One of my teammates is a slacker

by Staff - Original publish date: December 5, 2011

Dear Annette,

One of my teammates is a slacker. I'm tired of carrying his weight. What can I say or do?


Dear Atlas,

I'll never forget the time Dickie had to fire his pedicurist for inattention and neglect. We were being recognized on International Women's Day in the thrice-named, fictitious Eastern European country where I was born. As we processed down the aisle of the newly repatriated 11th-century cathedral where the ceremony took place, Dickie went "clickie-clickie" all the way to the altar, paw-nails reverberating for seven seconds. It was as if Pravda's Cold War typing pool were taking up the struggle all around us.

Such moments of desperation consume precious emotional energy that is better spent ensuring your own feet are headed in the right direction. Thank goodness I had sensibly worn rubber-soled platform sandals, as we must have walked nearly a mile that day.

The boss is on to it. If you've chosen jobs carefully, you're working for people whose powers of observation are at least as keen as your own. So keep the focus on you, you, you - on doing your own job as best you can. Keep telling yourself and others that life is fair, and whether it's true or not, you'll at least feel better. Who knows, maybe you'll become a role model.

Mirror, mirror? Be sure you're not guilty of whatever is bothering you most. My analyst suggested that it was an obsession with the early work of Lucille Ball that caused my fear that if my colorist wasn't careful, I would one day be rendered in black and white. Better red than anything else.

People have Stuff. Is it something you said or did? Is it something about the project? Something at home? A lost cause, like trying to get my Best Boy to accessorize properly? Has your coworker not yet found the path toward his dream? The answer is at the same time none of your business and the key to figuring out whether and how to encourage him to change. So you may have to guess instead of asking - then use trial and error.

Your turn to lead. If your team can't make its mark without everyone's contribution, then here's your chance to become the role model you wish you had. Nothing is more contagious than a healthy passion for ideas. Bubble over with genuine enthusiasm. In team meetings, ask everyone to say how they think the project is going. Your ne'er-do-well may have a good idea that hasn't been heard, or may disagree with the approach the team is taking, or may even fantasize about being the leader himself. How many pouty, petulant, pretty actors do I know who would really rather direct? Work with me, baby, you want to say to him. Your day will come.

Too bad for him. It takes a lot of creative energy to be lazy, really, because you have to think constantly about new ways to pout or new people to type chat messages to. ("Clickie-clickie" goes the keyboard on the other side of the cubicle wall, but it's not work at all!) Most slackers would turn to fountains of kinetic energy if they could only get in touch with their inner fabulousness. Use psychology. Study your lethargic coworker to find a fabulous trait or contribution, then compliment him for it in front of his boss. It might work.

Some work just looks easy. Some people's jobs defy busy-ness. If you're closing on a dozen film scripts a year, you're not going to remain fastened to your headset like some Internet advertising salesperson working a thirty-dollar CPM. When I take a three-hour lunch with a studio executive in an outdoor cafe on Santa Monica Boulevard underneath those adorable heat lamps that look like glowing white palm trees, we're both working very hard, despite what our feet may be doing under the table.

If you escalate, do it tactfully. Naturally it is not a corporate faux pas to go over the head of a coworker who is again snoring instead of, say, studying the dizzying dials in the safety room of a nuclear reactor. If you decide to talk to your coworker, or your coworker's boss, do it considerately and tactfully. Keep conflicts behind closed doors and voices low. Focus on facts, not feelings; put dignity ahead of blame. And of course, never put anything in writing that you wouldn't want to see on the front page of the Weekly World News.

Stay fabulous,