How to work with colleagues who do the bare minimum and use them to your advantage

Trying to work with a colleague who is always lagging behind and barely makes an effort to catch up is a tough spot to be in. Here’s how to manage.

Talk to the person directly

You should talk to the colleague who isn’t contributing as much by speaking either face-to-face or on the phone.

We know, we know — this is much easier said than done. That’s why it’s important to contain it to just you and the person, instead of critiquing them in front of other people.

If you go above and beyond, they can make you look even better

Chances are, if you’re not doing as little as they are, you’ll appear to be a better fit for the company.

Karin Hurt and David Dye, authors of Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results — Without Losing Your Soul, answer a reader’s question on their site about how to stay driven when colleagues are “lazy” and the supervisor doesn’t seem to notice that they’re doing more work than the other.

They suggest to “keep rocking your role”:

“Stay focused on your MITs (most important things) to serve your customers and the business. Stay creative. Chances are your boss is picking up a lot more than you know. Performance management conversations happen behind closed doors. I wish we could tell you how many performance issues we’ve dealt with that we longed to share with the high-performers we knew were frustrated, but couldn’t. Be sure you keep building your brand with a strong track record of results and collaborative relationships.”

Set clear work boundaries

What do you say to that person who constantly wants you to do their work?

Leigh Steere, co-founder of management training tool Managing People Better, tells Monster to zone in on what’s going on and suggests telling your coworker:

“I don’t mind helping every once in awhile, but I’m noticing that you are asking me to help with things from your to-do list frequently. I have a full plate without taking on more, and I need to say no.”

Have a conversation with your supervisor

Alison Green, author of the Ask a Manager blog, features something you can say to your supervisor if your colleague’s inaction is affecting your productivity in U.S. News & World Report:

“I’m spending significant amounts of time talking to Jane’s clients when they can’t reach her and finishing up her reports when she leaves for the day without completing them. It’s causing me to have to push off priorities like A and B, and I don’t have as much time to spend with my own clients as a result.”

Escalating the situation this way will demonstrate that you’re really paying attention to how you could best be using your time at work, and that you don’t want anyone or anything getting in the way of that.