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Bad attitudes and responsibility-shirking: the most irritating work behaviours revealed Survey: What irritates you at work?

What Irritates You at Work?

The workplace can be a tense environment at the best of times, and it sometimes feels like managers and employees aredestined to clash at every possible occasion. Whether it’s unreasonable goals or constant tardiness, there are numerous aspects of both employees’ and managers’ behaviours that their counterparts find difficult to swallow.

But perhaps part of the problem is that, rather than being openly identified and addressed, these issues are often brushed under the rug and left to breed more frustration than they ultimately should. It is with this in mind that FindCourses compiled an online survey geared to towards discovering how prevalent these behaviours are, and just how irritating they are really considered to be. Based on the responses gathered from the 805 individuals who took part, split evenly between employees and managers, here are the UK’s most irritating work behaviours revealed.

What’s with the attitude? The manager’s perspective

From a manager’s point of view, the results reveal that there is nothing more irritating than an employee with a bad attitude. More than half of all managers (54.2%) described employees with bad attitudes as "very irritating", with a further 29.8% considering them to be "quite irritating". In contrast, only 8% thought that a bad attitude was nothing much to get upset about.

And perhaps this is nothing to marvel at, considering the copious amounts of research emphasising the dangers associated with negative attitudes in the workplace. Negative emotions, it is said, are more contagious than positive ones, and at the same time more easily believed. This means that they can spread quickly and create unpleasant environments in which innovation is stifled and negative outcomes are seen as natural occurrences rather than being actively tackled and overcome. It would seem logical, then, for managers to get frustrated with employees who contribute to the development of these negative emotions, which can affect the productivity and effectiveness of teams and workplaces more broadly.

The bad news is that a majority of managers have to deal with bad attitudes more often than they would like. More specifically, 63.8% of the managers surveyed claim to have one or more employees with bad attitudes. This suggests that a large number of workplaces in the UK are potentially being damaged not only by negative employee attitudes, but by high levels of frustration among the managers who have to deal with those negative attitudes.

Second on the irritation scale for managers are employees who don’t behave according to the company’s core values. 75% of managers find this behaviour to lie somewhere between "quite" and "very" irritating, which makes sense considering their levels of frustration with negative attitudes. Not behaving in accordance with a company’s founding values is, after all, not a particularly positive approach to working for that organisation’s future success. Interestingly, however, only 56% of managers are mildly to strongly irritated by employees who don’t believe in the company’s mission. This suggests that up to 20% of managers think it’s ok for employees not to buy into the company mission – as long as they fake acceptance in their professional interactions.

A close third on the list of irritating behaviours is not taking "no" for an answer, which 74% of managers find irritating. Yet it seems that managers have their work cut out for them in this respect too, since only 13.8% of them claim to have employees who accept that no means no. A total of 30.6% say that their employees either resist or refuse to accept when they say no, while 55.6% say that they will accept a no when given a good reason. It would seem, then, that there is a significant amount of friction between managers and employees when it comes to issues surrounding authority and decision-making, with both sides struggling to take (and keep) control. At the same time, however, managers are only too happy for employees to take initiative when it comes to completing tasks beyond what is expected of them, which 67% of them don’t find irritating at all.

No one likes a cop-out. The employee’s perspective

So what do employees have to say about their managers?

First and foremost, employees can’t stand being blamed for mistakes they haven’t made. A very substantial 87.8% are irritated by this behaviour, with 18% labelling the behaviour as “quite irritating” and 69.8% calling it “very irritating”. And rightly so, according to the research – similarly to bad attitudes, finger-pointing has been found to be "socially contagious" as well as highly detrimental for organisations. If fosters cultures of fears and – particularly when displayed by leaders – stops individuals from taking risks, makes them less creative and effectively stops them from learning from their mistakes.

While almost half (45.1%) of respondents indicated that their manager has never blamed them for mistakes they haven’t made, a very frustrated 17.5% suggested that they are made to take the blame every time something goes wrong. A further 37.5% will sometimes have to take the fall for a mistake that was not of their own making.

A close second on the list of irritating behaviours is a failure to listen to employees, which 87% of respondents described as frustrating. It would, however, seem that a majority of employees are appeased in this regard, with 92.3% suggesting that their manager "usually", "sometimes" or "always" listens to them. Only 7.7% have to live with the constant frustration of working for a manager who never listens to them.

Rounding off the top 3 most irritating behaviours is a lack of trust, which 84.3% of employees find difficult to deal with. On this point, a little over a third of respondents (37.7%) feel that their manager doesn’t give them enough freedom, while just over half (51.9%) say that they are able to organise their work more or less freely. Around 10% instead claim to have the complete trust of a manager who delegates more or less everything.

Irritation is in the eye of the beholder

While generalisations are always difficult to make, it is clear that the modern workplace is full of irritable and irritated people. What is interesting to consider is whether the data points to a fundamental friction between what managers and employees want in their counterparts. More specifically, do managers feel an insurmountable need to keep control and demonstrate their authority, while employees demand more trust and a manager who listens to their ideas?

Or perhaps their behaviours and attitudes are ultimately lost in translation. Is it possible that managers interpret a desire for autonomy as a negative attitude, while employees mistake an inability to delegate everything as a failure to listen?

Either way, it appears that both sides would benefit from a good dose of self-reflection and, as ever, the ability to communicate transparently and effectively in a way that serves to reduce – rather than enhance – workplace frustrations.

For more information on how the survey was conducted, or if you would like to use and/or link to the results, please contact

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Last updated: 30 Mar 2016

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