The workplace has many dynamics and personalities. One of the worst personalities is the unresponsive coworker. Unresponsive coworkers can make others feel as if they don’t know how to work with colleagues, or there are more important things to do. While this may not be the case, it can cause friction in the workplace. Knowing how to deal with unresponsive coworkers can alleviate trouble down the road while handling the problem with diplomacy and tact.
Why would someone be unresponsive?
People that are unresponsive to their coworkers can have many reasons why they are acting this way. The bad part is that actions like this can make coworkers feel like they have done something wrong, create a stressful environment and that the unresponsive person is not only rude but unreliable. When figuring out how to deal with unresponsive coworkers, it’s important to consider the source.
How can you tell if a coworker is being unresponsive?
Here are a few scenarios:
- A client called and their issue needs to be handled right away. The coworker with the information knows the situation but hasn’t provided what was needed or isn’t answering any messages requesting the information.
- A project is due, and the team wants to meet to figure out the final steps and the person isn’t responding to emails or phone calls.
There are a few ways on how to deal with unresponsive coworkers. Standard business etiquette for any employee should be that everyone uses certain rules of engagement, but that’s not always the case. As a rule of thumb, phone calls should be returned in a reasonable time. 24 hours should be the norm, but no longer than 48. Additionally, correspondence should have a response no later than the next day, unless it’s the weekend. It’s in poor taste to leave people hanging. If an answer to the correspondence needs more attention, an acknowledgment should be given to let the other party know the status.
In the evolving tech world, it is very easy to send a co-worker an instant message or even an SMS (text). In fact, text messages should never go past an hour or two unless the person is out of the office for the day. There are some people who do not communicate with co-workers until they are in the office. If their policies are to leave work and keep their other life separate, they should immediately respond as soon as they return to the office.
There may be valid reasons why the employee is unresponsive. They may have a heavy workload and cannot take on anything else. They may even be so busy that they feel it is okay not to respond in a timely manner. Employees who are unfocused and unorganized may also suffer from the habit of not responding in a timely manner. Another reason why employees may be unresponsive is that they are rarely in the office. If most of the correspondence is through email and they don’t check them when they are away, it may seem as if they are unresponsive when in fact, they may not have gotten the message. Finally, there may be a personal issue going on in the background that has hindered their concentration and work ethic. Getting to the bottom of things before reporting the employee may alleviate the problem.
How to Deal with Unresponsive Coworkers
It can be difficult when formulating ways on how to deal with unresponsive coworkers. In an office where the morale is high, employees acting in this manner can disrupt the flow of things. Once it has been reported that an employee is being unresponsive, it is up to the manager to address the employee and figure out what is going on. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Call a meeting
Send a communication to the employee that a meeting is scheduled. Do not tell them what the meeting is about because you want to see how they respond to your message. This will provide additional information on how the employee handles things. If the employee takes their time in responding, this is another sign that they do not take their role seriously or the time of others into account.
2. Have a conversation
Once the meeting starts, let the employee know why they have been called. Then, start asking questions to determine why the employee is unresponsive. Make sure you ask open-ended questions, so they have a chance to offer in-depth explanations to each question. It is important to allow them to put everything on the table before addressing their behavior.
The employee could be angry that they have returned to the office. If this is one of the issues, the employee must be dealt with accordingly. If the organization is offering a hybrid solution, this may be worth exploring, especially if the employee is a good worker. Unfortunately, personality issues must still be addressed, so the employee must learn to conform to the company’s policies and procedures. Based on their behavior, you may not to give them the option of a hybrid workspace.
3. Be responsive
While you are listening to the employee speak, listen intently to what they have to say. Do not interject but wait for a full response to the questions you ask. When there is silence, do not start talking. Let the employee sit in uncomfortable silence. This will also show them how their unresponsiveness affects their coworkers.
4. Repeat their response
Be clear that you fully understood what the employee said by summarizing their responses to you. This opens the door for additional questions. Active listening helps accomplish this and puts the questions back onto the employee.
5. Discuss a plan of action
This is where you should outline the consequences of their actions. Make sure the employee is aware of the plan and have them ask any questions or go over the intended plan. All actions should be in writing and have the employee’s signature to ensure they know and understand that their behavior is unacceptable, and changes must be made or there will be stronger consequences, including possible termination.
6. Monitor the employee’s behavior
Not only should you monitor the employee to see if their behavior has changed, but it’s important to follow up with their co-workers to determine if the employee is singling out certain employees. It is never easy to deal with difficult employees, especially those that are unresponsive, but it is also a good learning experience for the entire staff on protocols and conduct within the workplace.
Depending on the course of action of the employee, one of two things will occur. Either the employee has decided to be more receptive and engaged in responding to messages, calls, and other things from their co-workers or they are voluntarily choosing to be reprimanded with possible termination. If the employee does not want to change and has no logical reason why they cannot perform under the expectations of the company, you have no other choice but to terminate their employment.
Whether the employee is terminated or not, it is important to have a discussion with the entire staff about office etiquette. This will bring light to the behaviors of certain employees and provides an opportunity for an additional layer of training on how to deal with each other and outside vendors. Because employees have a variety of communication tools at their disposal, there is no reason why timely responses do not take place.
With so many people still working from home or in spaces away from the office, it can be easy to mistake timing issues as being unresponsive. The key is in getting the employee to be more open in discussing the issue at hand. If the employee does not work in the office and this is a recurring problem, may be the employee needs more supervision to be effective in their current role.
These behaviors are indicative of problematic behavior that could balloon out of control if not effectively handled. This may be a good time to revise the employee handbook, policies, and procedures to specifically address these types of behaviors and what will not be tolerated. Human resources and managers must learn how to deal with unresponsive co-workers in any scenario.
Unresponsive co-workers are present in every industry. Their behavior could result in lost money, time, or even injuries on the job. The best course of action is to address it head-on as the problem starts occurring before things get out of hand. Carefully outlining how the company feels in terms of responsiveness helps in supporting a case of subordination in the event the employee continues to negate company culture.
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