Least Competent Colleague

The correct question to ask yourself is not “How long until a (robot) can do my job,” but “How long until a (robot) can do the work of my Least Competent Colleague”?

If your answer is less than 3 years, then you’re wrong, and a (robot) can already do it, but it’s cheaper to employ and train a human… For the moment. Think on this at their farewell morning tea or drinks when they leave. The marginal difference between their productivity and competence and yourself is evident to yourself, and your manager, but how evident is it to their manager?

If your answer is between 3 and 5 years, then you might not be working with your current Least Competent Colleague when the (robot) replaces them. When the (robot) joins your team, it probably won’t replace anyone already present, but it will replace what would have been a junior hire.

If your answer is greater than 5 years, I congratulate you on being in an unusual workplace. My cautious guess is you deal with more atoms than bits. Please tell me if I’m wrong!

This is not a claim that your Least Competent Colleague deserves to lose their job. If they enjoy it, or if losing it would cause them economic harm, the event will be sad.

Least Competent Colleagues are not necessarily Unpopular Colleagues or Lazy Colleagues. They might have moderate status in the workplace (rarely high, and very rarely sustained high status).

Did you actually ask yourself the question? Here is a grace period to do so now, if you haven’t.


When we think about automation, and are asked to predict the outcomes from it, we tend to give different answers when considering the impacts of technology on other, parallel fields than when we consider our own. We also tend to consider our colleagues’ efforts subject to greater vulnerability than our own, to a cumulative effect size of about 0.2-0.5. That’s quite substantial.

What rating would the 10 colleagues who worked most closely with you give you on the Competence scale, if they were guaranteed anonymity?

You’re probably not the Least Competent Colleague. But you may not be up the very top, either. The time to start using your power, such as it is, to fight for a better deal for Least, is now. When the bottom hollows out and your footing starts to become a little less sure, it’s too late.

If you’re mentally glancing over your shoulder, it’s not too late yet, but oh, friend, it might be worth thinking about Actually Trying.

In this text, (robot) means (actual physical robot, software, chatbot, algorithm or another non-human operator)