Business decline hits health of UK managers

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The current state of UK workplaces and the dominance of negative management styles is having a serious impact on managers’ job satisfaction, wellbeing and working relationships, according to a new report comparing the mental and physical health of managers in 2012 with those in 2007.

The Chartered Management Institute/Simplyhealth report, The Quality of Working Life 2012, surveyed over 1,000 managers in 2007 and 2012 and paints a bleak picture of the impact of the recession on UK workplaces. Compared with 2007, managers today are: working longer hours due to larger workloads; increasingly suffering from ill health including stress and depression; and more likely to come to work despite being sick.

Coupled with this, negative management styles continue to prevail in UK organisations, with the most commonly reported being bureaucratic (45 per cent), reactive (33 per cent), and authoritarian (30 per cent). The research highlights how these harmful management cultures are affecting UK businesses and holding back UK growth. Negative management styles were linked to employee disengagement, decreasing job satisfaction, poor mental and physical health, reductions in productivity and business decline.

Key findings include:

  • Growth firms are far more likely to have accessible, empowering, trusting and consensual senior managers – for example, only 6 per cent in declining organisations described the dominant style as empowering, compared to 35 per cent in growing firms. By contrast, 45 per cent of declining firms had authoritarian styles, compared to 15 per cent in growth organisations.
  • Management style was closely linked to job satisfaction. Where the prevailing management style was seen as authoritarian, only 28 per cent of respondents were satisfied with their job, compared to 67 per cent of organisations where it wasn’t.
  • High trust environments had much higher employee engagement and experienced far less stress-related health problems: while 13 per cent of junior and middle managers in low trust settings reported having panic attacks, this declined to 1 per cent in high trust environments
  • Change is now the norm. Some 92 per cent of managers had experienced organisational change in the last year – including major change such as organisational restructuring (83 per cent) or compulsory redundancies (42 per cent).
  • Job satisfaction has declined significantly from 62 per cent in 2007 to 55 per cent in 2012.
  • The average manager now works around 46 days unpaid overtime per year – up from 40 days in the 2007 study. Some 60 per cent of those working overtime feel they had no choice because of the volume of work, and 29 per cent worked long hours because job cuts had increased their workload.
  •   ‘Presenteeism’ is on the rise – 43 per cent believe people don’t take sick leave when they are ill, a marked increase from 32 per cent in 2007. Managers also believe organisations are less tolerant of people taking sick leave
  • More managers are suffering from stress and depression (42 per cent of managers reported suffering from stress symptoms in 2012, up from 35 per cent in 2007, and 18 per cent reported suffering from depression – a 3 per cent rise. The likelihood of managers reporting ill health increased on 12 of the report’s 13 measures.
  •   36 per cent of the managers surveyed would leave if they thought they could find another job.

The recession also appears to have had a damaging impact on line-management relationships. In 2012, only 30 per cent thought their senior managers were managing change well – down from 45 per cent in 2007. Many other indicators of a strong working relationship also showed a fall, for example: the number of managers who felt their bosses were committed to supporting employee wellbeing declined from 55 per cent to 39 per cent; the percentage of managers who felt they were treated fairly by their organisation declined from 60 per cent to 54 per cent; and the percentage who thought their organisation was a good employer declined from 69 per cent to 64 per cent.

The report, written by Professor Les Worrall of Coventry University and Professor Cary Cooper at Lancaster University Management School, shows strong links between motivation and productivity but also that the most common management styles are those likely to demotivate. Managers rated having the respect of peers, autonomy, being trusted to make decisions and getting a sense of achievement from their job as the most motivating ways to work. In contrast, motivation is threatened by: limited career prospects; workload; pressure; and performance management. Motivation and wellbeing are clearly linked – motivated managers took just 1.3 days sick leave a year, while unmotivated managers take an additional 10 days.

CMI chief executive, Ann Francke, said of the findings:

“It’s official: especially in a recession, authoritarian is out and empowering is in. It’s more than just words – if you’re a trusting manager and are good to your people you can reap big business rewards. If you’re not, you’re causing stress that is damaging the health of your people and the business.”

Howard Hughes, head of employer marketing at Simplyhealth, said of the findings:

“We’re now in a double dip recession, unemployment is high, consumer confidence is low and businesses and individuals are feeling the pinch. Meeting objectives in a tough economic climate can mean tough decisions need to be made and restructuring or other organisational changes are necessary. This is perhaps one of the reasons why managers and directors are working around 1.5 hours per day over their contract in 2012.

“When it comes to health and wellbeing in the workplace, illness levels have increased, but managers seem less likely to take time off work when they are genuinely ill. It looks like presenteeism is another symptom of high levels of organisational change. We’d urge all organisations to ensure they have programmes in place to encourage employees to be proactive about caring for their health – this kind of good management will increase productivity, and ultimately the bottom line.”
Report author, Professor Les Worrall FCMI, Professor of Strategic Analysis in the Faculty of Business, Environment and Society at Coventry University, said:

“The scale and impact of change over the last five years has been staggering as all of our key measures from the survey have deteriorated markedly since 2007. What is more worrying is that there seems to be no sign of economic conditions getting better – we are in for a worrying time if these trends persist into the future.”

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  1. The findings of this report were based on a 6.7% response rate and a poor representation from the under 40’s. Surely the conclusions are therefore questionable.

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