Insecurity, uncertainty and growing pressure on individuals is bringing tension to the boil in Britain’s workplaces, according to research by Roffey Park, the executive education and research organisation.
This “pressure-cooker problem” is increasingly manifesting itself in escalating workloads, increases in workplace conflict, bullying and job insecurity and the growing use of office politics.
Published each January by Roffey Park, the executive education and research organisation, the Management Agenda examines the challenges that managers and organisations are facing.
“Organisations are now realising the benefits of large-scale change programmes,” said the research authors Claire McCartney and Linda Holbeche. “Although this is positive, tensions beneath the surface are running high and these have been exacerbated by recent changes.
“An increase in workplace conflict, bullying and the growing use of office politics suggests that a pressure-cooker problem is building within organisations.”
The in-depth survey of 372 managers reveals the aggressive behaviour in the workplace is widespread. Nearly one in five managers (18 per cent) say that they have personally experienced harassment or verbal bullying at work. Nearly one in ten (9 per cent) claim to have experienced physical attacks. Twelve per cent claim that sexual harassment occurs in their work environment.
Asked who are the main perpetrators of harassment, the respondents pointed to senior managers (63 per cent), their boss (29 per cent) and their colleagues (20 per cent). In contrast, irate customers were cited by only 18 per cent of respondents.
None of this would come as any surprise to researchers at the Technion Institute in Israel. In a recent study, they found that aggressive managers who blame others when things go wrong are more likely to get promoted than managers who feel guilty and accept responsibility for failure and that it actually pays for managers to loose their tempers.
Another symptom of the tensions discussed by the Roffey Park researchers is an increase in office politics. Sixty per cent of managers believe it is on the increase in their organisation and more than three-quarters (79 per cent) say that conflict within the workplace has increased.
“Clearly, organisations should be careful about who they place in positions of trust,” said the authors, “and they need to monitor these people to make sure that such trust is not abused.”
The Roffey Park research also underlines how demands on individuals at work are growing. An overwhelming majority - 83 per cent - of those surveyed work consistently longer than their contracted week and 63 per cent report that their workload has increased over the last year. This echo figures published by recruitment consultancy Robert Walters earlier this month that found that nearly one third of UK managers were expected to work at least an extra 10 hours weekly while fewer than a quarter (21 per cent) put in less than two hours extra.
Despite this extra effort, a third of managers feel less secure in their jobs than they did last year. And because of it, 70 per cent claim to suffer from work-related stress, caused by a lack of time (58 per cent) increasing workloads (54 per cent) a lack of organisational support (47 per cent) and a lack of control over their workload (38 per cent).
But even though widespread change has led to rising tension, it also appears to have resulted in increasing efficiency. Some 65 per cent of managers claim that change has improved organisational performance, up from 47 per cent in 2002.
Significantly, these changes have often involved new working arrangements being introduced, such as the use of ‘virtual’ teams, flexible working, outsourcing, home-working and ‘hot-desking’.