Deadwood dragging down UK PLC

Aug 19 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Deadwood - employees who consistently under-perform - are throttling British organisations as almost half of employees complain that they have to work with someone who is failing to do their fair share of the work.

Three quarters of UK bosses and almost eight out of 10 of their staff believe that this deadwood is a real concern to their organisation, according to a new survey for Investors in People (IIP).

And with almost half of employees and four out of ten bosses complaining that they are working with colleagues who do not pull their weight, the problem is a widespread one.

But this legion of the lazy find more places to hide in larger organisations. Deadwood is seen as a problem in more than eight out of 10 organisations employing more than 1000 people compared to only six out of ten companies employing fewer than 50.

But despite bosses acknowledging the issue, they also seem to be reluctant to tackle it. Four out of 10 employees complained that their employer had not taken any steps to boost motivation or root out the deadwood.

The IIP survey comes only a week after HR consultancy Rialto estimated that almost a quarter of British workers – some six million in all – are stagnating in their jobs and blocking the career ladder of the younger "bucks" trying to make headway in their organisation.

Organisations with stagnation problems find it difficult to retain young, highly motivated employees and to remain competitive in the marketplace, Rialto found.

The IIP research paints a similar picture, highlighting the dangers lurking for employers that stick their head in the sand and fail to address the issue with employees.

Employees cited working longer hours and feeling undervalued amongst the most damaging effects of working with unproductive colleagues, problems that could in turn lead to the decision to start looking for a new job.

"It's clear from the findings that UK managers are aware that deadwood is a problem that can damage their organisation - but are failing to do anything about it," said Ruth Spellman, Chief Executive of IIP.

"However, left unchecked staff who don't pull their weight can breed resentment amongst colleagues and cripple an organisation's productivity. It's vital that managers are equipped with the skills and confidence to tackle the issue before it becomes a problem," she added.

Employers and employees agreed that the top most obvious signs of people not pulling their weight are prioritising personal life over work, refusing extra responsibility and passing off colleagues work as their own.

And there was not much evidence of sympathy when it came to identifying the root cause of the problem. Both employers and employees think that the main people fail to pull their weight is sheer laziness.

IIP, however, insisted that some loving care rather than brutal pruning could work wonders. Their suggested deadwood revitalisation regime includes creating clearer goals and objectives to ensure that people feel valued; providing your staff with a personal career development plan and appropriate training where needed and putting in place a review structure to give staff the ongoing feedback that they need to develop.

Managers also need to lead by example. If they are not motivated and giving their all, they can hardly expect their teams to do likewise.

"Prevention is always better than cure," Ruth Spellman said. "Employers need to establish a clear approach that develops and motivates their staff to achieve their potential - and to deal with those who don't. It's key to the success and future growth of any organisation."

Older Comments

The concept of hard work used to be black and white in the days of 9-5 before the concept of flexible or homeworking was introduced. These days it's harder to keep a tab on whether someone is pulling their weight or not.

Rebecca London

The workplace is increasingly politically correct and working really hard does not receive the recognition it used to. Perhaps it's just not cool to work hard anymore.

Clive UK

Most managers are still obsessed with attendance rather than output. I work with people who can sit in an office for eight hours and achieve nothing. But woe betide you if you dare suggest that you could do more in half the time working form home . . .


Most companies aren't bothered about their staff - they wouldn't think twice about getting shot of you if they thought that they could get someone else to do the job for less - so why should they be surprised if their staff behave in the same way?


I work with a guy (referred to here as 'B') who gets into work consistently late, slouches about for an hour or so - and doesn't start doing any real work until about 10.30 am. Come the stroke of 5, he's the first out the door. Because he is the only programmer in the company with knowledge of the specific data he works with, he feels completely indispensible. It's like he's holding the company to ransom!

Nick W1

From experience, in team environments there is often one element shirking their workload leaving it to the rest of the team to compensate. In results driven environments, this causes resentment and is demotivating. Too often managers are too results focused to care.

Ciara London

There is no escaping it - some people just work harder than others. It has to do with the individual’s motive for working. Some employees’ sole reason is to pick up a pay check and little else. Others are stimulated by their livelihood and are inspired to do more. Either way it is the manager’s responsibility to cope with each type of employee and find a way for all to work in harmony. The reward system has always been a good way to measure people’s contribution and commitment. e.g.... those who achieve (or fail to meet) certain goals/targets above the standard. Regular reviews can help weed out those not pulling their weight but it can also benefit those who are doing well. Acknowledging employees who continually reach their goals/targets can inspire others to do better.

On the other hand, employees who find the time to constantly complain about their co-workers’ laziness may not be keeping busy enough themselves.

Mary Selfe Boston, MA