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3 reasons you think your colleague does nothing all day
Illustration by Justin Alm

4 min read

3 reasons you think your colleague does nothing all day

Your colleague never seems to be working. Are they doing nothing all day? Or is the problem communication in the workplace?

Admit it. At some point in your career you’ve worked alongside someone who appears to do absolutely nothing all day.

You’ve no idea why they were hired, and they seem to have so much spare time. They’re constantly chatting with other colleagues or playing on their phone. All the while you’re working in overdrive. It’s infuriating.

The thing is, the problem is often not the individual. It’s a lack of role clarity. Sure, sometimes there are people who don’t pull their weight, but poor clarity and communication are an extremely common cause of low trust in the workplace.

So, is your colleague actually a lazy freeloader, or is the problem poor communication in the workplace? Check out these three common communication breakdowns and decide for yourself.

3 communication breakdowns that generate mistrust

1. Management doesn’t communicate effectively

Managers and project leaders are key to facilitating role clarity. It’s their job to ensure their team members are aware of what each other are working on. As leaders, they have the best understanding of this and should be sharing the knowledge.

“If managers and project leaders don’t increase their communication and in turn provide clear direction for those on their teams, they could find that their employees spend more time griping than collaborating.” - Gallup, State of American Workplace 2017. 

Does this sound familiar?
  • Does your manager use a system (be it a weekly meeting or communications tool) so you know what your colleagues are doing?
  • Have they made the expectations of each role clear to everyone?
  • Have they ever asked if you need more information about your role?
  • Do they communicate well with other leaders and their own boss?

If not… then you don’t have the full picture. Your manager is missing clear communication avenues, which they need to open up for you to fairly assess if there is a lack of equality in work production.

2. The organizational chart is ambiguous

Organizational charts are a fundamental tool for clarifying who does what in a company. If you don’t have one, it’s time to get one. It’s a simple first step in clarifying roles, responsibilities, and reporting lines.

Having one is just a first step though. The organizational chart needs to be clear and up-to-date. If it doesn’t make sense to anyone then it’s not serving its purpose. People will eventually stop using it.

Does this sound familiar?
  • Is your organizational chart missing entirely?
  • If you have one, is it clear and concise?
  • Is it completely outdated?
  • Do you even know where it’s saved?

If you don’t have a good organizational chart, it’s hard to get a good understanding of how each person fits into the organization. It might be time to change that.

3. The individual doesn’t communicate effectively

If everything is in place - you’ve got a good organizational chart, your manager is communicating clearly - and you still don’t know what your colleague does all day, maybe they are a lazy so-and-so. Or… maybe they’re not the best communicator.

Not every person is comfortable communicating in the same way. Some people loath speaking up in meetings, others aren’t confident with the written word. Some people prefer email, while others want to talk over the phone.

If an individual isn’t communicating about their current tasks and how they relate to the bigger picture, maybe they need a different communication channel. It’s good to have diversity that caters to different communication styles. Enterprise collaboration tools create opportunities for everyone to speak up.

A piece of proof: One of our clients, Woodland Trust, says their communications tool provides a forum that allows their more introverted staff to contribute to company culture and truly become part of the fabric that makes up the company.

“The Jostle® platform has given a voice to people who wouldn’t have been engaged in anything else that was going on in the organization prior to the new intranet. They’re very comfortable interacting through the Jostle platform.”

Anne Lightowler
Head of HR, Woodland Trust


Does this sound familiar?

  • The main point of communication is in meetings?
  • The primary avenue for internal communications is email?
  • The individual rarely speaks up in team exercises?

If this is the case, it could be that your colleague isn’t confident communicating through the current communications channels in place. They may not even know that their productivity is in question. Without a tool that allows them to comfortably express themselves, it’s easy for their voice to get lost.

In conclusion

If you’ve read all this and you’re still convinced that your colleague is simply unproductive, well… that could be the truth. However, if any of the three reasons here have struck a chord with you, consider taking action to seek clarity. Speak to your manager about an internal discussion on role clarity. You might be surprised what you uncover.

Need more communication and clarity at your company?

Get a quick guide to essential comms tools

Hannah Price

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