How to Rescue Team Morale from the Deadbeat in the Office

How are there professionals who seem to have made careers out of “looking busy”? Deadbeats excel at flying under the radar. They are smart, agreeable and they appear to be actively engaged professionals. They make promises. They deliver in small ways or they ask a member of their team to follow up. They speak eloquently. They project confidence. They seem “in the know.”

Deadbeats’ “tell” is that they are eager to involve someone else. They seldom know an answer in real time; they report back. They are chronically disorganized and they heavily rely on on their colleagues for direction and support.          

Having a deadbeat on the team crashes morale. It makes the rest of the team feel like suckers. It’s hard to call a colleague out for this behavior, but it’s frustrating not to. Polite silence is mistakenly interpreted as a lack of awareness. So the deadbeats assume they are getting away with it, further infuriating the team.

If you are in the unfortunate position of carrying extra weight at work, here are some ideas for how to address it:  

A deadbeat boss

Deadbeat supervisors are likely versed in leadership language, but they doesn’t have a deep grasp of what it actually means to be a leader. It surprising that those without the necessary skills could land a leadership role. They may have earned the job because they have some of the requisite experience and are savvy enough to interview well or because they are well-connected.

Deadbeat managers use the tools and resources at their disposal to fuel their grift rather than to advance the efforts of their unit. Deadbeats’ trick is that they are operating an illusion, so a communication strategy that may work is to beg the illusion.

Grant that your boss is who he or she claims to be. Then make targeted requests in situations like team meetings where he or she can’t dodge the question. Try these examples:

  • The team would really benefit from your leadership here. Can you help guide us through that project?
  • We could really use your expertise to pull this together. Can you advise us about how you’ve handled similar projects in the past and give us some tips about how to proceed in this case?    

You are clearly asking for guidance, and politely reminding your supervisor that the team is counting on him or her. Asking your boss questions that are appropriate to his or her role calls out the grift in a professional way.

It also represents a line in the sand. You are pointedly asking to be managed. You can then document your efforts and share your feedback with HR or a higher-level manager if a future meeting with them becomes necessary. Now you have data to include; for example: “I directly asked my supervisor for his guidance and help at our team meeting when I asked these questions. Here is how my supervisor followed up.”

Be polite. Be professional. Ask for what you need. You don’t have to enable this behavior.

A deadbeat co-worker

It’s hard to address issues that seem a bit more personal than professional when it comes to one of your professional peers. How do you tactfully tell a coworker “I think you’re a slacker?”

But you also don’t want to go right to your manager before attempting to talk things through. This is where documentation can be helpful. Write down specific examples when you see the behavior occur so that you can discuss tangible occurrences rather than vague generalizations.

Save texts or emails that detail instances where your co-worker didn’t come through or tried to get you to take on responsibilities that are not yours. Then start a conversation that opens the topic in a non-threatening way such as:

  • “It seems like it may be unclear where our workload lines are drawn. Can we outline that together so that there is no confusion?”  
  • “Here are a couple instances where it seems like our workflow is undefined. It would be helpful to clarify that because I’m concerned that our current paradigm is causing me to get behind in my work. Are you feeling that too?”  

If this conversation doesn’t yield results, then you can discuss the problem and your efforts to address it with your supervisor.   


If either of these cases is the one you are facing, refrain from fueling the gossip mill or venting too much with your colleagues. Getting a reality check is always helpful, but too much negative chatter leads to workplace drama. You don’t want that.

A deadbeat can suck the morale out of a team, especially if the deadbeat is your manager. You deserve better.