How to Deal With Coworkers Who Pass the Buck?


A functional corporate environment works like a well-oiled machine. Responsibilities are distributed among the employees, there’s fun, there’s banter, but eventually, everyone has to do their part of the job. 

As a corporate employee, you must have come across that one annoying, lazy-ass coworker who runs away from responsibility like a plague, eventually making you do all the work at least once. You may not want to go running to your managers or team leaders at once as it might make you look like a complainer who can’t get along with your peers. However, when you start noticing that this sort of behaviour has become a norm instead of a one-time thing, something needs to be done.  

It is a fact that there are always a few coworkers in the organization who evade responsibilities, and/or pass on the workload to someone else.  In addition to being annoying, this sort of behaviour by coworkers who don’t pull their weight can undermine the morale and productivity of the entire firm. It harms the entire workforce’s mindset as these colleagues waste valuable time, passes blames, have trouble learning from mistakes and somehow seem to get away with it all. 

Employees learn employees repeat.

Passing on responsibilities and workload, a.k.a. passing the buck is a common practice among coworkers in a workplace. Knowing how to deal with a coworker who wants you to do their work is an important survival skill in the workplace. However, managers and team leaders need to be vigilant in pinpointing this particular behaviour pattern among the employees.

Origins of Passing the buck

The term “Passing the buck” originated from a ritual practised during card games where the players use a marker called a “buck”. The marker is then passed among the players and whosoever ends up with the buck has the responsibility of dealing. Eventually, “passing the buck” became synonymous with passing on responsibility. 

Why Coworkers are Passing the Buck

To deal with coworkers who pass the buck, we first need to get a grasp of the reasons for the occurrence of these behaviour patterns. It’s never the direct approach where someone just walks over to your cubicle and dumps their share of the work on you.
Coworkers who regularly evade responsibility do so skillfully. Therefore, passing the buck might look like constantly being late to work, not submitting a report on time, making a mistake and then making excuses to cover up those mistakes, giving the wrong advice to a client, or blaming someone or something else.

The main reasons coworkers tend to pass the buck might be the fear of not being up to the task or the fear of getting scolded or blamed for any mistakes. It points towards their insecurities and lack of confidence.
Another reason for passing the buck among coworkers is seeing other people do it and getting away with it successfully. One person sees his/her coworker avoid responsibility and put the blame on someone else without facing any serious consequences, and they do the same. Soon, everybody joins in and the game of passing the blame begins as well. As a result, the workflow is disrupted.

Coworkers start complaining and talking behind each other’s backs. Hardworking employees who eventually end up with all the work start to resent those coworkers who are passing the buck. Needless to say, it makes the workplace environment toxic and pushes good employees to quit. 

How to Deal with Coworkers that Are Passing the Buck  

Have a Talk with your coworkers

Indeed, you should not be picking up the slack for lazy or irresponsible coworkers. As much as you want to barge up to their desk and give them a piece of your mind, stop and remember that a peaceful heart-to-heart never hurt anyone. You might get positive results by sitting down and privately speaking to your coworker about their behaviour and the ways it is affecting you.
It also helps in getting to know your coworker better and builds up a positive rapport for you as you went to them first with the issue instead of running to a senior complaining. It might give them a change of heart, or you may find that they want to complete the task after all but couldn’t for whatever reasons. 

Who knows, you might be able to help them with whatever problems they are facing which is stopping them from doing their job and help them get back on track. Meanwhile, you’ll make a loyal friend while brainstorming for a solution. 

Help with finding a solution 

As much as the phrase “If you want something done properly, do it yourself” resonates with you and your situation, you have got to understand that everyone has a role to play in an organization. If for some reason, your coworker doesn’t seem to be able to cope with their responsibility help them get an idea of what is expected of them and how to get the job done instead of doing it for them.

New employees generally are hesitant and scared of messing up. But at the same time, they are afraid to voice this issue and ask for help for the fear of being misjudged or being made fun of. As a result, they wait for somebody else to do the work. Listen to your coworker’s reasons for not contributing fully with an open mind. Find out exactly where your coworker is facing an issue with the work. If appropriate, offer tips for navigating priorities and setting goals.

If you are dealing with a new employee who doesn’t quite have a grasp of their job, help them out by suggesting necessary online/offline courses or guiding them to company-sponsored training to improve their skills.

Communicate boundaries clearly 

Honesty is the best policy. When you are stuck with a coworker who has a habit of passing the buck, being upfront about the issue instead of beating around the bush and trying to get them to do their job might save you a lot of time and yield a better result.

If your coworker shrugs off your concerns and refuses to acknowledge their pass-the-buck behaviour, remain calm and communicate boundaries. Let it be known that you will not pick up their slack under any circumstances. Also, state it clearly that you will not be covering up their mistakes if they try to mess up intentionally and only they are responsible for their share of the work, and the consequences.

Spotting Systematic Issue

It may very well be the case that the reason coworkers pass the buck is not their lack of spirit but instead some issue with the documentation process, or the system itself. While many might use this as an excuse to slack off on the job, others might be facing genuine problems which result in a delayed or disrupted workflow.

It’s better to understand the root cause for the passing-the-buck behaviour among coworkers first instead of starting a new cycle of the blame game. 

Clashing Personality Traits

All sorts of people can be found under one roof in a diverse working environment. Some employees are timid, some pushy and some are self-proclaimed bosses. It is normal for people of different personalities to clash with each other while working on the same or similar projects. 

Small banters might quickly escalate into deep-seated resentment, and some coworkers might start passing the buck because they don’t like the bossy guy, or they don’t quite fit in well with the rest of the team and their system of getting the job done. 

Step out of the “if they don’t do their part why should I care?” mentality and voice your opinion in the next team meeting. Ask managers to clarify the roles and responsibilities of all employees and fair division of work. Voice your thoughts about how everyone on the team has valuable talents to contribute and encourage them to take charge of their designated role instead of acting like passive players.

Involve Management

Does your supervisor know that your coworker is slacking off and passing the buck onto you? If yes, why haven’t they done something about it yet?

If, after employing all the above-mentioned tricks, you are still struggling with coworkers with passing-the-buck tendencies, you have every right to raise a complaint to your team leader. While involving the supervisor on the scene, make sure to express your desire to see your coworker succeed with the right coaching and instruction so you won’t be misjudged as a complainer. State clearly how stressful and demoralizing it is for you to keep picking up the slack for underperforming coworkers. You can also provide documentary proof showing how much time you're spending helping the struggling coworker and how it negatively impacts your overall performance as well as the company’s end goal.


Author Bio:

Name: Shalinee Banerjee

A 27-year-old writer from the small town of Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh, India, pursuing Masters in Arts (English Literature) and has a passion for storytelling. Currently working on honing my skills as a novel writer and working on my first book, the title undisclosed at the moment. Loves reading and gaining knowledge and developing content based on my unique perspective of all the latest happenings around the



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