Could somebody please fire this schmuck?
October 8, 2012 1:17 PM   Subscribe

How can I deal with a co-worker who doesn't pull his weight but will probably never get fired?

I have a job-share type situation where I work two months on and one month off. During my first month on I am the 'senior' engineer; during the 2nd month I am the 'junior' engineer. The way our rotation is scheduled I return from my month off and take over from the senior engineer and he goes on vacation. Every time I come back to work our "office" is a mess, paperwork is out of control, things aren't organized, etc. In the past I have complained to our boss and also spoke to my co-worker directly. Because we work together for 1/3 of the time (more or less as equals) we have a quite a collegiate and consensual work environment. He is a smart guy and good at the nuts and bolts of our job but absolutely shit at the paperwork, organizational side of it. I am super type-A, everything has to be organized all the time. I get an instant stress headache if I find something out of place. Needless to say, my first week back at work is full of stress and headaches. This month I've returned to find out he didn't do the monthly report. During our handover I didn't even ask if he did the monthly report because I didn't want to insult him We handed over on the 4th of October. He could have written the report anytime after about 27 Sept and I know he had a lot of down time from 28 Sept to 3 Oct to spend 45 minutes writing the report and posting it to the management server.

I'm ready to drive an ice-pick in his eyeball but I won't see him for another month. By then I'll have cooled off and have a hard time working up the umbrage I feel now. I'm almost certainly going to go rant to our boss tomorrow, but I don't know if this is going to have any effect as our boss could have fired my co-worker earlier this year over various issues. In fact our boss talked to me about trading places w/ my co-worker where I would be the 'senior' and he would be the 'junior' but that just fizzled out as our boss doesn't have the spine to see something like that through.

My question is how can I deal w/ this guy? I sent him an e-mail today asking where he might have saved the monthly report as I couldn't find it to post it on the mgmt server and he said he didn't write it. Normally, I'd just write it and post it but now I think "Screw it. I wasn't there in Sept why the hell should I write a report for a month I wasn't there." I'll tell mgmt I can't write the report as the I wasn't there and they'll have to wait till November for their report. I could ask my co-worker to write the report from home, but he can barely write the report when he has access to our files. Also, I don't want to seem like a baby in front of mgmt "oh, i can't write the report b/c I wasn't there. its the other guy's job, etc."

I'd really like to get the guy fired, but I know nobody has the will do it. He never screws up bad enough to get fired. Aside from getting him fired I'd just like him to do his job, but I don't see the path to that outcome either.

Any advice?
posted by pandabearjohnson to Work & Money (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Document the things he does that affects your job performance directly.

Don't cover for his mistakes.

Beyond that, you can't do anything if you're not in a position to fire him yourself. I'd work on my own stress levels so he wouldn't bring me down, if I were you.
posted by xingcat at 1:29 PM on October 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

i don't think its a matter of 'seeming like a baby' if you choose not to do someone else's work. i'm assuming that the report is a report of all the work done over the month. if the report isn't there, who does that reflect upon? you or him?

if you can frame the situation as 'hey, he didn't even file the report, what else do you think he may have missed?', then you may have more leverage in getting this guy's act cleaned up.
posted by raihan_ at 1:30 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

i would go back to him and tell him that he needs to write the report, since it's a report of his work, and you won't be able to do that for him and need it to move forward. do not make it a request; make his writing a report a fact because that is what it is.
posted by violetk at 1:31 PM on October 8, 2012 [7 favorites]

I don't want to seem like a baby in front of mgmt "oh, i can't write the report b/c I wasn't there. its the other guy's job, etc."

How is it "babyish" to point out that you cannot report on things that happened during a time during which you weren't even present?

Try this: "I asked Joe about it, but he hasn't given me one. I wasn't here to know what was going on, so I'm not sure how to proceed in getting a report for you." Then shut up and let them figure out what to do.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:02 PM on October 8, 2012 [13 favorites]

1) Try to find ways to relax on your Type A tendancies as they are hurting you, not helping you. Different people have different methods for getting things done, and this person probably has their priorities aligned in another direction. They may need management, or not even know or understand how to fit into half the systems you have in place for how things are organized as they are now. If he does know then he probably needs reminding. Repeatedly. So be prepared to suggest further guidance if they find it too difficult to help you out with these matters.

2) Make a list of the things that you need done from this coworker. This involves anything from him filling out the monthly report to keeping paperwork organized to refilling staples into the stapler. Cross off the nitpicky things. CC your boss on this so that person is in the loop on the things you are presenting to your coworker in order to try to work with them better.

3) Practice patience and kindness. I know this is hard, and you are stressed out, but never ever let your anger show at work. You can show frustration, you can show disappointment, but the last thing you need to bring into the office is the anger you feel. Find an outlet outside of work for this emotion. If you hold onto this you may find yourself the target of a firing instead of the person who really needs to get his act together.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 2:05 PM on October 8, 2012 [17 favorites]

How crucial are the paperwork-type things to the job? It could be that your boss knows he's disorganized but tolerates it because he's good at the stuff that matters.

Stop doing this guy's paperwork for him; he has no motivation to do it if he knows you'll pick up the slack, and as long as someone's doing it, management won't see the problem. Keep your own stuff organized as you wish, but don't take responsibility for others' organization. If you do, you eventually get stuck with cleaning up after everyone. Push back on stuff that you absolutely need him to do; let the rest go, and if he keeps dropping the ball it'll show.

And I agree that you will do well to relax your hyperorganized tendencies. It'll give you fewer headaches (literally, in your case), plus you'll get along better with coworkers with different organizational styles - and they may be more amenable to doing paperwork that helps you if they don't sense any uprightness from your end.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:56 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Speaking as someone who is not terribly organized or terribly concerned with being hyper-organized, and as someone who would probably be driving a little nuts working with a super type A personality, I think I'd want to be approached with a little compassion. I'd honestly appreciate a few, brief tips about how you do your process. For example, next month when he's back, could you every so often drop by and say something like, "I noticed x didn't seem to go smoothly for you. I always create a file as soon as y happens, so when it comes time to finish x, I have everything in one place. Otherwise, it's so hard to find what I need."

I think it would help to look at him as someone who genuinely does want to be organized, rather than a slacker who should lose his job. Maybe if you try to gently help him out (without overwhelming him with a laundry list of everything he's done wrong), he'll start to improve and ask you for your advice.

The last thing I could say that might help motivate him, is to try to point out how his failure to perform certain tasks affects other people in the organization, or the organization itself.
posted by hannahelastic at 3:02 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're entering the resentment stage of your employment.

He didn't write the report - management will find out and there may or may not be consequences.

He will never change. Ultimately, it may get to a point with them where he is more drama than he's worth, but who knows.

Things you can do - your job, look for other jobs. I'm not saying leave, I'm just saying, look around. It is difficult to come back from the point of resentment.
posted by heyjude at 3:27 PM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Start practicing saying "it wasn't a good fit for me"

You will either be let go, or you will leave. Begin preparing.
posted by roboton666 at 4:34 PM on October 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

What you have is a square peg and a round hole.

You can keep trying to bash a square peg into a round hole. It's going to destroy the structure, create lots of splinters, and be extremely difficult in the meantime.

Or, you can hope for a new peg, but that isn't about to happen anytime soon.

The only thing you can do is fix the problem itself: one thing isn't fitting the other thing. One thing has to morph.

Option (1) Get everyone on the same page, with buy-in about the major responsibilities of the job. This will clarify for everyone, including you.

Have a meeting with your co-worker and manager, and possibly the person above your manager.

Together, brainstorm all the components of your job(s). What needs to get done each week, month, year? Determine the crucial steps to making such an elaborate job-share work out. Detail the processes for each step, where and how files are stored, and how you can each leave a short update with any remaining issues for the returning worker.

At the end of this meeting, draw up very clearly organized documents - checklists, basically. Not narratives.

Have everyone sign off on those documents as the understood protocol.

At each turnover, the outgoing coworker sends an email to both the incoming coworker and their manager. The email will outline the 15 steps required for that month with a basic check-mark, initials or a short note documenting the outcome. If a monthly report is to be uploaded, include a direct link to it, or better yet, a copy of it to make it easy for everyone to glance over.

Keep doing your checklist and email. If your co-worker doesn't follow through, it'll be instantly visible to everyone.

The bonus is that by outlining the specific components of your job, you'll see what is necessary and what isn't required. Maybe you're doing stuff you don't have to do!

Option (2) - Does this have to be the specific peg for the specific hole? Can you change the requirements somehow? Maybe there is a neighboring hole that will fit the peg a little better?

Figure out what is absolutely mandatory for this person to do on his own, as it is now. What can be delegated? Set him up for success. You say he's excellent at his job and terrible with paperwork. Well, why not have some help with the paperwork?
- Can a secretary sit down with him, and he can dictate the report on his final morning?
- Can the secretary go over the checklist with him two days before his final morning to identify outstanding issues?
- Can some other person on the team be responsible for certain tasks for both of you?

The key is: Figure out his point of pain, and make it better. The solution is not DO IT MY WAY OR ELSE!!!! The solution is the thing that will work. The status quo isn't working. What will?

Set up a series of meetings to outline the issue and a few ideas of how to solve. Do it with the spirit of can-do fixit problem solver, not aggression, or threatening, or passive-aggressive superiority or any of that BS. Do it like an engineer: "How will we solve this problem? Let's break it down..."

It will help all of you. And you'll be showing initiative and creative thinking.

Finally: do a bunch of exercise before work. It'll help endorphins.
posted by barnone at 4:41 PM on October 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

Save that email asking for the September report, and his reply. For all future communications with him: cc both your immediate supervisor and the boss above them. (Save those emails too, as well as Co-worker's replies.) This will cover your rear plus document his failures.
posted by easily confused at 5:07 PM on October 8, 2012

Is the job so great it's worth dealing with this? If it is, make sure your managers know it's affecting you like this and if there's no resolution, you'll have to leave.

If it's not so great, just start looking.
posted by colin_l at 5:09 PM on October 8, 2012

Consider the possibility that he effectively can't read or write. I've found that to be the case with a lot of people in business. I don't know if they have undiagnosed dyslexia or what, but until their dying breath they will resist anything that involves reading or writing, and I think it's because they can't.

Only take responsibility for your own work, do not express emotion, just state the fact that you're unable to move forward until you have the monthly report (if that's the case).
posted by tel3path at 1:53 AM on October 9, 2012

Icepick in the eye will only satisfy you for two months.

When you come back is there any overlap between your time and his? That would be the time to have a "catch up meeting" with your supervisor and the two of you. Let the supervisor see for him/her self the dis-organized state of your co-worker. Even if there is no overlap a meeting with the supervisor on day one will prove fruitful.
posted by Gungho at 7:10 AM on October 9, 2012

Read the book "Coping with Difficult People".
posted by viconius at 7:11 AM on October 25, 2012

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