Almost a third of workers don’t like their managers, new survey finds

By Melissa Coade

Wednesday December 15, 2021

Different times, different expectations. (Friends Stock/Adobe)

The art of good management has been identified as a critical issue in new workplace data that shows 53% of employees who have worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic have reservations about interacting with their boss when they must return to the office. 

YouGov was commissioned by training organisation the Australian College of Applied Professions (ACAP) to undertake a national survey of 1000 employees, which found that 29% of people ‘disliked’ their managers.

Respondents, 83% who have been working from home since the start of the pandemic, identified concerns about interacting with their manager as one of their top worries about returning to the office. The reasons for this reported reluctance about having to deal face-to-face with managers included bosses who lacked emotional intelligence (39%), micromanagement (32%) and lacking empathy about employees’ lives beyond the workplace (31%). 

ACAP CEO George Garrop said that the ‘COVID normal’ work context was challenging for organisations because it highlighted the ‘expectation gap’ between managers and their teams. It also flagged the high risk of staff turnover in the new year, in what commentators have dubbed ‘the great resignation’

“The ongoing shifts around remote and flexible working, employee burnout, mental health struggles, isolation, financial worries and many other factors, have taken a toll on workplaces — and also, evidently, on the relationships between workers and their managers,” Garrop said.

“These findings suggest that managers and leaders with strong people skills will be increasingly important for organisations looking to attract and retain the best emerging talent, and to get the best out of staff.”

The new survey findings correspond with the key takeaway of a recent Mandarin Talks panel about the future of work in the public service, which recommended additional training for managers’ performance management and appraisal skills

Qualtrics XM’s Crissa Sumner, who specialises in employee experiences, said that it is important for the public sector to start investing in training to develop management and leadership capabilities as the workforce navigates the transition to working from home, and then back to the office again.

“I think it’s important to recognise that managing a remote workforce is quite different. There’s a different set of skills required and managing by outcomes is going to be really, really important,” Sumner said.

“In terms of supporting these changes, there’s a need for agencies to be thinking about how they invest in management, development, leadership development in those new areas.”

The APAC survey responses also paint a picture of a large group of workers, in an employees’ labour market, who are considering finding jobs elsewhere rather than tolerating managerial rudeness or workplace politics upon their return to the office in 2022. Two in three (65%) respondents said that their manager or boss lacked soft skills. 

The survey, conducted in October, also revealed younger workers were less satisfied with their managers, with more Generation Z (70%) and Millennials (65%) reporting their bosses lacked soft skills over Baby Boomers (49%). Empathy and emotional intelligence were the top issues younger workers reported their managers struggled with.

Younger employees were also more likely to report that they did not like their manager (Gen Z, 33%; Millennials, 33%; Gen X 32%), with only 13% of Baby Boomers dissatisfied with their direct bosses.

According to Garrop, positive human relationships at work have become a priority for younger workers and so managers must possess both technical and soft leadership skills.

“They want to feel good, be invested in and genuinely cared for — a solid pay packet, job security and career progression may no longer be enough.

“Traditional workplace cultures and management practices that have emphasised technical skills — without giving due weight to people skills — are no longer meeting the expectations of workers from younger generations – especially Millennials and Gen Z,” Garrop said.

The surveys interviewed workers in a broad range of sectors including legal services, IT and computing, human resources and recruitment, project management, psychology, human services, finance, marketing, healthcare, social assistance, and public administration.


Census shows what staff think of APS managers, but how can they improve?

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