Challenging an Irresponsible Colleague

Irresponsible colleagues become skilled at appearing to be busy.  Many organisations have them: people who are able at managing the impression they create to those who work above them, but don’t actually shoulder much of the work in their teams.  These colleagues prefer to let deadlines slip, arrive late at some meetings or miss others altogether.  They always have a ready excuse or ‘reason’ for why they failed to do their share of the work.  They place strain on their more industrious team colleagues, safe in the knowledge that one of them is likely to bail them out.  A pattern is quickly established whereby the irresponsible colleague doesn’t do all or some of their work on time or to standard, and one of their colleagues steps in and does it for them.

Irresponsible colleagues can be energy-sapping and draining to deal with. Not only can you end up doing their work as well as your own, but they appear immune to feedback. When challenged about why they have failed to meet a deadline or skipped a meeting, they can be quick to create a half-hearted promise to change their ways, but subsequently carry on as if that challenge had not occured.

Irresponsible colleagues are often irresponsible because they get something they value out of taking this approach. It will vary from person to person, but one of the key things they gain is the opportunity to avoid being accountable, to avoid having to engage and work hard, to avoid having to make decisions and take the consequences of them. And when put on the spot by co-workers frustrated at their approach irresponsible colleague can be expert at shifting the focus of the conversation away from their own shortcomings and onto other issues. They can:

  • Dodge the issues put to them.
  • Create fog around the key points they are asked to address.
  • Obfuscate and change the point of the conversation onto other issues instead.
  • Place responsibility for their lack of endeavour with other people, including you for daring to hold them accountable.
  • Disown their irresponsible behaviour and shift the blame elsewhere.

These behaviours can be exasperating to deal with and can result in you feeling annoyed, confused and powerless. And you could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that an irresponsible colleague is beyond your influence. And yet, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can use behaviour which holds an irresponsible colleague to account. To do so, you need to find the resolve to confront them using a suitable example of their wayward behaviour around which to build your feedback.  Here are a couple of examples that have been successful for other people.

  1. Providing feedback to the effect that as a direct result of the irresponsible colleague failing to get you the data they owe you by the agreed deadline, you cannot include it in the report you are compiling, and will make a note to that effect in the report which will be circulated to all the managers in the business.
  2. Providing feedback to the effect that as a direct result of the irresponsible colleague failing to brief you for your upcoming meeting with your managers, your colleague will be accompanying you to that meeting to explain in front of you what prevented them from briefing you.