Myopic managers stifling recovery

Mar 23 2009 by Nic Paton Print This Article

In these tough times, where it is vital you maximise whatever advantages you have, ensuring you are putting the talents of your workforce to their full use should be something of a no-brainer.

Yet too many managers still have a myopic, patronising view of their workers that leads them to compartmentalise people by their job title and wrap them up in morale-sapping rules and regulations, according to latest research by a UK think-tank.

A poll of more than 2,000 workers by The Work Foundation has found that four out of 10 felt they had more skills than their jobs required and a similar proportion had little or no flexibility over the hours they worked.

Most worrying of all, nearly two thirds described their workplace as being "rule and policy bound" while a fifth of graduates complained they were working in "low knowledge content" jobs.

Ian Brinkley, co-author of the Knowledge Workers and Knowledge Work report, and associate director at foundation, said: "So far in this recession employers have been reluctant to lose the skills, talents and experience of their workforces.

"Yet at the same time they seem to be failing to make the most of them. Many people could be doing more, but are denied the chance to do so," he added.

The study echoes U.S research published earlier this month by leadership and development consultancy AchieveGlobal that concluded it did not matter how old or young workers were, what most employees wanted was simply to be treated with respect in the workplace.

Just as importantly, the poll of more than 500 workers identified "opportunity for career growth", "learning and development", "flexibility within the work environment", "recognition" and "new work experience" as all hugely valued job attributes.

The Work Foundation study calculated that the UK has what it calls a "30-30-40" shaped workforce.

What it meant by this was that 30 per cent of jobs had a high knowledge content requiring greater cognitive complexity, a similar 30 per cent had some knowledge content and 40 per cent had less knowledge content.

The ten most common tasks that people did in their work were, in order: people management, data and analysis, administrative tasks, work with products, perception and precision tasks (such as judging the speed of moving objects, judging location and visually identifying objects), leadership, caring, repairing and moving, creative tasks, and personal and domestic tasks.

But within this there was little evidence of any move towards a more "knowledge intensive" work environment that had the potential to transform the relationships and practices within a workforce, the foundation argued.

Knowledge workers were no more likely to be in self-employed, part-time or "portfolio"-type jobs than others and job tenures were also similar.

In total, three quarters of those polled worked regular nine-to five jobs, with knowledge intensive jobs more likely than others to be structured in this way.

However knowledge workers did tend to have greater flexibility, with up to 60 per cent having some choice over hours, though only a tenth had complete flexibility over their schedules.

By contrast, fewer than 40 per cent of those in less knowledge-intensive jobs had any flexibility over setting their working arrangements.

"To keep job losses to a minimum, organisations should be taking full advantage of widespread opportunities to give people more responsibility, move away from rules and procedure-based workplace cultures, and re-organise work and use new technologies to give individuals more flexibility over hours," stressed Brinkley.

"More autonomy for people and less intensive management should be the order of the day Ė in other words greater use of the principles of good work.

"Trapping so many workers in roles in which their skills and abilities are poorly matched with their jobs is a waste both of economic potential and human possibility," he added.