Lazy senior employee angers co-workers

Dear Joan:
I am a professional, working in a small five-person department within a large corporation. My problem is with the manager and our "senior" within the department. The senior's lack of ambition and motivation shows by his work habits, which include reporting for work anywhere between 8 and 9, rarely working an eight hour day and operating a football pool during business hours.

I have spoken to the manager and assistant vice president, but obviously the conversations have done no good. Sometimes the senior's habits affect my work but not to the point where it hinders my progress - yet. The manager, who is somewhat wishy-washy, thinks the solution would be to hire another senior to create competition for this individual.

My biggest problem now is directing my anger about this senior toward my manager. I have little ambition left and am downright crabby and disrespectful to my manager. I love the type of work I do but dislike these two people I work with / for. I have 16 months left until I am fully vested and am hanging in until then.

I am not clear about the senior's level and relationship to you. I will assume that he is a peer who reports to the same manager you do and that you have asked your boss to discipline this co-worker. Because he is called a "senior", I'll assume he has more experience or seniority than the rest of the professionals.

I'd like to address this question in two parts. First, how you can cope with the situation. Second, what your boss should do to resolve it.

The anger you feel is understandable. You come to work on time, put in a hard day's work and yet you see a co-worker -- who's probably making more money than you are -- taking advantage of an unassertive boss.

However, 16 more months of being crabby and disrespectful is dangerous and self-defeating. Your boss could give you a poor rating because of your attitude, cut your merit increase or, if it becomes serious enough, fire you for insubordination. After your 16 months are up, you may not get a good job reference, which could seriously hurt you.

You know you have to stop sulking and stewing about your boss' performance and start refocusing on your own.

But how? Since most of the members of your department are new and this experienced co-worker is hurting his own reputation, you are in an ideal position to capitalize on the situation. Look at this as an opportunity, not a frustration. Consider this: If your assistant vice president puts pressure on your manager to fire this employee, could you get his job: If the AVP becomes convinced that your boss is ineffective, could you get your manager's job? If you become a visible, positive leader in your small department, couldn't you be promotable elsewhere in the company?

Every time your co-worker saunters in late or leaves early, smile shrewdly to yourself and say, "Eat my dust, you fool!" Take advantage of every opportunity to become visible to the assistant vice president and others outside your department.

Don't criticize your boss to anyone. Instead of hating both of these men, look past them. You're going to leave them both in the dust.

Now to the boss: Your idea about hiring someone else to force some competition is a copout and could be an expensive mistake. Two people on the payroll, instead of one highly productive one, are a waste of the company's money.

Why are you hesitant about confronting this senior? Does he have expertise you can't afford to lose? Are you afraid he won't like you? Are you hoping he'll shape up on his own? Does he have secret pictures of you with your secretary?

If you're afraid to lose this employee because of his experience, begin a process of cross-training immediately. Explain that since the department is so small, you'd like everyone to be able to back up each other.

If the senior's skills are highly specialized and must be acquired from the outside, decide whether this employee is worth keeping. If so, set him down again and explain the consequences of his poor work habits.

If you don't address this issue it could make you a standing department joke and that's no laughing matter.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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