Fat cat pay controversies and corporate scandals have fuelled a new level of stress, cynicism and mistrust amongst employees, exacerbated by the 'secrecy of directors' and the lack of employee consultation.
Roffey Park’s annual Management Agenda, developed from a survey of 735 UK managers, reveals that more than a fifth of managers admit they have lost trust in their corporate leaders. Indeed the number of managers who have great faith in their superiors is less than a quarter. Subordinates and peers are the most trusted groups.
Fewer than half - 46 per cent - feel ‘very committed’ towards their organisation.
Nevertheless, despite the challenges that managers and organisations are facing, the annual snapshot of the state of the workplace suggests that managers remain largely positive and optimistic.
In a difficult year - which saw downturns in many economies – nine out of ten organisations experienced change, predominantly as a result of restructuring. Nearly a third 'downsized' during the year a considerable rise on the previous year.
Three quarters of managers also say that they are suffering from work-related stress. Almost six out of ten say their workload has increased over the past year or that they are having to work longer hours following organisational changes. More than eight out of ten claim to be working consistently longer than their contracted week.
The pressures of work appear to be taking their toll inside organisations. Almost half say conflict has increased at work and nearly six out of ten have witnessed harassment in the office - with senior managers being the main perpetrators in over half of the cases. And almost nine out of ten say senior managers don't 'walk the talk'.
Despite this, almost seven out of ten managers feel secure in their jobs and a growing number (more than four out of ten) admit to feeling optimistic about the future.
"Stress at work is continuing to rise yet somehow managers claim to be upbeat and able to cope," said the research authors Claire McCartney and Linda Holbeche.
"There now appears to be a collective sense of purpose and commitment within organisations, following the difficult trading conditions encountered in 2003. On the whole, things look promising for the year ahead."
On the positive side, more than four out of ten managers say that change has led to higher organisational performance while six out of ten believe the demands placed on them by their organisations are reasonable and that change has led to them working smarter not harder.
And despite the high proportion saying that they work longer than their contracted week, six out of ten say that they now have a satisfactory work-life balance, helped by a greater adoption of virtual working and recognition of the value of knowledge management.
According to the survey, line managers have been able to motivate their teams, through periods of uncertainty, by celebrating successes, providing more training and development opportunities and through greater employee involvement and consultation.
But one of the most striking findings is that seven out of ten managers claim to be looking for 'more meaning' in their working lives, particularly those aged between 20 and 30. Four out of ten women express this view compared to a third of men.
Apart from managing change in an unstable economic environment, the key challenges for organisations are seen as retention and recruitment of key people and dealing with increased competition.
For international organisations, the main challenges include coping with the differing priorities in different countries, overcoming cultural differences, adhering to inconsistent legislation and working across different time zones.
According to managers, the biggest de-motivators at work are lack of recognition, bureaucracy, lack of leadership from the top, the constant pressure to deliver and the absence of promotion opportunities.