Working With an Unmotivated Co-worker

Dr. Chris E. Stout
March 24, 2011 — 2,723 views  
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             In our daily work lives we often are faced with a multitude of issues and problems. Some of these are due to the nature of the work, that is, your job may be to solve problems, manage crises and put out fires.

             The current recessional climate of lay-offs and downsizings doesn’t do much to reduce stress levels. But, what can you do if you feel that a co-worker (perhaps even a friend at work) isn’t carrying his or her fair share?  As a result, what if someone is putting an increased burden on you, the team or the department? What if you believe this problem puts not only that person, but you and your department at risk?

             You may experience disbelief or perhaps anger. “How can John be so cavalier about this deadline for the annual report? I was here until 10 PM last night working on it and he did not even come in today!” Resentment is not uncommon. But before you make assumptions as to why this is or what is going on, take a few days to cool down and get some perspective.

Check in with your co-worker

            With a cool head and an attitude of concern, find a time and place where there will be little chance of distraction or interruption and share your observations with your co-worker. Be careful not to trigger her defensiveness; don’t say, “I am really concerned about your attitude, and it is just got to stop!” Instead, try something like “You haven’t seemed like yourself lately. Are you feeling OK?”  For some people this can serve as an adequate shift into a discussion, but others may need a little more prompting and encouragement to open up. And, of course, it also depends upon the nature of your relationship with the person and the nature of the problem as well.

            If your co-worker does share with you what the problem is, you may wish to suggest that she seek the help of an appropriate third party—perhaps a counselor, a physician, an attorney, a religious leader, a mutual friend or her boss.

Consider talking to your manager

            In some cases, you may find that your attempts may have proven to be of no avail. Then you may want to discuss your observations, concerns and attempt(s) at solutions with your manager.

            Depending on the size of your organization, your supervisor already may be aware of the problem and may be initiating steps to help rectify the situation. In some cases there may be issues afoot that your supervisor is unable to discuss with you in order to protect confidentiality—so don’t feel as if you are being rebuffed. Instead, know that you have acted in a responsible and caring way to a person in need.

Dr. Chris E. Stout


Dr. Stout is a licensed clinical psychologist and serves as ATI/PRO's Director of Research and Development. He also is a Clinical Professor in the College of Medicine at the University of Illinois, Chicago, holds an academic appointment in the Northwestern University Feinberg Medical School, and was a Visiting Professor in the Department of Health Systems Management at Rush University. He was appointed by the Secretary of the US Department of Commerce to the Board of Examiners for the Baldrige National Quality Award. He holds the distinction of being one of only 100 world-wide leaders appointed to the World Economic Forum's Global Leaders of Tomorrow. Dr. Stout has published or presented over 300 papers and 30 books. He has lectured across the nation and internationally in 19 countries, and visited 6 continents and over 75 countries. He is frequently interviewed (e.g., CNBC, CNN, NBC, PBS, NPR, Oprah, Eye On Harvard, Time, Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, Associated Press, Child Magazine, Chicago Sun-Times...).