Employees are losing confidence in business leaders

Employee satisfaction with UK business leaders is on a downward spiral, requiring them to step up to regain employee confidence, while satisfaction with immediate managers is seeing an upturn.

These are the findings from the ‘Steering your leadership teams’ research report by employee engagement expert, WorkBuzz.

Employee satisfaction with organisational leadership has dropped 8 percentage points – from 71 percent in 2019 to 63 percent in 2022, whereas satisfaction with immediate managers has seen an increase – up from 74 to 79 percent within the same time frame.

“The past couple of years, and possibly the next few are a period of severe turbulence”, says John Backhouse, Head of People Science at WorkBuzz. “Our findings suggest that employees and middle managers are under huge pressure to keep the lights on at their organisations against a backdrop of resource issues, and systems and processes not fit for purpose. This has left workers struggling to cope, with the focus ultimately falling on leaders to fix everything!”

The research also reveals that after an initial upswing in recognition in the first few months of the Covid-19 pandemic, employees feeling appreciated for their efforts has dropped and is now at 66 compared to 70 percent in 2018. And the trend is continuing downwards.

Backhouse says, “Employees are having to fill resourcing gaps, often working much harder and for longer hours, and yet they aren’t feeling appreciated either in thanks nor in remuneration.”

Immediate managers in particular have felt it more than most as they cope under additional pressure, often backfilling operational duties of those in their teams who are leaving or going off sick. And these efforts, which are highly visible to their teams, are often compromising managers’ health and wellbeing. In fact, across all four years of the research, immediate managers consistently scored their wellbeing and work-life balance the lowest (in comparison to their colleagues).

“Employees may well sympathise with managers who are going through similar struggles, and they can see first-hand when they go out of their way to overcome new challenges,” says Backhouse. “This may indicate why workers’ views on middle managers have improved over time while their views on leadership – who they are really depending on to effect change – have dropped.”

If employees are to gain more confidence in leadership, WorkBuzz’s report urges business leaders to pivot their traditional ideas of how to lead. It suggests that today’s leaders need to set clear expectations for flexible working; focus on regular, open, and honest communications; ensure equality and inclusivity; model the right behaviours; empower their teams; and implement efficient systems and processes.

Backhouse adds, “How to be a great leader doesn’t come with a manual, each leader needs to find their own way. However what’s become clear is that many business leaders just aren’t earning the trust and confidence of their employees during these turbulent times. Leaders must step up to the plate, dialling up the ‘human’ elements of leadership, including listening to the needs of their people closest to the crisis and reacting quickly. Only by understanding and responding to employees’ struggles, will leaders begin to turn the tide of dissatisfaction.”

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