless someone is slacking off at work or not working their full hours, things not getting done on time isn't a "Going home on time" problem, it's a project management problem.
    – Jon Story
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 8:48
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    Another thing to consider is the nature of the deadline, is it an external customer deliverable, or is it merely a PMP's milestone? If the latter, it is really hard to get people motivated for a symbolic or arbitrary deadline and short slips are totally understandable. Some highly effective workers are going to try to assess "the big picture" and plan accordingly rather than just do strictly what they're told to hit one of many deadlines.
    – teego1967
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 11:44

6 Answers 6


Everyday you are employed you will go home with unfinished work. If the job is totally done, then you by definition no longer have a job to do.

So, the question is always when is the best point to get up and go home. But that is between your coworker and your boss, not you.

When should you get involved, and ask your coworker to stay? When there is a specific task that only your co-worker can do, and this task can be done in a set amount of time that it is not unreasonable to expect them to stay over to do and you or your team are blocked until the task is completed. And even then, you ask if they can stay, you don't tell them they can't leave.

When should you complain about fit or lack of commitment? Most likely never, but if you feel you must, first identify a pattern of behavior, not a single instance. Overtime, with or without pay, is just that -- time over the normal time. As it is pushing into their time more than normal, there will be more conflicts, where overtime will just have to take a back seat to other priorities. Even when a project is behind schedule, a single instance should be unexceptional.

On a more practical note: your co-worker finished this the next day, but you say that others had to work over a weekend to get the project done on time. Given both statements, it is unlikely that your coworker staying and working longer would have had a significant positive impact on the schedule, even if they were a bottleneck. Given that fatigue breeds errors, I find it impossible to believe both (a) that it could have taken very long to get it done the next day and (b) that it could have been done in a reasonable amount of time the night before. For anytime it took to do the next day, you can reasonably have expected it to have taken twice that the night before. An hour or two the next day is not going to cause someone else to work over the weekend, and if it took all day, there's a good chance that staying later would have just resulted in bad work that needed to be redone, further putting the project behind schedule.

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    I liked the "even if your coworker had stayed, it probably wouldn't have made a difference." Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 16:12
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    It would make sense that an hour or two the next day could delay QA by a day, if QA are on a different schedule (unlikely unless they're on another continent) or if they're pulling an all-nighter themselves the day in question. In which case the error was made some days earlier: this project was running too close to the wire. It might be worth raising with management, that someone messed up the schedule to the extent that one person's ability to stay late on a particular night knocked on to an entire team working at the weekend. Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 8:30
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    ... if the workplace is "chill", then perhaps the questioner's colleague sees no reason why they should miss their weekly book group. or work long into the night at minimal productivity, just because the manager figured, "ah, I can be chilled about this schedule, people will just work overtime to fix my mistakes" ;-) It takes discipline and preparation to be relaxed and deliver on time. Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 8:31
  • Just reading the first line made me give you a +1. :)
    – Akhoy
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 7:17
  • This seems like a great answer. Thanks. And I appreciate all the comments - I don't mean for it to come off the wrong way. And I agree on many of the points you mentioned. I agree the schedule was messed up and we were already pressed for time as it is but we were made aware of it. And @JoeStrazzere thats very true thanks for adding that comment.
    – Kevin Xu
    Commented Oct 7, 2015 at 16:29

Based upon your updates, I think the only real problem here is this:

The bigger issue was when we both came together to talk about what we had to turn in for QA and things were definitely missing and when asked why they were not done he/she said that he/she completely forgot.

Which is really not an issue of culture, or work-ethic/style. It sounds like a process issue, to be honest (unless the coworker has a chronic problem with "forgotten" work?). Whatever solution you're using for allocating and tracking work sounds like it's leaving too much up to individual human memories. That's generally a recipe for...exactly that kind of situation.

Yes your co-worker dropped the ball by forgetting their tasks, but why does your process allow the ball to be dropped in such an impactful way in the first place?

If you're not currently using something like Trello or Jira Agile or a nice low-tech whiteboard with sticky-notes on it to track what tasks are assigned to whom and what the status of each one is, then I'd strongly suggest giving that a try. At a minimum it takes away everyone's ability to hide behind the "I forgot" excuse (and can introduce a host of other benefits, as well).

As a senior member of the development team, you likely do hold significant influence over the development process being used, and it would be appropriate for you to raise the issue (in a general sense, like "we have a problem with people forgetting what tasks have been assigned to them") and advocate changes to the process to fix it. I think that's your answer.

As for the rest, it sounds like what your coworker did in terms of not staying late to complete the tasks is actually in-line with your organization's culture:

[...] some people work 40 hours, some people work 50 hours, some people clock in late and leave early. It really doesn't matter as long as you get your stuff done.

Your coworker did get the work done. They shouldn't have forgotten to do it to begin with, but it sounds like once it was brought to their attention they dealt with it quickly and effectively (i.e. the very next day).

Your perception is that wasn't fast enough, but as their coworker and not their manager it's not really your call to make. You may not know what they've worked out with their actual manager about the issue or more generally about working extra hours or their work-life balance.

In any case, the coworker's handling of the situation seems to be in line with the organization's culture/expectations. If it really irks you, then start by advocating for a more formal culture. Barring that, you're not their manager and senior or not you don't really get to have a direct say in terms of where, when, or how they do their work. Those aren't things you can control in this situation.

What you can control is how you perceive and react to things your coworker does. In that light I'd recommend looking at this as a "no harm, no foul" kind of situation. I know you feel that a day of QA time was lost, but is that really the case? Was the QA team just sitting there idle, waiting for your coworker to wrap up their forgotten tasks at 10:00 pm (or whenever)? Would they really have started testing right that moment, and tested through the night? Was there nothing else they could test in the meantime?

My general experience is that there's little practical difference between completing a task late at night and completing it during business hours the next day, apart from the cost to the employee's well-being. So my suggestion would be to take this as an opportunity to improve your working processes to make it harder for people to just plain forget what things they're supposed to do, and leave it at that.


Perhaps it's worth considering this the other way around.

If the person knew that they had absolutely no chance to get the work done that day, then it would have served no purpose to pull an all-nighter to do it. Also, perhaps they felt that if they tackled it afresh the next day then they would be able to get it done while not tired and likely to make mistakes.

Did the person do wrong?

Well, yes. If they did not adequately communicate the reasoning for their going home to the manager and the rest of the team when they were behind schedule, then they made a mistake. Most good managers would recognise when a team member is trying to be more productive, not less so. But without the critical piece of information, then you were all left wondering

What should you do?

Well, as the other answers suggest, talk to them! But not as a "You did wrong", but rather "What are your reasons for leaving this now?" You don't need to be combative, it's more about understanding how different people work.

Of course, if you get an answer of "I couldn't have been bothered", then you have grounds to raise it with your manager as a potential risk. You made your deadline this time (perhaps by the person recognising the best way for them to work, perhaps by luck), but if there is a pattern without explanation then it absolutely should be brought to the attention of those who manage the project's risk and deadlines.

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    @aroth I work in a pretty "chill" workplace but the expectation is we get our things done This is pretty indicative of "work until you're done" mentality. Personally I disagree with it as it shows a lack of planning and management. This is why my second section is saying what they did wrong was not to go home, but why they went home with unfinished tasks, which seems at odds with the organisation's culture. Otherwise the OP would not have posted the question in the first place :)
    – Jane S
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 1:30
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    @aroth Your last comment I actually forgot to include in my answer about if the manager already knew. Agreed we don't have all the information, unless the OP actually asks, neither do they.
    – Jane S
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 2:23
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    "If they did not adequately communicate the reasoning for their going home to the manager and the rest of the team when they were behind schedule, then they made a mistake." --> Not being paid to work overtime is a reason that doesn't need to be comunicated to any manager. Surelly the manager knows the empoyees' paycheck and schedules. So, no, the co-worker didn't do anything wrong. It was his/her absolute right to leave, if it was past the time to leave. Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 2:45
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    @JaneS Culture doesn't pay your bills. Besides, people have families, apointments, cats to take care of, other things to do than working extra-time for free. Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 3:33
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    The problem is that there is always something important to do, which could be used as a reason to work overtime. We can't all work 16 hours per day every single day. We need to draw the line. If this co-worker had a commitment after work and knew they could perform this work the next day without affecting the schedule, and they did, bravo for them. There is a time and place for over-time.
    – Brandon
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 12:12

I would speak to the coworker first, especially if it's a team effort and they're not pulling their weight. There is no need to intimidate them, a polite request would be fine rather than a demand. Something like: We need to get this done by tomorrow, are you ok? Do you have a plan? Need some help? (I find that asking people if they need help disarms any offence they might otherwise take)

If it continually impacts on your work and stresses you then two things need to be looked at depending which you think applies.

Your working relationship with your coworker. Communication can be an issue which many people make no effort with, it is always best to cultivate good communication with anyone you work with, its the basis of a good team which benefits all concerned.

Your coworkers work habits, if they impact on your ability to perform then they may well be something to take up with management. It's not productive to worry about others feelings if they jeapardise your own work and deadlines.

At the end of the day you don't want management to judge you based on someone elses work practices

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    I would add that the expectation of overtime (or staying until it's done) should be set ahead of time whenever possible. Folks need to be able to make arrangements, and lead time is always appreciated. Coworkers need to understand, too, that people have diverse lives and work after 5pm may have to take a backseat. In today's world, where a lot of work can be done remotely, we can work around folks' needs.
    – Kent A.
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 0:07
  • 1
    I really like the advice to offer help -- I think I could have suggested something like that and that would have made things a lot clearer and also seem less aggressive.
    – Kevin Xu
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 2:31
  • it's a disarming way of doing it, it's much less confrontational, I use it a lot. Not because I actually want to help, but because it comes across much better.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 22:21

Always best to start closest to the problem. Talk to the co-worker -- managers most of the time want you to solve your own problems when you can. In this case it doesn't sound like you plan to talk to the co-worker since everything worked out.

If this situation arises in the future, then when having the discussion, stick to facts. Start with something positive (and true), to make clear that you are not just looking for problems, along the lines of: You've been doing great work in the last few weeks, or Thanks for all of your effort so far on this project.

In terms of the project or problem, again stick to facts: The project is due on X date. Your part of the project must be done by X. It must include completion of tasks X, Y, and Z.

Then you can say: do you think you can still go home and meet these obligations? How? What's your plan for doing so? What if something unexpected comes up? Do you have a contingency?

You're giving the other person flexibility, and the freedom to make choices, while still emphasizing responsibility and execution.

  • This is especially appropriate if you have some sort of leadership role with respect to the person (eg, team lead, mentor, etc).
    – Kent A.
    Commented Oct 5, 2015 at 0:29

Remarking on someone's work habits is strictly the prerogative of their direct supervisor, whoever their hiring manager is. It would be out of place for you to talk to them directly about it. If the person's supervisor found out you had done such a thing, they would not be happy about it.

If you are unhappy about it, complain to YOUR boss, then it will go up the chain and back down again until it reaches the other person's supervisor. That is the proper channel.

Be aware that some people, especially those with families, consider their work and family hours to be strictly segregated and if they decide "I go home to be with my family at 5pm," then that is what they do. Trying to infringe on this time boundary can have serious organizational consequences.

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