What do I do about my co-workers that just goof around all day?

What do I do about my co-workers that just goof around all day?

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  1. A reader writes:  “I work in a pretty busy office and have plenty to do all day.  I get so tired of co-workers who seem to be standing up talking to others all day long, or who are on their cell phones all day talking to friends and family.  I’ve mentioned this to my boss, who says he’ll take care of it, but it sure doesn’t seem like he even talks to them or lets them know how annoying it is for those of us who work hard.  It’s especially frustrating when I’m working a deadline project and one of them comes over to chat with me about something I could care less about.  What should I do?”

    It’s a sure sign you’re headed for management material if the sight of a co-worker standing around doing nothing but talking gets on your nerves.  But seriously, it is frustrating to the point of maddening sometimes when you’re kicking out tons of work, sticking to your deadlines, meeting expectations and then realize that the guy next to you on his personal cell phone calls all day is getting paid exactly what you’re getting paid.

    To begin with, you should deal with anyone that heads into your personal work space to goof off with a little subtle peer pressure.  After the obligatory response to their usual “Good morning, how’s it going?” you can reply, “Good morning,” (no reason to be rude, now),”I’m very busy this morning and I’m sure you must be too. Hope you see you at break when we can chat for a while.”  Use your body language to give the person a strong message to go away.  Avert your eyes to your paperwork, turn your body towards your PC’s keyboard and begin to organize your paperwork for whatever it is you’re working on.  99% of the time your co-worker will get the hint and get back to work.

    So what about the one time he/she doesn’t get the hint, and wants to stay and talk to you?  Then you will need to take the process a step further by closing the conversation with, “Look, I’d really love to talk but I have so much that needs to get off my ‘to-do’ list today I just can’t afford the waste of time. Since you’re here and not at your desk, are you available to help me with some of my projects so I can get done early?”  After picking their jaw up off of the floor, the traveling goof-off will probably stumble through some kind of story about how much work they have to do, and then take off to make sure they don’t end up with any of your projects to work on.

    If you’re good with confrontational situations, you could speak directly to the biggest offenders about their poor work ethics, and that could have some dire consequences for you, like getting the cold shoulder from them for the rest of your life.  They may make it a personal vendetta to make sure every error you make is broadcast throughout the office grapevine as soon as it happens.  So, unless you have a great rapport with people and are able to articulate your gripes and complaints about their behaviors in a way that seems positive with a focus on career growth and development, it’s better to leave the direct approach to the guys who get the big bucks.

    In talking with the boss about these situations, you really want to avoid language that will make you look like the prison stool pigeon.  Unless all of your co-workers are blind, deaf and dumb you can be assured that your boss already knows who the goof offs are in your office.  He’s probably had them in front of him many times to get explanations about poor work, missed deadlines or because of attendance issues.  Taking your complaint to him may fall on deaf ears because he’s already dealing with them on bigger issues.  So be sure to take your complaint to him in the form of “This problem (the traveling goof off) seems to be an issue in the office because of the many disruptions to the daily workflow.  As part of a solution to this problem, I would like to suggest….” And that’s where you give your boss a few ideas of how to have this problem handled to your satisfaction.

    Believe it or not, your boss will probably appreciate the fact that you’ve not only brought a problem to him, but provided him with some avenues of solution to that problem to consider. (I told you that you were headed for management!) The benefit to this approach is that you don’t end up looking like a tattletale, but rather you start to look like a problem solver, and that’s always a positive plus for your career. 

    Truthfully, there may not be much you can do to change your coworkers bad work habits, so remember not to get frustrated over things you have no control about.  Remember that what you really have control over is what you do, and how you handle yourself in those times when you’ve let their goofing off get to you.  Sit down, take a deep breath and just relax.  Make sure that you don’t join in their conversations to give them a good understanding that you don’t want to make time to goof off with them.  Stick to your game plan of letting your body language speak volumes and put in a working suggestion for a solution with the boss when you can. 

    It’s a good thing that someone else’s goofing off at work bothers you because it shows that you are conscientious and take responsibility for what is assigned to you.  But be sure to learn to “let it go” when it seems like the other guy is goofing off and nothing is being done about it.  You never know what’s going on behind the scenes, because you can’t be advised of individual personnel matters so just be satisfied with the fact that you know you’re doing good work and care about your job.  It’s a sure thing your boss is well aware of your hard work and effort, too. 

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