Workplace Doctor: Dubai worker surrounded by slackers – but what to do?

I work for an organisation where it is almost impossible for anyone to get fired. This means that the underperformers in the team receive the same salary as I do, and yet I feel I deliver far more. This bugs me. How can I learn to ignore this irri­tation to ensure I only focus on what I achieve rather than what others don’t? YT, Dubai 

Dealing with the impact of colleagues’ underperformance can be a difficult experience. Delivering and working hard while those around you are unmotivated and underachieve is hugely frustrating. It can weigh you down psychologically and slow you down in terms of delivering your own results. 

Performance management makes up a significant part of every manager’s job and this means managers should deal with poor performance. But to be a colleague of a poor performer in a culture where it is not managed effectively can be equally difficult. You experience the backlash associated with poor performance – projects not being delivered, poor communication, low quality work and a lack of motivation, without any direct power to address the situation. You could continue to feel frustrated and helpless or you could try and manage the situation more effectively for yourself. Don’t ignore the problem, as it will fester and demotivate you further.

The first step is to consider what is causing the problem. Be a skilful listener and observer – this will give you a more accurate understanding of the situation and stop you jumping to any unnecessary conclusions. Do you think the people are simply a poor fit for the job? Do they lack the necessary skills? Do they want more from their managers? Or do they lack moti­vation – if so, why might this be?

It may be partly down to them, but the organisation will have to take some responsibility as most people do not join a company bored and disinterested. Organisations make them that way. They may not have been dangling enough carrots to keep people interested. Can you think of the last time they were praised or rewarded for good work?

Employees can begin to slack off if they perceive their hard work in the past has gone unrecognised. Or the reverse of this, if there are no penalties for poor performance, some employees may feel they can get away with not performing then will continue to do so.

Once you begin to understand what is demotivating people, you need to communicate your understanding of the situation, the motivation of those in question and your past experience to higher management. Ask around to see if anyone shares your view by conversing with those in your organisation who are performing well.

Start the conversation with higher management based around what you are achieving rather than what you think others are not. Focus on the positives of your own behaviour and if needs be express your (and others’) concerns about those who are not keeping up and the impact of this behaviour. Then maybe share some information about what the organisation could do to increase indi­vidual and team motivation. Don’t just present problems, look for solutions for improvement.

The last thing you must do is to learn to live with this feeling. If you are a driven and motivated individual then it can be a regular disappointment when others do not match your hard work and enthusiasm. Some people are motivated by solving challenges and achieving goals and others are motivated by their pay cheque at the end of the month.

Your organisation seems to be struggling to differentiate good performance from average or below par performance and raising it to management may help, but they may not listen. If they don’t, then I wouldn’t want you to become demotivated and flat, instead I want you to think about the reasons why you work so hard – salary may be simply one piece of your motivational puzzle. Place your attention on that part and it could make this situation a little more manageable.

Remember other people’s be­ha­viour is their own, you can influence it but you can’t change it, but look into yourself and your own motivation as well as how you choose to react or not react to this situation.

Doctor’s prescription:

Working in an organisation where poor performers are not dealt with will frustrate those who choose to perform well. Dealing with this situation requires gaining an insight into the motivation of others, as well as reconnecting with our own motivation. Once you have a thorough understanding of the situation, only then it is worth discussing with management. The hope is that they seek to rectify the situation by helping people improve rather than doing nothing.

Alex Davda is a business psychologist and consultant at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and is based in the Middle East. Email him at for advice on any work issues.

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