Quality of Working Life 2012 – people are less happy at work than in 2007 and need training and new support


from ‘white man’s burden’ – an workshop exploring 21st leadership (info@bridgebuilders.co.uk)

This week’s Quality of Working Life 2012 report of the research taken in May this year into how UK people are at work provides a vivid snapshot of the human effects the years of economic difficulty, organisational change and uncertainty have brought – especially for people working in the public sector.

“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.” – Report author, Les Worrall FCMI, professor of strategic analysis in the faculty of business, environment and society at Coventry University.

Post-recession authoritarian management style depresses job satisfaction, finds CMI/Simplyhealth study

The dominance of negative management styles in UK workplaces is having a serious impact on managers’ job satisfaction, wellbeing and working relationships, according to the report comparing the mental and physical health of managers in 2012 with those in 2007 by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and Simplyhealth.

CMI chief executive, Ann Francke, said: “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.”

Stressed Workplaces Need to Control Wellbeing

Employee wellbeing is at risk under the increasing dominance of negative management styles.  The Quality of Working Life 2012 reported that compared with 2007, managers have been working longer hours, increasingly suffering from ill health and more likely to work despite sickness.  It showed negative management styles were prevailing; 45% reported bureaucratic methods; 33% reactive; and 30% authoritarian.

Management style was closely linked to job satisfaction. Where the prevailing management style was seen as authoritarian, only 28% of respondents were satisfied with their job, compared to 67% of organisations where it wasn’t.

However this Report also states…

In spite of this, there are some hopeful signs that UK managers are ready to build organisations that are ready for the challenges of the next 10 years. There are examples of good organisations out there. These are characterised by more people orientated management styles and behaviours, by high levels of reciprocal trust, by openness, by empowerment and by more consensual approaches to decision making.

What stands out from this research is the crucial need for organisations to find some ways to provide and resource space and time for people to get learning, refection, and training.  The more difficult the things we are facing, the more critically we need the time and space to think creatively through the fullest spectrum of perspectives to find the best ways to progress forward, and new techniques and approaches to increase our repertoire of responses for the new demands and situations facing us…

Training boosts the effectiveness of policies – evidence shows that it is insufficient just to have health policies in place without also having training policies, communications policies and having set clear accountability for the delivery of policy.


While reports about this research, such as are rightly highlighting the high incidence and damages of bad management practice it reveals, too, the conditions in which managers are currently working in…

After analysing the 2012 data we can identify a number of themes that pose serious questions about how UK organisations are being managed:

  • Managers are being put under more pressure as cost cutting, redundancy and deteriorating terms and conditions take their physical and psychological toll.
  • Managers have become less positive about their organisation as a place to work and measures of job satisfaction have declined.
  • Working hours have increased and managers are having to work even longer hours to cope with the volume of work and to meet deadlines.
  • Illness levels have increased but managers seem less likely to take time off work when they are genuinely ill – presenteeism has increased.
  • The types of negative symptons that have increased most – such as feeling unable to cope, difficulty making decisions and avoiding people – are the ones which tend to undermine managerial effectiveness.
  • Managers have lost trust in senior managers’ ability to have their best interests at heart – possibly because senior managers and directors are those charged with putting difficult cost reduction exercises into place.
  • The difference in perceptions between managers at different levels in the hierarchy is wider than ever and we are left feeling that many directors are out of touch with the reality of their organisation as most staff experience it.

The final conclusion of the report is…

Health and wellbeing initiatives – at a time when cost reduction is a major driver of change in many organisations, it is particularly important for employers to understand the potential benefits of investing in health initiatives in the workplace. There may be a clear business case for health improvement initiatives in order to cut the costs of absence levels, but investment decisions should also be driven by the understanding that improved health and wellbeing can generate significant employee productivity benefits as a result of higher levels of engagement.

The research highlights how especially difficult things are for people working in the public sector, and what the knock-on effects of this are in their organisations.  Despite the severe resource shortages, in terms of money and people, this picture demands attention and new strategic thinking and action…

Change is the norm – 92% of managers had experienced organisational change in the last year. The scale and variety of change was highest in the public sector, with 98% experiencing change.

More Organisations are in decline – 46% of public sector managers said their organisation was in decline, compared with 18% in the not for profit sector, and 19 per cent in the private sector.

Wellbeing is worse in declining organisations – the number of managers affected by symptoms of ill-health was markedly worse in declining businesses, compared to growing ones.

Job satisfaction declined significantly – dropping from 62% in 2007 to 55% in 2012. Job satisfaction and many other measures were at their lowest in the public sector.

The clear evidence here is that organisations can not afford to wait to resume their training and learning programmes until things have got better, but rather must find ways to invest in developing leaders whose style and behaviours are open, collaborative, listening, trusting and empowering…

Managers are losing faith in senior managers – in 2012, only 30% thought senior managers were managing change well, compared with 45% in 2007. The percentage that thought senior managers were committed to promoting employee wellbeing also declined from 55 to 39.

Directors have  a much rosier view than other managers – the perceptions of those at the top of the organisation were far more positive than those of junior managers, and this gap has widened since 2007.

Junior managers are the least committed to their organisations – 47% of junior managers said they would leave their present organisation if they could find another job.

Management style, wellbeing, motivation and organisational growth – the most common management styles reported were bureaucratic (45 per cent – up from 40 per cent); reactive (33 per cent – down from 37 per cent) and authoritarian (30 per cent – up from 29 per cent). All these styles have a negative impact on motivation, health, wellbeing and productivity levels.

Leadership style affects job satisfaction – the prevailing leadership style in an organisation was found to be one of the strongest determinants of job satisfaction. The sense of achievement managers got from their job, the extent to which they felt trusted to make decisions, their potential career prospects, the “achievability” of objectives, and whether they felt part of a team were other strong determinants of job satisfaction.

Respect, autonomy, trust and achievement motivate managers – four features emerged as very strong motivational drivers for managers: having the respect of your peers; having the ability to decide how to get jobs done yourself (role autonomy); feeling trusted to make decisions; and, the sense of achievement managers got from their job.

Growth firms have more positive management styles – the prevailing management styles were found to be radically different in growing and declining private sector firms with growth firms far more likely to have accessible, empowering, trusting and consensual senior managers.

Highly motivated managers had higher levels of wellbeing – the highly motivated had taken only 1.3 days absence in the last year compared to 11.3 days for those not motivated at all.


The report also paints a vivd picture of the extra difficulties of the conditions in which people are having to work in, and some of the consequences of these…

Managers are working longer hours – in 2007, 38% of managers worked two hours per day over contract – by 2012, this had increased to 46%. The average manager worked around 1.5 hours per day over contract, which equates to roughly 46 working days per year.

Managers were concerned about adverse effects of long hours – 59 per cent were concerned about effects on their stress levels; 56 per cent were concerned about psychological health; and 63 per cent of parents worried that their hours were affecting their relationship with their children.

Most managers do not feel they have good health – only 42% of managers reported being in ‘good’ health, 37% thought their health was satisfactory and 21% felt their health was poor.

Psychological wellbeing has declined – the likelihood of managers reporting ill-health increased on 12 of our 13 measures with stress showing the largest percentage increase. 42% reported suffering from symptoms of stress (up from 35% in 2007) and 18% reported suffering from depression (up from 15% in 2007).

While this report shows a picture of how things were in May 2012, it recognises that it is essential for leaders and organisations to be able to look ahead and begin to make better solutions that can pull them away from these escalating problems and their costs toward a more possible and successful future, and the report lays out a series of recommendations…

Managing Your Own Wellbeing 

Develop better self-awarenessmany managers need to become more aware of the consequences of their actions and inaction. The style in which you manage can have a real impact on the morale, motivation and productivity of those around you. Managers also need to be more aware of the limits of their own resilience and actively manage their health accordingly. Even relatively minor symptoms can affect your performance at work.

Analyse your own value systems– managers need to critically analyse and question their own value systems. Make time to reflect on your work: ask yourself why you take certain actions and be more explicit about the consequences of the choices you make at work on your health, your family and your long-term wellbeing. 

Balance work and home commitments – it is important to recognise that both home life and working life carry with them distinct rewards and responsibilities, and that individuals must create an environment that enables them to balance these demands. Neglecting one over the other will lead to poorer performance across the board, so be flexible and work smart to meet competing demands.

Manage your wellbeing – managers often need to change habits, responses and thought processes that create anxiety, stress and overwork. The evidence of this research suggests that this area is often neglected, but managing yourself – including your wellbeing – is an important foundation for sustaining high levels of performance in your work. 

Managing Team Wellbeing 

 Listen to your people – a particular challenge for Directors is to understand that things can look and feel very different to those outside the senior executive team. Directors need to escape the bubble and move out into their organisations, getting a sense of the working reality in different functions, locations, and levels. Share and communicate your motivations and your commitment to the organisation’s future – but be prepared to recognise the real factors which mean others feel differently.

Aim to become a high-trust organisation – the research identifies the benefits of creating high-trust working relationships. Some managers are expert in building trust and consensus, but this can be particularly difficult for those working in declining organisations where managers are often competing for scarce resources and opportunities. Explore how you can build trust with your staff – but recognise that it takes time and may not be easy in the wake of severe cost-cutting or restructuring.

Motivate your managers – create the conditions which provide strong motivation and engagement for your managers. Give your managers autonomy in their jobs, set clear objectives and offer warm recognition when success is achieved. Presenteeism is still rife in too many organisations: look to provide greater flexibility in working patterns by measuring outcomes rather than inputs.

Reassess the organisation’s dominant management style – do you fully understand the pros and cons of your management style? There may be sound reasons for existing styles – for example, bureaucracies are protective, but they can be wasteful and demotivating. Can your organisation reinvent itself as a high-trust organisation? Examine how you might move from procedural systems to more holistic systems that take greater account of your people.

Managing Change

Understand the implications of change – change has become the norm for many organisations.  All managers, but especially directors and senior managers, need to become more aware of the costs and consequences of their actions, particularly in the implementation of change. It is important to recognise that change is inherently unsettling but the challenge is to understand the potential effects, identify who will be affected – including those indirectly affected – and look to limit any negative effects.

Communication and participation in change – key challenges in the delivery of change include creating a climate of open communication. Senior managers need to be sure that they are regularly connected to what is actually happening at the frontline. Look for real participation, sharing problem-solving and decision-making with those who are responsible for implementing the change.

Developing the skills to manage change – managers at all levels need to be effectively trained in the planning and implementation of change. This demands a greater focus on people skills as well as the technical aspects of change management. 

 Promoting Health

Measure employee engagement and wellbeing in the organisationa more holistic view of how organisations are managed is needed, especially in periods of change. This can be developed by building in more effective employee engagement and wellbeing metrics into management information systems. This will counter the primacy of “monochrome” financial measures and key performance measures in many organisations. Employee metrics can provide a far better indicator of an organisation’s longer-term health and growth potential.

Health and wellbeing initiatives – at a time when cost reduction is a major driver of change in many organisations, it is particularly important for employers to understand the potential benefits of investing in health initiatives in the workplace. There may be a clear business case for health improvement initiatives in order to cut the costs of absence levels, but investment decisions should also be driven by the understanding that improved health and wellbeing can generate significant employee productivity benefits as a result of higher levels of engagement.

You can download for free the Full Report to the Executive Summary at Quality of Working Life 2012

The full findings are published in a 68-page page report, available free of charge online, or priced at just £30 for a hard copy. Visit the CMI website and you can also access a range of free resources aimed at helping you improve the quality of working life in your organisation, including CMI checklists – normally available exclusively to CMI members – plus expert advice from Simplyhealth.

One thought on “Quality of Working Life 2012 – people are less happy at work than in 2007 and need training and new support

  1. Pingback: Happiness At Work 3 ~ a route map to edition three | performance~marks

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s