Which Employees Aren't Pulling Their Weight?

January 19, 2023・8 mins read
Which Employees Aren't Pulling Their Weight?
Call it quiet quitting or just doing the bare minimum, but there’s probably at least 1 member of your staff who isn’t doing their share of the work. They may be under-confident in their abilities or just low on work ethic. Whatever the reason, they’re dragging productivity down along with morale. In addition to not doing their fair share, their coworkers are probably picking up the slack. That could be causing frustration, resentment, and low morale. The ‘workplace slacker’ isn’t a new phenomenon: it may actually have a root cause. The Ringelmann Effect was first identified by Maximilien Ringelmann in 1913. He suggested that the larger the team, the more likely it is for individual members to contribute less than their fair share. It may be a sense that others will pick up the slack, so there’s no need to put in a lot of effort. Another reason may be that, if people don’t readily see their individual contribution to the work or the project, they’re more inclined to take a ‘free ride.’ Coworkers who are working hard are impacted, regardless of the slacker’s motivation, and businesses suffer. An easy fix may be to reduce team sizes. Another option is to split teams into smaller groups with specific duties. Either solution makes it easier for workers to identify their contribution, and be less inclined to slack off, as well as easier for the group to maintain accountability.

Can you spot the slacker within your organization?

You may have obvious slackers in the workplace: staff members who are consistently being reminded to get back to work. Allowing this behavior to go on unchecked is certainly affecting your bottom line as well as morale among the group. Dealing with these employees is critical to maintaining productivity and engagement.
Dealing with these employees is critical to maintaining productivity and engagement.
There are also slackers that are less obvious to management, but they may be easily identified by coworkers. Their peers may not be complaining to the supervisor — nobody likes a snitch — but they’re definitely complaining to each other. Rooting out these workers is just as important. CareerBuilder recently surveyed employees on what causes the biggest distractions at work. Keeping an eye out for these behaviors may help identify slackers in your company:
  • Always checking cell phones
  • Browsing the internet
  • Gossiping about coworkers
  • Initiating conversations rather than getting work done
  • Taking frequent bathroom, snack, or smoke breaks
These may be the employees who are never close by when work has to be performed. They may be serial deadline-missers, or employees whose substandard work has to be corrected on a routine basis. They don’t volunteer for anything— work, training, projects, or helping out a coworker who needs assistance. The relationships they have with coworkers are strained at best. They create bottlenecks in workload that others have to unjam, typically oblivious to the chaos they’ve created. In addition to affecting the team and the work, they damage their own career and reputation. Overlooking their lack of effort is a mistake many supervisors make because they’re not sure how to deal with the issue.

How to deal with a slacker employee at your company

Employees who don’t pull their weight affect the company as well as their coworkers. Ignoring them isn’t the solution for staff or management. It’s a best practice to empower employees to speak up and for managers to step in. Here are some steps that could prove successful.

For employees

Ask the colleague why they weren’t able to get a job or project done. Be professional and stick to the facts, don’t inject motives or personality traits into the conversation. Discuss what they needed to do, how not performing the work affected others, the workplace, or their status in the company. They may have a good reason: they may not have been shown how to perform the task, or, if they were trained, may have forgotten. Offer to help guide them through the work, if necessary. If they know how to do the work, but choose not to, don’t step in and get it done. That enables them and frustrates you. Unless it’s dangerous or highly detrimental not to get it done, let them fail and make sure your manager knows who’s at fault. You can’t get all your work done, and theirs, correctly If it’s a pattern of behavior, document as much as possible and talk to your manager for help or solutions.

For managers

Some employees are just phoning in their performance. They may have a low work ethic or problems with their colleagues. Others are not pulling their weight because they simply don’t know (or aren’t confident they know) how to do the work. Once you’ve identified slackers, it’s important to discuss the root cause of the problem and try to correct it. Talk to the employee about why they’re not performing and how it’s affecting the company and the team. Review their knowledge of the task(s) to make sure they’re trained and able to do the work. They may be under-skilled or under-confident. Work with them to build their knowledge or self-esteem so they can be a productive member of the team. Develop an action plan to manage skill-building or lack of confidence. Start with small, easily accomplished tasks with clear deadlines. Follow up to make sure they’re completed correctly and either applaud or adjust as needed. Build on that knowledge (or confidence) with more responsibility until the staffer is working seamlessly with their team.

There may be simple solution for a better fit

If there are problems between colleagues, look into what’s causing the rift and how it can be resolved. There may be simple solutions to the problem that make for a quick remedy. If there are major personality conflicts, consider reassigning the less senior staff member to find a better fit. Remember to focus all discussions on the work and not the worker. Their behavior and how it affects the company and their colleagues is what is at issue: not their personality traits. Keep conversations professional and work-oriented, even re-directing if the employee back to work issues if they start injecting personalities. If all else fails, it may be time to move to disciplinary action or replacing the staffer. Not every job is right for every employee. If they’re not able to contribute to the team they’re probably doing more harm than good. Let them go and find someone who can get the job done.

How to deal with project freeloaders in your company

If there are employees you suspect (or others report) take credit for group projects they didn’t contribute to, there are ways to call their bluff. Warn them in advance or surprise them when the project is delivered, but let them know you’ll be polling each staff member on their input to the work. A few questions can easily identify who wasn’t involved in getting the work done.  You can customize the questions, depending on the project type or work involved, but probe for the basics:
  • What part of the project did you complete?
  • And, what were the sources of your research (if applicable)?
  • What methods did you use to get your work done?
  • How long did it take you?
  • Whose other work did you rely on to complete your portion of the project?
  • Whose work was dependent on completion of your input?
If you know there’s a slacker in the bunch, let the team know you’ll be asking questions when the work is done. That should give everyone fair warning they’re expected to do (and report on) their portion of the work. You may also consider a surprise Q&A session at the end of a project or presentation to identify who did what, and make sure that’s the last time 1 team member lets others do all the work.

Equal distribution of work is key for successful projects

Businesses look for employees to work as a well-oiled machine. They should pull their own weight and help others when needed. Each member of the group has the power to build the team up or knock it down. Identifying and correcting anyone who isn’t pulling their weight is good for the company and their colleagues. It may even help them build their own confidence and work ethic.
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