Incompetent Coworkers: How To Deal With Them [Guide]

Workplace Feb 16, 2021

When you have coworkers that are just too incompetent to get the job done, how do you deal with the situation? It's certainly not the easiest of things depending on your role.

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If you're on a similar level of authority compared to them (i.e. an employee rather than a manager or vice versa), it may be hard to have your voice heard by superiors.

Incompetent coworkers not only make your life harder than it needs to be, but they create deep trouble within the company's existing processes for the long-term.

What Makes Coworkers "Incompetent"?

what makes coworkers incompetent

Before you go pointing fingers at people in your office or remote environment, think long and hard whether the person on the other end has the tools necessary to get their job done:

  • Are they a new hire or a long-time employee?
  • Did their role recently change or was it always the same?
  • Is leadership giving them less resources than they need to work?

There are a million reasons why a coworker might not be able to get their job done properly based on their circumstances. Other times, they may just be very bad at what they do.

If you're truly convinced that a coworker of yours is incompetent at what they do because of the deliverables provided, you have to report this to upper management or HR.

A coworker that consistently delivers bad work which isn't in line with the rest of the pipeline will undoubtedly make the company veer towards the wrong direction in the long-term.

Plus, it's just frustrating to deal with…

So, what can you do about it?

3 Options To Deal With Incompetent Coworkers

Your role in this equation is not to be judgy against the person on the other end but rather the business outcome of their action. It's important you don't go into personal territory here.

There are 3 ways you can handle this:

Option 1: Report The Coworker To Upper Management for Poor Performance

report incompetent coworkers to upper management

The first things you should do if you're on the same level as your coworker is to report them to upper management. There's nothing you can personally do about them being "bad" after all.

While their work may personally affect your daily performance, it's important to keep things on the business level (i.e. keep your reporting professional!):

  • Things your coworker is doing wrong that affect your daily routine
  • Ways in which their behavior could affect the business at large
  • Whether they represent company culture working like this

… these are all things that make sense to report on.

Give your manager something to work with like a badly-done deliverable, or an email sent to you that shows carelessness for getting things done effectively.

With that, always keep in mind that you have a person on the other end of the spectrum, so be respectful of their circumstances and only talk about how this affects the business.

Option 2: Deal With The Incompetent Coworkers Face to Face

deal face to face with incompetent coworker

This is a tough pill to swallow but it may need to get done—even if you're not a manager. Confronting someone face to face is much more effective than hiding behind a screen.

Coworkers which display incompetent behavior hurt everyone working with them, which isn't fair for the people who give their 200% collaborating on the project.

The problem with confronting a person at your same level of authority face to face is that they may not listen to you. In that case, you want to go back to option 1.

But if you see the potential for getting things sorted through a bit of a discussion, you have to take the steps necessary to get the person to provide value:

1) Make your voice heard

You want to keep a line of communication with the coworker, otherwise you're simply giving in to their way of working which would hurt the entire pipeline.

Immediately let the colleague know that their work is not producing the desired results, and the deliverables they send out are subpar and not in line with quality standards.

Don't be afraid to be vocal about the fact that someone's work isn't good enough, that's what you're going to be rewarded for—caring about the company's success.

2) Reiterate the message day in day out

If they don't hear it once, say it twice. If they don't hear it twice, say it 10 times. When coworkers are incompetent at what they do, you need to address the issue daily.

Why? Because it affects everything. Your entire pipeline depends on the deliverables of your coworkers and if you can't get them to give you what you need, you have to say it.

It can be discouraging to be the only one being vocal about this stuff but it will pay off in the long-term as the coworker will feel increasing pressure to do better.

3) Keep the coworker accountable

As you keep reiterating the message, keep your coworkers accountable for the quality of work that they deliver. Don't just stop at them sending you the report—look into it.

Pick their work apart and keep them accountable:

  • Were all the requirements taken into account?
  • Was the document produced based on company guidelines?
  • Is it safe for you to send the deliverable onto the next step in the process?

Whether the coworker has done good or bad, communicate it. If their work isn't done well, don't fix it for them, send it back with the appropriate feedback.

Even as an employee, your goal is to create an environment where people stay accountable for what they need to do—not do everything yourself.

4) Involve management

You always want management to interact in the process in some form. Ask them if there are any checkpoints where they should review the work themselves…

Also, make sure that the documents are clearly labeled to show who's done what to prevent miscommunications or, worse, being attributed bad work.

When nothing else can be done, involving management is always the right thing to do as they'll have the authority and power to turn things in your favor.

Don't give up if the coworker still shows signs of incompetence during this 4-step process. The only time you have to worry is when management doesn't seem to care about it...

Option 3: Start Looking for a Better Work Environment (i.e. Another Job)

job search because of incompetent coworkers

When nothing else works, and management seems to be unwilling to "punish" or do anything about a coworker that you know is incompetent at what they do, you don't have many options.

Please note that we're not recommending you leave your job because of a coworker; it's best to keep it until you know you have a better opportunity in your hands.

And that's exactly what the 3rd option is…

Looking for a better job opportunity.

If you have to deal with incompetent coworkers all day, every day, at some point you'll grow tired of it. Finding a new job isn't easy, but it's better than working on deadend projects.

The beautiful thing is that you don't have to sacrifice your job security to find a better job opportunity, you can use software to get the work done for you:

  1. Sign up for a forever free account at LoopCV
  2. Create your first "loop" (a way to find job opportunities)
  3. Upload your updated CV or resume and write a cover letter
  4. Activate your loop and let it find new job opportunities on your behalf

That's it, you've gotten yourself a way to find and analyze other job opportunities which may be worth considering instead of having to deal with incompetent coworkers all day long.

Don't Let Your Skills Go Unused

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Incompetent coworkers will create a work environment where what's produced is always a matter of reactive instead of proactive behavior. And that's bad for business.

Your skills are worth more than constantly having to rectify the wrongs done by colleagues in the workplace so finding a job that truly makes use of your skills is crucial.

If you believe that your company is unwilling to let go of or rectify your coworkers' mistakes, then you need to start looking for job opportunities elsewhere.

We recommend creating a few loops (2-3) to start with and see which ones perform best based on what type of role you're looking for and keywords to filter job listings.



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George Avgenakis

CEO @ Loopcv