Every company has employees who are, shall we say, less than great at their jobs. They’re probably not bad people. But they lack the skills, or the motivation, or just the raw intelligence, to do effective work.

Sadly, their problem becomes your problem when you end up having to spend time correcting their mistakes or, worse, doing their work in addition to your own. It can turn an otherwise good job into a very bad job indeed.

Of course, it’s management’s responsibility to address the subject of problem workers, but you can also take steps on your own to improve the situation.

1. Resist openly complaining about your incompetent colleagues. It’s undignified and rarely helps. Try to remember that you’re not perfect at everything either. You may not even know for sure that they’re not doing their best.

2. Where possible, identify those tasks that are within the abilities of the poorer performers, and put them to work on those. Your aim here is to quarantine the incompetence and keep it from spreading. If you’re assigned to work with them on a specific project, be the one who designs the project. This way you can manage the risks, steering around disasters before they can occur by making assignments according to ability, inclination and experience.

3. Don’t forget to keep good records. Put all communications in writing — this is especially helpful with people who habitually fail to do a task and then claim, “No one told me I was supposed to do that.”


4. Of course, if the powers-that-be are unaware of the problem, you need to — politely and professionally and with documentation — make them aware.

5. Look for ways to help the poor workers in your life become better workers. Try to get to know them. Don’t assume bad faith on their part. Ask them what they need (better explanations, more feedback, additional resources). Perhaps with a little positive reinforcement they might even improve and you will have made a friend for life. Even better, if you’re looking to become a manager yourself, helping others to succeed shows what a great leader you can be.

Bottom line: You can’t always choose the people you work with. But you can definitely choose how you respond to and deal with those people.