What to do When Your Coworker Says "I'm Just Here for the Paycheck"


“If the world attacks and you slide off track, remember one fact, I got your back.” — Will Smith


If your coworkers aren't engaged, your work is harder

I’d venture to say that at some point in your career, you’ve heard someone say, “I’m just here for the paycheck”. According to the 2017 State of the American Workplace1, only 51% of American workers are engaged at work. The odds are that you’ve worked with a co-worker that is disengaged. (Worse yet, you could be that co-worker.)

Because disengaged employees cost employers billions of dollars each year, there has been a tremendous amount published about the issue -- from the perspective of the employer. So, what do you do if you’re not the employer but a coworker that is impacted by a disengaged employee on your team? I believe that is a conversation worth having.

The actively engaged are easy to spot

No one has to stop and scratch their head if you ask them to point out who the actively engaged people are at work. The actively engaged stand out because they overcome obstacles, adapt to change, and see the big picture. They inspire, build loyalty, and give to others.

Disengagement impacts the whole team

When people are not engaged, they show up and, at best, just do their assigned work. They need frequent direction, stifle teamwork, and slow creatively. Their pessimistic helplessness causes them to focus on irrelevant tasks, so they don’t get their work done. When they don’t do their share, their responsibilities a shift to other members of the team. This increased burden can breed further disengagement as team members feel more and more overwhelmed.

Purpose vs. Paycheck

The biggest distinction between the actively engaged and those that are just “there for the paycheck” has do to with purpose. The actively engaged are purpose-driven “givers” but those motivated by the paycheck are “takers.” Dan Pink, in his book Drive describes the three great motivators of engagement: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. I wholeheartedly believe that purpose is the most significant driver of them all. Those motivated by purpose approach their work radically differently that those motivated by paycheck. I’ve seen the transformational power of purpose when serving along side of people during some of the most devastating disasters of our times. Take a look at my TEDx talk to hear about Augie and the impact that he had on my life: https://youtu.be/YWyo1qlNd3g.

3 Steps to engage your coworker

Purpose: Demonstrate the power of your “WHY”

“When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.” – Simon Sinek

Take the time to share with your coworker the “why” behind your passion. For example, some of the organizations that I work with are mission driven. They have a passion to “care for the poor and vulnerable in their community.” Usually, when purchasing orders gloves that are not as sturdy, people get upset and complain. If your purpose is to provide quality care efficiently so you can give away more free care, the gloves don’t seem like much of a burden at all. Purpose changes everything. If you share with your coworker your “why” and make an effort to describe your purpose, they will begin to grasp how you keep such a positive attitude and stay engaged. If you are not sure of your why or you have a difficult time putting it into words, it is worth taking some time to ponder it. Purpose-driven motivation is contagious. Not everyone will become infected but it is bound to spread.

Power: Actively engage and empower them

"Love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.

It's just like a magic penny,
Hold it tight and you won't have any.
Lend it, spend it, and you'll have so many
They'll roll all over the floor."

— Malvina Reynolds, 1955

Model and discuss the strategy of giving and the power of reciprocity. People that believe in a scarcity economy say, “If I don't look out for #1, then who's going to?" But that is a very lonely and divisive strategy. In fact, when people use that strategy, others will let them step out in front of a bus and just shrug. The most valuable people in any organization are not the ones that grab for themselves; the most valuable are the ones that give to others. People will do anything for team members that serve the team and don't care who gets the credit. Over time, share your philosophy of empowering others and challenge your coworker to take the risk of putting others first. When they do, be sure to acknowledge their efforts.

Invest: Make the effort to understand

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant? — Henry David Thoreau


In 2013, the Cleveland Clinic produced a movie about empathy. Once you see it (https://youtu.be/cDDWvj_q-o8) you will never forget it…ever. All too often we have an opinion before we take the time to understand. I have found the following two questions to be powerful and the answers enlightening:

  • “So, what keeps you up at night?”
  • “What are you celebrating in your life?”

In the Gallup’s Q122 survey, the standard for measuring engagement, seven of the twelve items can be directly impacted by a coworker:

  1. In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  2. Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
  3. Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
  4. At work, do your opinions seem to count?
  5. Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
  6. Do you have a best friend at work?
  7. In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
  8. In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?

When we take an interest and invest in each other with tenderness, compassion, and understanding, it is like planting seeds and tending soil. Growth happens and fruit is produced. Of course, from time to time, all of us struggle with occasional weeds that need to be plucked. That’s what friends are for.

What's been your experience? I'd love to hear your story.

  1. http://www.gallup.com/reports/199961/state-american-workplace-report-2017.aspx ↩︎
  2. https://q12.gallup.com/public/en-us/Features ↩︎