When the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) says that there is a skills shortfall amongst school leavers in the areas that British industry requires, all the attention immediately focuses upon the education system and the supposed failings of "A" Levels to prepare the young people for the workplace in the way that their future employers would like.

But how far dos this go? What other, deeper failings does the superficial focus on rising exam achievement and "gold standard" education obscure? The suggestion to be drawn from the report from Investors in People, the national Standard that seeks to guarantee best practice in training and development of people to achieve business goals, is that there is a deeper, more insidious malaise spreading through the workforce that is being encountered every day by both colleagues and bosses. Its name? Deadwood.

Knock on Wood"¦

But what exactly is "deadwood"? According to the report, "deadwood" is the term for those employees / colleagues who are failing to pull their weight in the workplace. It appears that no size of organisation is immune from this problem, with fully 46 percent of all employees polled stating that they work in close contact or directly with a colleague who does not do their share of the work.

It is not simply on the level of the worker that this is observed. Almost 40 percent of the bosses surveyed also complain that they know of colleagues or employees who are no doing their work properly. However, it seems that there is a certain complacency on this mater as well, with a similar proportion of employees complaining that their bosses have turned a blind eye to the problem. This in turn can easily lead to a demoralised workforce as the more able and reliable staff struggle to fill in for the incompetent, leading to complaints of stress, longer hours, and feeling under "“ valued. In these cases, a company can easily find itself haemorrhaging the very staff it needs to keep as they look for more fulfilling and rewarding jobs, leaving the bosses with only the "deadwood" remaining.

Lazy and Irresponsible

The report has a quite stark verdict on the character of those believed to be "deadwood". The most common reason given by the employers and the employees for their colleague's idleness is "sheer laziness"; hardly a bona fide excuse, certainly. Whilst all sizes of organisation are at risk, those working in a compny employing more than 1,000 staff should expect to encounter this phenomenon with greater frequency, a whopping 84 percent responded that deadwood was a matter of concern, compared with the 60 percent in companies with fewer than 50 staff.

The respondents also highlighted some of the main telltale signs of a "deadwood" colleague in their midst. These include the prioritising of their personal life over their work; the refusal and avoiding of any extra responsibility and / or duty; and, speaking volumes for the moral fibre of those "deadwooders" encountered, the passing of of the work of another as their own.

Garden Clippers at the Ready!

The report also has some suggestions regarding ways in which this can be combated in the workplace and even in the recruitment process. These include the creation of clear goals and objectives; leading by example, as if the boss is not motivated, how can the team be; the admittedly obvious sounding "get the right person for the right role", sadly often neglected; and keep in constant contact with the staff to make sure that feedback is gathered as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Ruth Spellman, the Chief Executive of Investors in People, commented: "This survey lifts the lid on an issue that bosses have shied away from traditionally. Its 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. However, left unchecked, staff who dont pull their weight can breed resentment amongst colleagues and cripple an organisations productivity. Its vital that managers are equipped with the skills and confidence to tackle the issue before it becomes a problem."

And whilst it must be admitted that this is an excellent set of suggestions from the report, and which should all be put into action to guarantee a strong and happy organisation moving steadily forward, possibly the most important idea is this; providing a personal career development plan with appropriate training where needed. And whilst the onus is obviously going to be on the business to put this into place, should there not be some attention paid to this at an earlier stage?

Wouldn"t getting rid of the "deadwood" before it even starts be the best way of ensuring it is never a problem?

Jethro Marsh

Prune the deadwood, weed the workplace, in the FE Blog


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