Worker not working.
October 4, 2008 10:18 PM   Subscribe

Potentially sticky coworker situation. I have a good friend who I've worked with in the past, and she did good work. I recommended her for an opening on my current team, and she got the job. The problem now is that she's not working. At all. How to handle this?

I know that she is going through some extremely tough times right now, with a close member of her family being terminally ill, and her having to handle a lot of responsibilities surrounding this. However, when she comes to work, all she does is space out on MySpace and watch net videos. Any work that is done is a bare minimum at best, and often has mistakes. I know that it's impacting the rest of our team, as we have tight deadlines we have to meet. There's no malice, sabotage, personnel conflicts, or insubordination. I think instead that she's overwhelmed by her situation, and reacts by vegging out.

My job is to be the Head Technical Guru, but not the actual lead. I don't know if I should just pull her aside and ask what's going on, possibly sparing her some trouble with the boss down the road - but I don't feel that that's my place at work, and it might damage our friendship.

Or, I could just go directly to my boss, but that might cost her her job, at a time when the economy is tanking, she's in debt, and she has these family responsibilities to take care of. And I'd feel like a tattletale.

Of course, to make things even more complex, we're contract workers - so I also have the option of going to our contract company rep, instead of our actual lead.

The third option is to just ignore it, but I'd still feel some resentment, and that'd impact *my* job, despite it not being my responsibility to make sure people do their work. If the third option is the best one, how do I handle the resentment?

So. Options? Thanks.
posted by spinifex23 to Work & Money (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think you should first pull her aside privately and mention exactly what you've said here (e.g. show compassion but also point out how her behavior/performance is potentially putting her job in jeopardy). Don't go tattling to higher-ups unless her lack of performance will negatively impact you (and your job) in a personal way.

I know you're worried because you are the one who originally recommended her for the job, but that doesn't have to impact you as much as you think it does unless one of the higher-ups brings it up with you. In that case, you can always save face by saying "I've always known her to be a conscientous and capable worker. I think her recent personal problems may be impacting her performance." Then it's out of your hands.
posted by amyms at 10:32 PM on October 4, 2008

Does she have personal deadlines, or are the deadlines team-wide? One way of handling this sort of situation is by making sure that everyone has individual deadlines for getting their piece of work finished. If she already has personal deadlines and they're not being met, there isn't much you can do except talk to her in private about her performance. In that case, best to phrase it as worry about how her behavior might look to her boss.
posted by voltairemodern at 10:35 PM on October 4, 2008

Twist the situation a bit. Go to her and tell her that a few people are talking about her slacking off a bit. You are there telling her so that she can be aware of this, and turn it around before it is too late. If it really does get out of hand, tell her that things have gotten really bad and that you are worried about it because the higher ups were talking about such and such. She gets two warnings. After that, you break it down to the boss and say that she is slacking and suggest why she may be doing it. Then she has a talk with him/her. If she makes it through all of that and doesn;t turn it around, she does not deserve the job regardless.
posted by milqman at 10:38 PM on October 4, 2008

posted by rhizome at 10:38 PM on October 4, 2008

Voltairemodern, we only have team deadlines - which we're already not consistently meeting. So we're already under scrutiny. However, what we work on is logged individually, so it's possible to see what each person does, and it's not possible for that person to go in and 'fudge' the data.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:52 PM on October 4, 2008

Seconding lunch, and adding that the best approach to take is "I know you're having a hard time personally, and I think other people know something is up from your work, and I want to know what the best thing we as a team can do to support you."
posted by DarlingBri at 10:57 PM on October 4, 2008

DarlingBri, that sounds like the best approach. Thanks.

I don't want to claim that others are talking badly about her work when they're not, because we all have to work closely, and I don't want to set up a potentially adversarial situation.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:01 PM on October 4, 2008

I agree with DarlingBri, and would also add that perhaps you can break her work down into smaller bites. I know that when I'm completely stressed out, complicated tasks are beyond me. Try and sit down with her at the beginning of the week and help her break her work down into manageable pieces. If she can do it in 15 minute intervals, she just might be able to concentrate on it.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:11 AM on October 5, 2008

She sounds depressed, which would be understandable. Depression and work don't mix well. I've gone/going through it. It's difficult to concentrate, and you don't care about the work since nothing energizes you, so you just stare at the screen (or slack off depending on ethics).

I agree with the lunch idea for a chat. Maybe try to entice her to go for short lunchtime walks with you. The exercise, sunlight, and companionship might help reduce the zoning-out.

If she's not comfortable talking about her thoughts and feelings to people she knows, it might be festering. Getting closer to her, she might open-up and get some weight off her shoulders.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 3:38 AM on October 5, 2008

Does the contract company have any HR help for her personal issues? Could you possibly route it so that someone from that group says, by the way, Company X loves all it's little worker bees and we have this and that in place for you if you have a poblem.

Also, how do you know about the veg-time at work? As a friend and as a co-worker, a little friendly warning about that fact that you know this, and you are worried that others will not be so understanding might help her fix it. If she told you that, at her own job, people had noticed this kind of thing, you would be happy to tell help her fix it before she got into trouble. I think you can still make some effort, although I understand you feel a little weird with her working with you.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:17 AM on October 5, 2008

Lesser Shrew,

The contract company does have an Employee Hotline in place for things like this. I could give her that information.

Also, this is how I can tell: We're in software engineering. At the beginning of a pass, or project, I generate a database that lists all the tasks and tests that need to be run. The other workers then take that database and assign themselves a series of tasks, and mark off when they've completed them. I can tell when she hasn't done anything when I look at the daily results. It'll say something like: "Andreas ran 80 tests, Mathias ran 64 tests, Asgeir ran 41 tests, and Olga ran 0 tests." (not their real names)

Our work is also pretty hardware intensive, and she sits next to me - so it's pretty obvious when she's vegging out, because she's not swapping out keyboards/mice/remotes/etc. all day.
posted by spinifex23 at 9:21 AM on October 5, 2008

I have a good friend...

If she's a good friend, then be a good friend and help her.

Why not say to her, "I understand that things are really difficult in your personal life right now. It's showing up in your work which is obvious on the daily reports. How can I help you be more focused at work so that your job remains stable?"

Don't run and snitch to your boss especially if you haven't spoken to her directly. Here are three reasons why:
- Running to your boss isn't being a friend to her at all. It's not even showing her basic professional courtesy.
- Speaking as a boss, I'm always annoyed if someone escalates an issue to me without having tried to address it themselves. I'm not the team Mommy. (Exclude from this comment issues of harassment or discrimination, etc. Eliminating that if my responsibly to my staff.)
- Your boss has access to the same reports you do. Honestly, if your friend is that out of it (and she's a contractor), you boss may have already made arrangements to have the contract firm swap her for another person.
posted by 26.2 at 10:21 AM on October 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Glad you marked DarlingBri's answer as best. Just another thought -- does she get any sick days there? When there's a death in the family (and I'm assuming a terminal illness is similar), a lot of people take sick time and/or unpaid leave. Even the latter might be better than burning her bridge with this company if it came to that.
posted by salvia at 11:33 AM on October 5, 2008


We get the option of selecting sick days as part of our contract package if we want them, but I don't know if she took them. However, the contracting firm is helpful with FMLA; I had to take it two years ago when my mother died, and they got me right back to work when I was ready to come back.


You made a good point of not wanting to be the 'Mommy' of the group. I have gone to my boss about other employees in the past, but that was due to cases of either harassment, gross incompetence, or (in one case) the coworker falsifying data. This is none of these, and I have a feeling that just talking to her will help.
posted by spinifex23 at 8:41 PM on October 5, 2008


I took coworker aside and talked to her. She knew that she was slacking, because of family issues weighing on her mind. So, we decided that the best course of action was for me to break up her tasks into more manageable chunks, and for her to talk to our contract rep and/or boss about what's going on, in case her family member takes a turn for the worse, and she has to suddenly take time off.

We both feel like a weight has been lifted from our shoulders, and breaking things into chunks for her has already helped a lot.

Thanks, all!
posted by spinifex23 at 12:04 PM on October 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nice job, spinifex23, glad it went so well.
posted by salvia at 8:43 PM on October 6, 2008

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