Australia may be renowned for its quality of life, but the quality of its managers just doesn't stack up. More than half of Australians are unhappy with their jobs, new research has found, with poor management the overwhelming reason for their discontent.
The dire state of management in Australian organisations is revealed in the annual SEEK Survey of Employee Satisfaction and Motivation in Australia – a title that is something of misnomer given the shortage of satisfaction in Australia's workplaces. More than half (56 per cent) of those surveyed said they were unhappy with their jobs, a rise of 11 percentage points over last year.
Yet as Matthew Rockman, Executive Director of SEEK pointed out, the figures come at a time when Australia's unemployment rate has hit a twenty eight year low, meaning that employees are now faced with more choice than ever before.
"With unemployment being so low, Australian companies are sitting on a potential powder-keg, unless management begins to address staff issues, to keep morale high and employees satisfied with their roles," he said.
Dissatisfaction was particularly marked in the insurance and banking sector, where fully two-thirds said they were unhappy with their jobs.
This was closely followed by the media and manufacturing sectors, with more than six out of 10 giving their jobs the thumbs-down.
But as the report makes clear, the overwhelming reason for this widespread discontent is that managers simply fail to live uo to the standards expected by their employees.
According to the survey, the two management traits that employees respect the most are 'the ability to follow up their words with action' and 'openness and honesty'.
However most employees do not believe that their own managers perform well on these factors, and rated each of the six management indicators lower than in last year's survey.
Indeed, in occupations where staff members are largely unhappy, the rating of their immediate manager is lower than the overall average.
Almost seven out of 10 employees do not believe that their management is open and honest and half think that managers do not listen to them. Seven out of 10 also said that managers ignore suggestions and criticism and a similar number complained that they do not provide regular feedback.
Unsurprisingly, more than four out of 10 (45 per cent) said that their management did not inspire trust
The findings will come as no surprise to many observers of the Australian management scene. Research in 2003 by consultancy Human Synergistics found that almost nine out of 10 Australian companies suffered from management cultures wracked by "blame, mindless conformity and indecision", while managers lacked basic skills such as setting goals, using rewards, giving feedback, and conducting fair appraisals.
"Executive behaviour bred a culture that encouraged people to treat rules as more important than ideas, switch priorities to please others, avoid taking any blame for problems, follow orders even when they were wrong, defer decisions to people higher up the food chain and not rock the boat," the report added.
The SEEK report also echoes research carried out earlier this year by Melbourne Business School which found that managers' perceptions of the competency of their own bosses is also negative.
Employees who are actually managers themselves hold an even lower view of their bosses than do other employees, SEEK found, judging their own immediate managers lower on almost every aspect compared to the overall average.
Managers judged their immediate managers lowest on their 'ability to encourage and listen to suggestions', and on their 'ability to provide regular feedback'.
"Providing feedback to employees and ensuring that staff know they are appreciated can have a huge impact on keeping people happy at work," said Matthew Rockman
"These steps cost nothing, and in a tight employment market where employers may find it difficult to increase remuneration, it would seem logical for management to ensure that such low cost retention strategies are in place."
Rockman added that with poor management remaining such an entrenched problem in the Australian workplace, many employees would start to vote with their feet now that an improving jobs market has put power back into in employees' hands.
But the flipside of this boom time for employees is its impact on Australian businesses, he warned.
"High staff turnover is disruptive, bad for morale and comes at a significant cost to organisations. When the ability to address so many of these issues can be quickly and easily resolved, the onus is on Australian businesses to offer the best environment for their staff to retain employees and attract the best recruits."