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Part II: The Lazy Manager

Dear Office-Politics,

I’ve been working under my current manager for about three years. She is a very nice lady; however, she has a terrible work ethic. Routinely arriving late to work, leaving early, going on shopping trips or hair appointments in the middle of the day, surfing the net or playing Solitaire for several hours, etc.

Because I report directly to her, I am often the recipient of all her work. Any assignment that she receives ends up on my desk. People around the office notice her lack of work ethic, and have talked to HR. However, the HR director has told me and others, “not to be a tattletale.”

There is another person above her on the VP level. I have been debating talking to him, even though HR has told me to not to. I just don’t understand how a company can hang onto someone who doesn’t pull their weight. Please advise. Thank you!!


How Do I Deal With A Lazy Manager

erika andersen

Dear How Do I Deal With A Lazy Manager,

Sadly, you’ve stumbled into what has to be one of the most frustrating situations of modern work life: working for someone you don’t respect. We want to work for people who are good managers and leaders: we like having bosses who are the leaders we want to become. On a more mundane level, we like working for people who do their work, so we don’t have to do it!

It’s also a very difficult situation to address: your boss has every right to delegate work to you, and it’s a judgment call as to whether or not it’s “too much.” I fear you’d be stepping into a major rat’s nest to try to confront her (or others) about it. If she was doing something more clearly inappropriate, I’d suggest that you lean on HR more, or even go directly to her — but this is pretty amorphous, and it would, I predict, come down to “he said, she said,” which certainly wouldn’t benefit you. In other words – sorry about this — it seems unlikely to me that your boss is going to change her behavior. It sounds as though she’s been behaving like this for a long time with no consequences, so why should she do anything differently?

OK, what choices do you have? At the end of the day, you can stay or leave (I find myself saying this to people a lot – in situations like this, it’s easy to hang around for years, waiting and hoping the other person might change.) If you decide to leave, do your level best to find an organization where doing the job is required and rewarded, and where your boss has a reputation for commitment and accomplishment. You’ll be much happier.

If you want to stay, I’d suggest you look around and assess whether your boss’ behavior is the norm, or whether she’s an aberration. If she’s the norm, go back to the previous paragraph….put your resume together and get out of there!

However, if most people seem to be getting rewarded for hard work and good results — then be that kind of person to the nth degree. Be unusually competent, collaborative and self-starting. AND let people know that you’re interested in moving up in the company, if you are (that would, for instance, be a much more productive conversation to have with the person on the VP level than the complaining-about-your-boss conversation). Shine by contrast with your boss: do the work she dumps on you quickly, and with quality. Then, when someone else in the company wants to poach you, jump at the chance.

You’ve noticed, I’m sure, that all my suggestions are about what you can do differently. I get that it doesn’t seem fair for you to solve the problem when she’s the one doing her nails and buying dog beds (or whatever) online. However, I’m just trying to be your reality check here: I can’t see a compelling reason for her to put down the nail polish.

So: be the kind of employee you’d like her to be, and see what happens.

Thank you for writing to Office-Politics – keep us posted!

Best of luck,

Erika Andersen, Author

Erika Andersen is the author of the newly released Growing Great Employees, which is a Kirkus Reviews recommended business book for 2007. Erika Andersen and her colleagues at Proteus International, the company she founded in 1990, offer practical approaches for individuals and organizations to clarify and move toward their hoped-for-future. Much of Erika’s recent work has focused on vision and strategy, executive coaching, and culture change. She has served as consultant and advisor to the CEOs and senior executives of corporations like MTV Networks, Molson Coors Brewing, Rainbow Media Holdings, Union Square Hospitality Group, and Comcast Corporation. Erika is an inaugural author of the Penguin Speakers Bureau, and she has been quoted in the New York Times, Industry Week, Investors’ Business daily, and Fortune.

  1. 6 Answers to “Part II: The Lazy Manager”


    I just read Erika’s reply to my question, and I wanted to thank her — and you — for her swift response and pointed remarks. It’s so nice to be supported, and I appreciate her time in considering my situation. The past week has demonstrated that I will have lots to ask about, so I hope I can continue to send emails as the need arises. I’m reading Survival of the Savvy now….. tremendously helpful! I never realized I was such a strong Power of Ideas person (to a fault). Getting a good education 🙂

    By Letter-writer on Sep 8, 2007

  3. I would advise her to document mostly everything that lazy boss does. You might need some sort of proof later in case of anything. Also, if all else fails-then start applying for other jobs. I know is hard more hard now to find a job, but eventually you’ll find something if you have perseverance.

    By Mayra Alexandra on Jan 22, 2011

  4. I have a really lazy boss. I found that I have now been forced to document everything especially the meetings we have had. I now summarise the points in an email and send it to her. It has got worse as the company is not doing so well and she has the fantastic technique of playing stupid. This seems to be the modern survival technique

    By Luca on Apr 22, 2014

  5. Thanks you for sharing this very useful tip, it’s exactly what i’m dealing with and struggling with also. The tricky part being I actually like the work and functions of my job, so I m not sure i want to move to a different role (assuming someone in the firm poaches me), especially knowing the problem is not about me, it’s about ‘her’. It’s a dilemma to say the least. But thank you for the posting and input, I already feel better now. 🙂

    By john on Mar 28, 2015

  6. I’ve had the misfortune of working for three such people (two at one company – both of which were assigned to me) and, more recently, a third – who is in the midst of what can only be described as a midlife crisis (which apparently necessitates taking off days at a time to “clear his head” – while his responsibilities accrue to me). In the first two situations, senior management knew exactly what was going on, but simply chose to ignore it because replacing these individuals would have been far more trouble than it was worth from their vantage point (and, with competent people working under them, there was no need!) In the latter case, the boss in question is attempting to get placed in an even more senior position at the firm – one that will allow him to shed much of what remains of his day-to-day workload and spread the balance across an even wider swath of people. Needless to say, the transition can’t come fast enough for me (and I’m praying I get earmarked on a completely separate assignment). In this case, management is simply clueless and has completely bought into his game… It helps that my lazy boss works three floors below his direct manager (who also splits his time between two separate cities and does little to monitor my lazy boss’s activity).

    My point in giving all this detail, however, is this. Very rarely are lazy bosses penalized for their lazy behavior (at least in my experience). If anything, it can be a pre-requisite to even more seniority, as those above them may see the “value” in giving them more “high level” assignments (i.e. meetings, big picture decisions, etc.) that require less actual “grunt work” (counterintuitive yes but I’ve seen it play out too many times for it to be an anomaly). And unfortunately, documenting their behavior often is an exercise in futility, because their behavior is known by those above them but removing them would “upset the apple cart” in ways that many senior management teams would like to avoid entirely.

    I stayed with lazy boss #2 for 4.5 years thinking it would get better and it only got worse and worse. As soon as he realized he could get away with something, he’d go a step further and try something even more brazen. (The other reason I stayed – this period of time overlapped some of the darkest days of the recession, so any job was better than no job). The lesson here: ultimately, there is NO solution to this problem. My advice to anyone in this situation is to not react, but to explore your options externally or internally. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it will get better; it won’t. Human nature doesn’t work that way…. Once someone figures out they can get away with something, they will keep doing that and layer in even less effort in the future. Furthermore, working harder and showing initiative may help you cope and can get you recognition; but ultimately, you are just helping your lazy boss and making it less of a necessity that they be replaced.

    I empathize with anyone going through this…. nice or not (and they can go either way), a lazy boss is a nightmare!

    By sam on Feb 4, 2016

  7. For this whole time I thought I had the worst and laziest manager… I’ve been working in a retail shop for more than a year now and my manager is so bad at his job. I don’t even know how the C.E.O thought he could be a good fit in this role. I’m in a bad situation where he is the only person that I work with in the shop so he is the only person that I can put down as a referee for my next role (which I found recently thank god).

    I’ve been job searching since I was 3 months in with this company because of how insanely lazy my manager is. He goes out for 1.5 hours break when he is suppose to have only 30mins, goes out and have is hair done, plays on his phone and ipad at the backroom till its closing time, goes out and do “research” on other stores that’s 3 mins away and would be gone for 15-20 mins!

    This guy is a full grown adult recently turned 50! I can’t believe how he could do all of this and not find anything wrong with his behaviour and how it affects me. Keeping up with cleaning the whole store, serving all these customers, trying to beat budget (and if we do beat budget he get more of the commission cause he does more hours, even though 70% of it would be my sales!), planning and doing all the visual merchandising, sorting out the stock etc…

    I’m just glad I’ll be leaving this work and be in a job which I can use what I’ve studied in university 🙂

    My advice to anyone in this situation is to LEAVE. If you are working under anyone who is a full grown adult and supposedly have experience in that role but you don’t see them doing s***. They will never change and its a fact! They should know what is expected of them in a working environment but they just don’t care.

    Go look for new work, but don’t leave and have no income while job hunting.

    Good Luck!

    By Bee on May 1, 2016

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