Unlock manager strangle-hold to engage employees

2009

The secret to increasing employee engagement could lay in stripping back the layers of military-like management structures in organisations and replacing them with a democratisation of the workforce, says a leading Welsh academic.

Paul Thomas of the University of Glamorgan believes that many companies are held back by out-dated hierarchal models of management based on the military. Stripping out a few layers and working as a democracy across employees could help boost engagement and productivity, he says.

Staff need to be trusted and empowered, he says. The old models are becoming increasingly moribund and those firms adapting to the new environment will find greater success. He has already seen the results for himself in the companies he works for and stresses the results come from staff thinking for themselves.

But to do this, managers need to relinquish control. "It takes courage for someone in a management position to do that," he says. However, most managers do not have true control, he points out. The real, tangible control lies with staff.

"It's altruism, they are giving away power and status and control – not that they had that in the first place. So, if they are not in control, what are they there for?"

Well, it is certainly not to help staff feel engaged, it appears. A recent survey from the consultancy Hay suggested that two-thirds of managers actively create negative working environments that leave employees feeling resentful and frustrated.

Overly rigid management structures, processes and procedures were more often than not preventing employees from exercising initiative, while at the same time creating obstacles to problem-solving, the survey found.

Half of workers believed they did not have the authority to make decisions crucial to their jobs, with the same proportion complaining of being discouraged from participating in decisions that directly affected their work.

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