Managers' dreams founder on the rocks of corporate reality

2006

The high hopes and ambitions of Britain's managers are often let down by the mundane and bureaucratic reality of corporate organisational life, a study has suggested.

More and more managers are motivated by "making a difference", enjoyment of their job and personal achievement, according to the study by leadership and development centre Roffey Park.

In addition, 87 per cent will "go the extra mile" to get things done and 83 per cent feel committed or very committed to their organisation.

Managers are also making headway in finding meaning in their working lives and when it comes to work-life balance, said the study, published in the organisation's Management Agenda survey.

Intriguingly, of the 967 managers polled, there is a strong correlation between managers' quest for meaning and their perception of organisational purpose and the extent to which the organisation is environmentally and socially responsible, said Roffey.

The more uplifting the purpose and the more responsible the organisation was perceived to be, the less managers were looking for meaning and the more prepared they were to "go the extra mile".

Corporate social responsibility was personally important to 86 per cent of those polled and there was an increase in organisations having CSR policies, from 39 per cent in 2005 to 46 per cent this time around.

With managers now feeling more secure in their jobs and confident of finding work elsewhere, work-life balance was becoming an increasing priority in their lives, with 57 per cent saying their senior managers were committed to work-life balance, a significant increase from 33 per cent reported last year.

There was a corresponding increase in senior managers being seen to practise work-life balance for themselves, from 22 per cent in 2005 to 33 per cent in 2006.

Seven out of 10 said they refuse a promotion if it affected their work-life balance

Seven out of 10 said they refuse a promotion if it affected their work-life balance and almost six out of 10 (57 per cent) felt they had a satisfactory work-life balance.

Managing change remained the biggest issue for organisations, despite some stating the biggest challenges they were facing related to succession planning, retention, recruitment and skills shortages.

Some were responding by focusing on core business and cost/spending restrictions but there was also a significant increase in organisations looking for new markets.

Organisations, the research found, were often good at initiating change but poor at consolidating benefits and managing employee motivation.

Organisational life was far from comfortable, with just 19 per cent reporting a high level of morale in their own organisation, falling to 7 per cent in the public sector.

While nearly half said their organisation had become more values driven over recent years, 60 per cent believed that its espoused and practised values did not match.

This represented a significant rise in scepticism from last year, with the rise most noticeable in the private sector, said Roffey.

In addition, 78 per cent of managers thought senior managers do not "walk the talk".

Performance management was still problematic, with only 11 per cent believing it was managed very well, compared with 9 per cent in 2005.

This fell to 2 per cent in the public sector, where a third believed it was not managed at all.

HR continued to be seen as reactive and only 17 per cent of non-HR respondents believed the function added value to the business.

The top challenge for HR therefore was developing a performance management culture, said Roffey.

Conflict at work was still rising, but less sharply than in previous years, with the increase greatest in the public sector.

Different goals, purpose and agenda topped the list of causes, with 45 per cent of respondents reporting some extent of bullying in the workplace, predominantly verbal but also in the form of long hours and work pressure.

Leadership also emerged as a central issue for organisations. A third of the managers polled rated leadership as poor or very poor in their organisation.

Just 36 per cent trusted their top leadership to a great extent. Leadership was rated much more positively in organisations where it was being actively developed.

For organisations with an organisational development function, leadership development was now the most pressing issue and it was also the top strategy that organisations were embracing for the future.

"There is still some way to go until organisations provide the ideal environment in which managers can achieve their high aspirations but there are signs that a corner may have been turned," said report authors Valerie Garrow and Annette Sinclair.

"By focusing on 'softer' issues such as values, purpose, social responsibility and leadership development, organisations will be better placed to recruit and retain the best," they added.