British workers don’t want people to think of them as ambitious

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Ambition is a word now out of favour in the British workplace, according to Randstad’s latest global Workmonitor survey [registration] with workers in the UK less willing to describe themselves as ambitious than workers in other countries. The research, which surveyed 27,000 workers in 34 countries across Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas, shows that while more than half (56 percent) of workers globally consider themselves to be ambitious, only 42 percent of workers in the UK do. Workers in other countries — including China (80 percent), Malaysia (73 percent), and India (90 percent) — are more likely to describe themselves as “having career ambition”.

The report’s authors suggest that, while people in the UK are less likely to describe themselves as ambitious, the traits that define ambition — the desire for career progression and development and more managerial responsibility, as well as prioritising higher pay — are still very much in evidence.

When asked if they wanted to take on more managerial responsibilities, in the UK, 65 percent of workers said they did — compared to the global average of 47 percent. In Japan, Czechia, and Belgium, the numbers were lower still, with 21 percent, 26 percent and 27 percent saying the same.

And when Randstad asked workers if they agreed “I don’t want career progression: I am happy where I am”, only 31 percent of British workers said they agreed, compared to the global average of 39 percent. Countries where workers were more likely to say they didn’t want to progress their careers and were content to stay where they were included the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark (all 53 percent) as well as Belgium (48 percent) and India (54 percent).

And nearly two-third of workers in the UK (65 percent) rank training and development opportunities as important to them in their current job. And nearly a quarter (24 percent) say they would quit a job if they weren’t offered opportunities to learn and develop.

Meanwhile, when asked about what they prioritise in a new role, 94 percent of UK workers said pay, up slightly from last year (93 percent). While only marginally higher than the global average (93 percent) but far exceeding the importance workers attach to pay in other countries such as Denmark (83 percent), Japan (84 percent), Norway (86 percent), Sweden (88 percent), and Switzerland (89 percent).

Workers in the UK admitted hiding their ambitions from their employers — with 28 per cent saying they thought they could be open with their employer about wanting to progress quickly in their career (vs a global average of 46 percent). In Malaysia, Turkey, Singapore, and China between 60 percent and 65 percent said the same.

The research also shows that a majority (56 percent) of employees feel that they have to hide aspects of themselves at work. More than a quarter (28 percent) would feel uncomfortable sharing their personal viewpoints — due to fear of judgement or discrimination. A quarter (26 percent) say their personality is different at work than it is outside of it. There are clear knock-on effects: workers don’t believe their bosses understand them. A third (33 percent) of workers in the UK feel their generation is not understood by leadership, and this rises to 44 percent for Generation Z.

Image: A caricature of Napoleon taken from the painting A Sacrifice to Ambition by the artist Boyne, John, 1750-1810 artist