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A quarter think their colleagues are lazy

Employees tend to view themselves as less inclined to laziness than their colleagues

Only 68% of British people think their colleagues are good at their job, with laziness a major contributing factor, according to research by Dropbox in conjunction with The School of Life.

The survey of 2,000 workers found that a quarter (23%) think of their colleagues as lazy. Respondents also identified such traits within themselves. More than a fifth (21%) said that they ‘never’ do work to the best of their ability, three-quarters (73%) claimed they do not work to the best of their ability even once a week, and just a small minority (7%) said they give work their all each day.

Brennan Jacoby, philosopher at The School of Life, said that there could be some truth to the idea that many are lazy. “It’s a complex question, and there’s no one answer, but fundamentally people have a natural inclination towards laziness – and without clear roles and actions we are drawn towards loafing and freeriding,” he said.

“It may sound harsh, but most of us are guilty of it in some form daily. Often it’s not a lack of motivation causing this, more often it can be a lack of clarity – give team members clear roles and responsibilities and the chances are productivity and happiness will both rise.”

However, HR consultant and former HR and OD director Shakil Butt disagreed that people are naturally inclined to be lazy, agreeing with Jacoby though that organisational factors play a crucial role.

“I hold the general view that no-one comes into an organisation to be lazy but by the same token I have to accept that lazy people do indeed exist in workplaces,” he told HR magazine.

“These ‘lazy staff’ do not arrive lazy but are created by their respective workplaces and fall into different categories: those that have been poorly managed, those that have benefitted from a favour or privilege, those who have not been developed, and [those who are a product of] poor organisational culture.”

Butt said there was often a disconnect between how employees view themselves and how they view others. He related an experience running a management development programme where he asked whether the managers present regarded staff as Douglas McGregor’s Theory X or Y. (This system categorises people based on whether they need an authoritarian style of management to control their lack of desire to work [Theory X], or a participative style that assumes people will self-direct [Theory Y]).

“Interestingly most believed their staff were Theory X – inclined to be lazy,” he said. “When I asked the same group how they regarded themselves, not surprisingly they all without exception believed they were Theory Y.”

Butt suggested businesses take action to tackle supposed laziness. “Overcoming laziness is no easy task but is possible if the organisation is willing to invest in its people at all levels so managers can manage, good performance is recognised and celebrated, everyone is regarded as talent, and a working environment is created where it’s okay to fail and learn the lessons,” he said.