Lack of trust in the workplace holds back productivity

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Internal office relationships may be the most dysfunctional part of business life according to a survey by Roffey Park, the executive education and research organisation. The report, the Management Agenda 2002, was produced from a survey of 400 managers, and examines issues relating to structural change, reduced workforces, managerial motivation and loyalty, careers, rewards, political behaviour in the workplace, conflict in organisations, personal development, creativity and innovation, organisational values, knowledge management, work-life balance, e-commerce and strategic HR.

The findings suggest that lack of trust in organisations is acting as a barrier to high performance, resulting in inappropriate management styles, harassment, conflict, espoused but not practised values and resistance to change. For many employees, preserving their position is more important than high performance. The solution proposed is to create an atmosphere in the office with no hidden agendas.

Although some sectors are suffering badly in current conditions, with much discussion of shutdowns, cost cutting, headcount reduction and outsourcing, two thirds of respondents claim to be optimistic about the future. While organisations are downsizing, many are still recruiting at the same time, trying to cherry-pick high calibre managers from competitors.

58 per cent of respondents say their organisations have a culture of ˜presenteeism", where they feel under pressure to stay in the office considerably longer than their contracted hours, often regardless of whether the workload demands it. 90 per cent of managers work an extra hour every day and 20 per cent work more than three extra hours per day. 71 per cent of respondents admit to stress caused by heavy workloads (made heavier not easier by e-mail), lack of time, little support and lack of control over their workload. Staff shortages and the pressures of trying to maintain a high level of performance add to stress levels. One of the most notable findings is that the terrorist acts of 11 September appear to have triggered amongst managers a growing awareness of their own mortality, with many looking for ˜meaning" in their lives and the chance to do something worthwhile, at home and in the workplace.

The majority of employees feel less loyal to their employer than in the past and they are no longer prepared to put work ahead of everything else. Work-life balance is becoming such an important issue for managers that many are prepared to downshift in order to gain more time for their out-of-work interests. They are no longer prepared to make the heavy sacrifices that they made in the past.

The need to create a more diverse workforce appears to be moving up the business agenda since 11 September. Respondents say that too often senior managers recruit ˜in their own image" and that UK organisations are too UK-focused. 67 per cent of respondents claim their organisation embraces diversity, though this is often means they merely have an equal opportunities policy. Managers would like more to be done to encourage diversity, such as training with regard to cultural awareness, recruiting abroad and profiling the work force on an annual basis.

Organisations are also reintroducing structural layers. While the emergence of this trend was evident last year, managers cited it as the "worst kind of organisational change". This year even more organisations are reintroducing layers and managers now claim it is working well. Flatter hierarchical structures caused bottlenecks for promotion in the past, but now organisations appear to be reintroducing layers in order to retain key employees in a knowledge economy.

The skills and attributes that managers believe are critical in today's workplace include networking, flexibility, political acumen, the ability to forge alliances, cultural awareness and extreme competitiveness.
As part of their role, the majority of respondents say they are increasingly being expected to manage change, coach and develop others and engage hearts and minds.

The research also suggests an interesting reinvention of HR, with many companies taking back elements that they had previously outsourced. However HR is still perceived to operate in a piecemeal, reactive way, with too many initiatives being undertaken that don't fundamentally make a difference to the business.

"The Management Agenda 2002" is available from Roffey Park,
priced £30.00. Call 01293 854065 or e-mail:
[email protected]

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