In our weekly column, we answer your career questions. This week: we’re asked what to do about a coworker who is making your life miserable.

Dear Colleen:

One of my coworkers is seriously making my life difficult. She’s lazy and often late, and we share responsibility for the same tasks, and I usually end up doing them. She takes a lot of days off, and sometimes she’ll text me on the weekend and say “I don’t feel like doing this. Can you do it?” then not respond when I try to say I’m busy, so I wind up doing it, because it needs to be done.

Our male boss – I’m a guy – has no idea this is happening and he really likes her a LOT. I’m afraid that if I try to bring this up I will look like a petty jerk. Is there a way I can do it without looking like the bad guy?


Dear Braden:

You can’t change other people, you can only change how you react to them.

That being said, step one is to save all those texts and start documenting every situation where your colleague is remiss. Step two, talk to her. Sit her down in a neutral space, away from interruptions and say your piece, using a formula that I call WIN. It goes: When you…I feel…Next time…

Like this:

When you don’t do your share of our responsibilities, that puts a lot of pressure on me.
I feel that you don’t respect me and my time and I feel taken advantage of. I am committed and dedicated to doing the best job I can and it is important that we pull together as a team.
Next time we have shared work I would appreciate if you would put in the time and effort needed for us both to look good.

You could add, “It seems to me that you don’t like working here or you don’t like you job, do you want to talk about it?”

This is a hard thing to say to someone but this technique is non-intimidating and can be effective.

My guess is she is going to be quite surprised that you care enough to even engage her in a conversation of this type. She may pull up her socks for a short while just to please you, now that she knows you aren’t a pushover and that you actually are disturbed by her behaviour. At this point in time she probably thinks you don’t mind or care if you have to do her work. Lazy people think that way.

If this conversation goes nowhere then you might want to talk to your boss. Take your documentation for back up. Use the WIN formula again.

When … describe the situation as you see it without being accusatory. Use facts.
I feel … tell him how you feel about the disrespect and inconsideration she shows you and the job
Next time …express your commitment to the job and the company. Tell him how important it is to you that you produce superior work. Ask him how he thinks you should handle her refusal to do her portion of the work.

Another tactic is to start looping your boss into all the email communications you send. Communicate by email rather than text, and simply cc the boss, making it look as innocent as possible: “Just thought I’d loop Bob in so he knows where we are on this…”

If she responds to just you, loop Bob back in. It’s passive aggressive but he will get the chance to see what’s going on and you can gauge whether he cares.

If in the meantime you receive another text saying she isn’t going to do her work, don’t respond. Leave the work if it can be left, and make sure someone else is around when you say, “Oh, I thought we agreed that you were going to do that.”

You are going to encounter all types of personalities in the workplace as you move through your career. Try to work this out, but if worse comes to worst you can always go to Human Resources.

Best of luck,

Corporate trainer and career specialist Colleen Clarke answers your pressing career questions.
Got something to ask about resumes, the job search, interviews, or life at work?
Send queries to Questions may be edited for length and clarity.