UK workers low opinion of colleagues reduces chances of good teamwork

British workers believe that just 68 percent of their colleagues are good at their job, and nearly a quarter of staff (23 percent) would describe their colleagues as ‘lazy’ new research suggests. The more senior position people attain, the lower opinion they have of their colleagues: according to new research by Dropbox on team behaviour within UK businesses, which marks the launch of a new study, conducted in conjunction with philosophers at The School of Life. The research revealed several potential causes for the low opinion British workers have for some of their co-workers, and why they are not contributing to successful teamwork. A third (35 percent) say they have had to cover up a mistake for a colleague and nearly a quarter (22 percent) say they have had their work claimed by others and presented as their own. Seventeen per cent even said their boss had previously done this. Actions such as this undermine trust within teams – and stop credit being given where it is due – which can in the long term erode the ability of a team to function together.

The research claims that those who work in construction have the highest opinion of their colleagues, believing 73 percent to be good at their job, followed by emergency service workers (72 percent), and those in the manufacturing sector (72 percent). The findings suggest that those in ‘safety-critical’ roles, where trust must be placed in co-workers’ hands to ensure everyone’s safety, have a higher opinion of their colleague’s abilities. They are also roles where the benefits of working as a team are more clearly seen and understood – and where teamwork is essential to deliver one outcome.

Those in the PR and advertising industries have the lowest opinion, believing that just 57 percent of co-workers are good at their job; followed by the IT industry (61 percent) and property workers (62 percent). This correlates with the above with jobs within these industries being unlikely to impact the safety of others and teamwork being less critical to the successful delivery of work.

The study found that the more senior position one attains, the lower the opinion they have of their colleagues. This is likely related to their larger skill sets and experience meaning they have higher expectations, and in some cases, too high expectations of others, limiting the growth of less experienced teams. Managing Directors and board-level workers believe just 58 percent of the people they work with in their company are good at their jobs. However, the figure rises to 65 percent for those in management roles, and to 69 percent for executive-level (non-manager) positions.

Belief in work colleagues’ and team members’ abilities is integral to the performance of any growing business. The UK workforce’s lack of confidence in co-workers sounds alarm bells for senior leaders and managers who must address this issue head on or face an in-cohesive, disengaged workforce. The School of Life study, commissioned by Dropbox, advises leaders to encourage greater teamwork and engagement through clarity; assign specific roles and tasks to each member of a team, and refine roles and responsibilities over the course of a project or period of time by agreeing ‘pre-agreed moments’.

One of the most surprising admission, by over a fifth of UK workers (21 percent), is that they ‘never’ do work that is to the best of their ability. Three quarters (73 percent) say they do not do work to their best ability even once a week, with just a small minority (7 percent) saying they give work their all each day. Perhaps this is why 23 percent of British workers would describe their colleagues as ‘lazy’.

However, this could be unfair, according to the study that the research supports, conducted by The School of Life and Dropbox. It argues that laziness is a natural human inclination – which all teams wishing to succeed must address amongst their workforce. The study explains that apparent laziness is not always down to a deficiency in motivation, but rather because many workers are unsure of what is expected of them.

Chris Noon, Data and Teams Scientist at Dropbox commented: “Teamwork is one of the most vital assets for organisations and it is difficult for teams to work properly when it appears that not all of the members are pulling their weight – or quite simply not up to the task. However, as the study explains, apparent laziness is sometimes down to a lack of clarity on our roles, and this thinking can be applied to disengagement. Bosses can help counteract this by creating ‘safe spaces’ – an open, supportive, collaborative and motivational team environment to get the best out of their teams.”

The full report can be viewed here