The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

September 27, 2013

Career Coach Q&A: How to deal with lazy co-workers

By Joyce E. A. Russell
Special to The Washington Post

— Career Coach Joyce E.A. Russell answered questions from readers during an online chat last week. Here are excerpts, edited for grammar and clarity.

Q: I work in a department of "Chatty Cathys." Only three people on the team are making the quota on a daily basis. Our supervisor recognizes which people are doing their job, but is not punishing those who do not. While I am quitting soon, is there anything I can do?

A: Sounds like you want to inform someone about the problems with people not doing their jobs. If that is the case, is there a procedure in your firm for exit interviews with people who are quitting? If you feel this information will be kept confidential, then you can be honest about your concerns about people not meeting their goals and no action being taken for this. This is a valid concern. If, however, you feel that the exit interview will NOT be kept in confidence and you don't have a manager you feel comfortable sharing this information with, then I would suggest not saying anything.

Q: I interviewed for a job this week and am waiting to hear if I made it past the first round. This would be for my first supervisory job in my career. In the interview, I got the sense that they are looking for someone to shake things up, and possibly rearrange (or remove!) staff. Is it a good idea to take on this kind of job as a first-time supervisor? If they offer the job to me, is it appropriate to first ask to meet the staff I would be supervising to get a sense of their personalities?

A: You certainly want to get a better sense from them about what your goals are to be for this job. It is definitely important for you to meet with all of your staff before making any organizational changes. You can set up one-on-one meetings with each of them for 30 to 45 minutes to learn more about what they enjoy doing in their jobs, what their major challenges seem to be, how they want to grow in the firm, etc. This would be a great way for you to better understand your staff before making any changes. Remember that those first decisions you make (if you fire, transfer, demote or promote people) will tell others a lot about your leadership style. So, it is better to first collect information from your bosses as well as your staff. Then, you can go back to your bosses to share your insights before making any changes.

Q: The poster stated that he/she "got the sense" from one interview that they wanted to make drastic changes. I recommend caution about jumping to a conclusion about what they want. Why not just come right out and ask? Just say, "I'm getting a sense that you want to make changes. Could you elaborate on what those prospective changes are?" A friend in the same situation erroneously inferred the same thing and yammered on about how she would "turn around" and "shake up" the place if they hired her for her very first supervisory job during an interview at a different company from her current employer. I heard from the interviewers that they were just exploring what she would do if hired. They gave her a rope and let her hang herself.

A: Great insights. It is always important to verify what you have heard. That is why I would suggest asking more clarifying questions of management, then meeting with staff, and then going back to management to share what you have learned — all before making any changes.

Q: What do you do when you get bored at work? I get assigned to work on projects, but sometimes, there is some downtime between when one project ends and the next one is ready to begin. I am still expected to show up to work even though I don't have a project. There is only so much time I can spend reading industry-related blogs and checking out new technologies on the Internet before I get bored. I need a task to work on to keep my focus, but my team leads don't have any.

A: Are there managers there who can give you some guidance on the hot or more visible areas for the firm — the strategic directions of the firm? If so, this might give you some ideas of which areas to be "studying" in your downtime at work. Are there committees at work that you can sign up for that would give you more visibility? Or organizational teams (sports, community activities) that could enable you to extend your network at work to meet other colleagues in other departments? Sometimes getting on other types of committees, task forces or community projects sponsored by the firm can help you to better connect with others in the company. This can lead to new opportunities as well as others learning who you are (to eventually put you on projects in their groups). I also would reach out to an HR person or other higher-level manager to seek some guidance here.

Russell is the vice dean of the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Programs offered by the school. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership, negotiations, and career management.