How to Deal with Lazy Employees At Work: A Complete Guide

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Each person brings a unique work ethic to the table. While some are self-proclaimed workaholics, others adopt a more relaxed attitude. Although their productivity levels may appear similar, managing lazy employees or dealing with a lazy coworker often causes frustrations for managers and other team members alike.

Do you often find yourself wondering, "How do I deal with a lazy employee on my team?" or "How should I address complaints about an employee's lazy behavior?" You are not alone. When a lazy worker's underperformance negatively impacts your team's productivity, it is time to intervene. The question is how?

Here's a guide on how to manage lazy employees effectively, keeping the focus on the problem, not the person, and creating opportunities for positive change.

Never Assume Laziness is the Problem

Laziness is often subjective. A team member lounging in their chair or thinking with their eyes closed may still be contributing meaningfully. Similarly, an underperforming employee might be dealing with personal issues or suffering from burnout.

The first step to deal with a lazy or unproductive employee is to identify the real problem. It could be stress at home, lack of training, hidden aspects of their job role, a relaxed attitude, or burnout. Remember, before you start addressing "laziness", it's crucial to get to the root of the problem and provide tools to fix it.

Individual Profiles of Lazy Employees

While laziness may seem like a straightforward issue, it is often more complex than it appears. It's important to remember that different types of laziness stem from different sources, and as such, they require different approaches. Here are some profiles of 'lazy' employees you might encounter in the workplace:

1. The Naturally Sluggish Employee

Characteristics: These employees are inherently slow-paced. They're not necessarily uncommitted or unmotivated; their energy levels or pace just naturally lean towards being slower than their peers.

Identification: The naturally sluggish employee often completes tasks at a slower pace, may appear disinterested or low-energy, and can struggle with time-sensitive tasks. However, they may also excel in detail-oriented roles where their slower pace allows them to catch errors others might miss.

2. The Demotivated Employee

Characteristics: These employees aren't lazy by nature, but rather, they're demotivated. The root cause could be a lack of recognition, unsatisfactory work conditions, or a lack of connection with their job role or team.

Identification: They may have been productive and engaged in the past, but their performance and interest in their work have noticeably declined. They may express dissatisfaction with their work or seem unenthusiastic about their tasks.

3. The Burned-Out Employee

Characteristics: These employees have pushed themselves past their limit, either due to heavy workload, personal issues, or prolonged high-stress situations. They aren't so much lazy as they are exhausted.

Identification: Burned-out employees often show signs of stress, such as irritability or anxiety. They may have trouble concentrating, appear tired, and their performance will likely have declined noticeably.

4. The Bored Employee

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Characteristics: These employees are unchallenged by their tasks and find their work monotonous. This boredom can easily be mistaken for laziness.

Identification: Bored employees may complete their tasks quickly but without enthusiasm. They might appear disinterested or disengaged, spending time on non-work-related activities during work hours.

5. The Disorganized Employee

Characteristics: These employees struggle with organization and time management, which can result in poor productivity and give the impression of laziness.

Identification: Tasks are often completed late, or employees seem always to be rushing and missing deadlines. Their workspace may be disorganized, and they may seem overwhelmed by tasks that others manage easily.

Each of these employees needs a different approach. The sluggish employee might benefit from energy management training, the demotivated employee might need recognition or a more engaging role, and the burned-out employee likely needs a break and strategies for managing stress.

Useful Read: Stress Leave from work: Implications and Best Practices

The bored employee could be reinvigorated by more challenging work, and the disorganized employee might need support with time management and organization. By identifying the characteristics and root causes of each employee's behavior, you can tailor your management approach accordingly.

Identify the Real Problem: Productivity vs. Idleness vs. Motivation

A lazy employee is typically associated with three factors: low productivity, apparent idleness, or lack of motivation. By identifying these issues, you can address the root cause rather than labeling the person as a lazy worker.

The employee might be struggling with a task, lack training in their current task set, or be overloaded with unmentioned duties. In some cases, what appears as idleness might be the employee waiting on others or perhaps they finish their tasks early and don't seek out more work.

A lack of motivation could indicate poor time management, a problem with procrastination, personal problems, or a potential burnout.

Provide Constructive Feedback and Opportunity to Improve

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Addressing these productivity issues begins with providing constructive feedback. You might need to have a private chat with the employee to discuss their below-average performance. The conversation should offer an opportunity for the employee to explain their actions and perhaps reveal if there are multiple reasons behind their poor behavior.

Once you've identified the problem, it's essential to monitor progress. Check-in regularly, provide incentives for good work, and demonstrate clear consequences for continued poor performance.

Increase Engagement and Accountability

Often, unproductive employees become disengaged when they feel little accountability. It's a good manager's role to balance things by ensuring the lazy staff member feels engaged and accountable.

Increase employee engagement by providing training, recognizing good performance, and offering good career growth opportunities.

Useful Read: 6 Metrics to Measure Employee Engagement: The Employers Guide

Use Time-Tracking to Evaluate Productivity

If laziness translates into lowered productivity, introduce time-tracking. Rather than micromanaging, use applications to clock in and out of specific tasks. This approach will reveal if the employee is overloaded with unimportant tasks or is struggling with specific ones. Based on this data, you can provide more training or adjust their workload.

Manage Task Distribution

When a lazy employee offloads their work onto other team members, it can lead to resentment and impact overall productivity. Prevent this by ensuring tasks are not traded without approval. This approach can nip any problems related to task offloading in the bud.

Set Deadlines and Check-Ins

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Deadlines are extremely useful. A lack of deadlines creates a lack of urgency, which can cause employees to lose focus on their tasks. Soft deadlines also have a way of slipping past our sense of urgency. Creating hard deadlines and also setting up intermediate check-ins can really help employees maintain a sense of pace and accomplishment that achieves more optimal productivity.

Deadlines are also important for anyone who suffers from procrastination, which is a common symptom of adult ADHD. Procrastination causes someone to "feast and famine" their workload, rushing to complete everything only when  deadline (a point of accountability) is created. By setting interval deadlines during the course of a big project, you can really help your employees to stay focused and pace their work appropriately. 

Prevent Task Offloading Without Approval

Managing who does what task can make a big difference when dealing with apparent laziness in the workplace.

When coworkers complain that an employee is lazy, one of the common problems is that they are offloading their tasks onto others. Someone who is constantly asking for help and then disengaging, begging off of their share of a project, or disappearing when they are needed will quickly be identified as lazy and begin fostering dislike.

On the flip-side, someone who is constantly doing tasks for others may evidence a performance drop that can appear lazy from a management perspective, specially if they seem to be socialising more than doing their own work.

Both problems can be easily identified and/or solved simply by assigning individual task lists and preventing unspoken work offloading. If all work-trading must be done through your approval - and you check-in to ensure everyone is turning in their own work - you can identify and/or prevent both types of productivity problems.

Determine if the Employee is Overwhelmed or Burning Out

Burnout can often be mistaken for laziness. An overwhelmed employee might show a drop-off in productivity, which can be mistaken for a lack of effort. Look for signs of burnout and take steps to alleviate the workload.

Provide Training to Those Who Need Stronger Skills

Offering training to employees struggling with specific tasks can help push ahead their performance. Moreover, providing incentives, such as a paid weekend getaway for a job well done, can motivate employees to perform better.

Provide Task Variety to Those Losing Engagement

Of course, the opposite can also be a problem. If an employee is too capable of their workload, they may become bored and disengage. In some cases, it can even lead to apparent laziness if an employee finishes their too-easy work early, then remains idle for the rest of the day without seeking new tasks. This can be lack of motivation problem that might be solved just by task variety.

Offer different types of projects or an opportunity to cross-train with another team if you have an employee who is acting lazy because they are bored with their workload.

Re-Evaluate Workload Balance

Evaluate if an employee is being assigned too much or too little work. An appropriate balance can help optimize their motivation and productivity.


Dealing with lazy employees requires understanding, patience, and the right approach. Never resort to personal attacks. Instead, view the matter objectively, identify the issues, and take constructive steps towards resolution. By doing so, you'll transform your most lazy employees into a great employee faster than you might think.

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Topic: Employees / Lazy Employees