Your Office Coach | How to handle slacking, dress-code violating employee who may have friends in high places.

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Q: One of my co-workers is a total slacker. “Melanie” has been here long enough to know exactly what’s expected, but she avoids extra work by saying no one told her what to do. If Melanie dislikes certain tasks, she will complain to our supervisor that they are too complicated for her. Then those unpleasant duties are given to the rest of us.

People say Melanie gets special treatment because she has friends in management. She is even allowed to wear inappropriate attire, a blatant violation of our dress code. This obvious favoritism has everyone upset. I’m ready to go to human resources but would like to get your advice.

A: Since you’re looking for advice, here are three suggestions. First, pick your battles wisely. Instead of unleashing a torrent of accusations about favoritism, friendships and dress code violations, stay focused on the unequal distribution of tasks.

Second, talk about issues that matter to management. If you can show how Melanie’s refusal to do her job is adversely affecting quality, costs, schedules or customers, you are more likely to get their attention.

Finally, don’t become the messenger. If you are the sole complainer, your HR manager may view this as a personality conflict, so take some concerned colleagues along. Otherwise, you might discover why “killing the messenger” became such a popular phrase.

My co-workers make me look bad

Q: Every month, I publish an internal newsletter containing articles submitted by 10 employees from different parts of the company. This information is always due on the first of the month, but two of my “reporters” never meet the deadline. Sending them reminders doesn’t help at all.

As a result, I have to delay publication of the newsletter until their material finally arrives. This not only creates issues with printing and delivery, but it also makes me look bad. How can I make my reminders more effective?

A: People who ignore deadlines drive their more-organized colleagues absolutely nuts. Unfortunately, new and improved reminders are not likely to be the solution. As long as you continue accepting late material, these inconsiderate co-workers will continue ignoring your pleas.

Instead, you must take your power back by refusing to let the stragglers dictate your schedule. Inform all reporters that the publication deadline will now be strictly enforced, even if some articles are missing. If you stick to your guns, either the procrastinators will learn to be more prompt, or you will learn that they need to be replaced.

Previously, you may have rejected this approach because you fear having empty pages. However, the key is to create a workable back-up plan. Locate substitute material to use as a replacement. Simplify layout adjustments by putting the tardy people at the end. If these are regular features, insert a note indicating they were not available.

If you lack the authority to make these decisions, explain the problem to your boss and ask for support. To regain control, you must stop coddling these laggards. So, if they remain unreliable, the ultimate solution is to find some new reporters.

Submit questions to Marie G. McIntyre at yourofficecoach.com.