Only one in eight managers is 'bad'

A new study suggests that British management might not be as poor as you'd think.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 10 Dec 2019

It’s easy to get the impression that UK plc has a management problem.

Links are regularly and quite reasonably drawn between sub-par productivity levels and poor management; study the business pages meanwhile and you'll see swathes of stories of bosses stepping down, mistreating employees or failing to deliver on their targets. 

However a soon-to-be-published study may offer some relief. 

The paper by Cass Business School professor Amanda Goodall, alongside Warwick University’s Andrew Oswald and University of Wisconsin's Benjamin Artz, examines a random selection of answers from 28,000 European employees who participated in the European Working Conditions survey in 2015.

Participants scored their bosses between one and five across seven criteria: feedback; respect; praise and recognition; support for individual development; successful team working; help in getting the job done; and help and supports. As an additional measure, the professors looked at how these criteria related to overall job satisfaction, controlling for factors including pay and "the innate happiness of individuals".

Its findings suggest that not only are bad managers far less prevalent than one might think, at least according to employees - with only around 13 per cent being classed as "bad" - but more than one in ten received a perfect score, the average being four out of five. Bosses were considered bad if they scored below a three.

A new definition of good?

Writing in the FT, Goodall suggests that similarly to a referee in football, we might hear more about bad managers because they make poor decisions or we disagree with those decisions.

However that raises an important caveat - this study was based on employee perceptions of their managers' calibre, which is not the same as the actual calibre of those managers. In particular, it's quite possible that staff unfairly and probably unconsciously rate down bosses they don't like, or vice versa.

The study attempted to correct for that with its use of categories, and it's telling that many managers classified overall as 'bad' still scored highly for their respect for workers, but low when it came to perceptions of their ability to get the job done.

In any case, perceptions have value in and of themselves. Personal experience and research alike consistently show us that employees who feel more appreciated are more engaged and therefore less likely to leave a company - a point backed up by Goodall’s study. Furthermore being mismanaged outweighs the impact of pay, working hours and size of the business when it comes to overall wellbeing and job satisfaction

All considered, while the study may provide an ego boost for maligned managers, it's clearly no time for them to rest on their laurels.

Image credit: Gordon Gekko - Ilona Gaynor via Flickr

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