What makes staff lazy?

6th June 2023

Research by Dropbox in conjunction with The School of Life recently found that a quarter (23%) of employees think their colleagues are lazy. We asked Shakil Butt, founder of HR Hero and former HROD director at Islamic Relief Worldwide, what the causes of laziness in the workplace might be and how you can combat them.

Cause one: Poor management

“The majority of staff come into an organisation after having gone through a recruitment process and literally shone. These new recruits bring with them an energy and curiosity. Which begs the question ‘what has gone wrong?’ Quite simply: managers have failed to manage by not being clear about the roles but, more than that, not being clear about what success looks like and having honest feedback in the moment. Managers lack the ‘softer’ people skills, which means that when poor performance is not addressed an unspoken message is given to everyone that performance does not really matter. In that scenario it is not long before cynicism sets in.

"I have had staff admit that they are just turning up and doing very little. This is literally draining the energy in the workplace. Managers compound the problem by giving more work to those that are working well, with the belief that ‘if you want something done give it to a busy person'.

"I believe that behind every ‘bad’ employee is an equally if not ‘worse’ manager. Managers themselves are often the victims too, however. Many managers have not been supported by their organisation in their transition from onsite expert to manager."

Cause two: Benefitting from a favour or privilege

“[Some people] have not had to go through the same robust recruitment ‘hoops and hurdles’ to secure senior roles in the organisation that they may not be suited to.

"These chosen few are more likely to continue to benefit through their employee lifecycle – whether in how they are rewarded, developed, given a voice or in influence. Once in post they can appoint other talented people below them who carry them while they ‘act strategically’.

"This sends another unspoken message that to be recognised and to progress one has to be a certain type of person. This behaviour is often at odds with the stated values of the organisation, resulting in disillusionment and dissatisfaction."

Cause three: People development

“Too many talent management programmes are still focused very much on the ‘hypos’, which is typically a nominal amount of the workforce. This approach excludes the majority and in doing so sows the seeds of dissent and unrest.

"In every organisation the ‘hypos’ are known to both managers and staff. It gets noted who is progressing, who is being invested in and who is being ‘groomed’. This can be conflated with the earlier category of privilege resulting in a culture that only recognises a fraction of the workforce. If the first category of poor management is also an issue in the organisation you have a perfect storm for perpetuating apathy and laziness.”

Cause four: Intolerance of failure

“The Dropbox and The School of Life survey also referenced staff claiming credit for others’ efforts or covering up for others’ mistakes. Both of these behaviours are symptomatic of an organisation that has a closed culture where failure is not celebrated and tolerated. This is inherently dangerous.

"In my former organisation we had a saying that ‘success has many fathers but failure is an orphan’ i.e. everyone wants to take the credit for a success but no-one wants to own failure. The message in this instance is that organisational learning counts for nothing. Covering up failures becomes the only option in this environment and combined with laziness it is then no surprise this culture feeds off itself.

"In all cases the employee has been failed by the organisation and thereafter has reciprocated by failing the organisation.”

Source: HR Magazine Beckett Frith,

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