What to do when your workplace rewards incompetence

One of your coworkers spends most of the work day texting, surfing the web for non-work-related content and otherwise goofing off— but he still has a positive, buddy-buddy relationship with the boss. The situation is so pervasive that you often find yourself mumbling “you’ve gotta be kidding me” under your breath.

Here’s what to do when your office rewards incompetence— whether it’s from your coworkers or from some bosses.

Why incompetence sometimes gets rewarded

A Harvard Business Review article features input from Annie McKee, founder of the Teleos Leadership Institute and co-author of Becoming a Resonant Leader: Develop Your Emotional Intelligence, Renew Your Relationships, Sustain Your Effectiveness, as well as Michael Useem, a professor and author.

“Ineptitude in managers is unfortunately common. McKee says that’s because too many companies promote people for the wrong reasons. People get ahead because they show results or have the right technical capabilities, but they often don’t have the requisite people skills. Michael Useem, the William and Jacalyn Egan Professor of Management at the Wharton School and author of Leading Up: How to Lead Your Boss So You Both Win says that whether your boss lacks technical or managerial ability, the results are the same: bad bosses sap motivation, kill productivity, and can make you want to run from the job screaming,” the article says.

Here’s how to manage a workday when incompetent people seem to get ahead.

Communicate effectively

Thuy Sindell and Milo Sindell write about this in an Entrepreneur article with tips on “4 ways effective leaders deal with incompetent people.”

“Establish a communication system that everyone is expected to follow. Provide examples about how the team will share information and discuss their progress. For instance, let employees know that after every meeting or important face-to-face conversation, there will be a written follow-up that provides a summary of what was discussed and next steps. That way, everyone can refer to the notes when they need information,” they write.

Show what you can do

A Monster article provides insight on possible steps to take if your supervisor “is incompetent,” and part of this is the ability to “compensate for deficiencies.”

“It’s to your advantage to discover your boss’s weak spots and help him in those areas. You want to be part of a winning team, and your boss is this team’s captain. You will get much further in a company if you associate yourself with successful projects. For example, an incompetent boss will struggle with complex ventures. Guide him through until everything is completed. You’ll look good by making your team look good,” the article says.

Be a resource to a struggling coworker

An Inc. article provides more detail on this.

“Let’s assume your coworker is overwhelmed but can’t withdraw from the project for one reason or another. In this scenario, you can offer your help and guidance to ensure your coworker lives up to his responsibilities. Sometimes a one-on-one sit-down to hash out a few problems is all it takes to get someone back on course. Now let’s assume that the incompetent worker doesn’t understand that his performance may be comparably weaker to the rest of the group’s. If this is the scenario, you can offer your help as a backup–something like hey, I know you’ve got this, but in case you hit a wall, let me know and I can help you out,” the article says.

Find a workplace with higher standards

If all else fails— and after weighing your options— you feel like your talents would be better put to use at another employer, move forward in finding a new position. If you feel reluctant, remember that incompetence or mediocrity aren’t just complications to your workday; they also mean that the company will be less successful, and as a result you’ll have less to learn there. You’ll be better off in an environment better-suited to your work ethic.