"I earn six figures – but here's why the pay slump for senior managers matters"

12 June 2018 -

pay cut

As new research reveals exec-level pay is falling in real terms, one surprisingly well-paid manager shares her anguish 

Gabrielle Lane

For Louise Gaitskell* the 25 May 2018 should have come with a welcome sense of relief after a gruelling 70-hour working week. The impending Bank Holiday weekend and the culmination of months of GDPR preparation saw her colleagues at a boutique City marketing firm head off to unwind and toast their hard work over cocktails. Instead, Gaitskell found herself slumped at her desk – distraught. 

The same day her compliance efforts for 20 clients were rubberstamped by the lawyers, her boss turned down her request for a pay rise. And the news had come just a month after her annual bonus had been slashed. “I felt unappreciated at best – at worst humiliated,” says Gaitskell. “When you put so much energy into your professional life, the lack of validation from a pay rise can cause you to question your self-worth – and your commitment to your career.”

The dejection might surprise some: Gaitskell already earns six figures as a group account director – heading up a team of ten that create campaigns for global brands. But her experience is not uncommon among business leaders. Today the Chartered Management Institute has warned of a ‘shock to the system’ as annual pay rises for senior managers are down in real terms, and bonuses for directors have fallen by an average of 16%. 

Figures from The Managers and Professionals Salary Survey by CMI and XpertHR show that in 2017 basic salaries fell 0.6% against the cost of living. Average bonuses for directors were £44,987 compared to £53,504 in previous years. The sums involved might be more than most of us can dream of, but the decline still matters, says Gaitskell.

“I know I’m well-paid compared to my peers, but I work long hours including some weekends, so it’s not always as rewarding as it seems at first glance,” she explains. “As a manager you are the one ultimately responsible for any problems and tasks – and that can mean staying later and working harder.”

In fact, previous CMI data has shown that bosses are working an average of 44 days unpaid per year: 59% of managers routinely check their emails out of hours and one in 10 has taken sick leave for their mental health as a result of a heavy workload.

Read more: The Quality of Working Life for managers 

Petra Wilton, director of strategy for CMI, explains: “Too many managers are chronically overworked and stressed by an always-on culture.” With pay down, this could affect the business performance of the UK as a whole, making the situation worse. 

“Britain needs two million more managers by 2024 on top of the existing 3.6 million if it is to meet the demands of the post-Brexit economy,” says Wilton. “It is imperative that businesses wake up and improve the workplace environment: if they cannot attract talent through pay packets alone they need to be creative in providing an environment that will motivate and retain ambitious managers.” 

It’s a challenge that Chris Land, professor of work and organisation at Anglia Ruskin University is seeing more often. 

“As a society we’ve seen material benefits take on cultural value: pay is becoming increasingly important as a motivator for managers because we live in an age in which people can easily compare themselves to others. However, this recognition could be shown in other ways, such as through time off, awards and formal promotion.”

But for Louise Gaitskell, companies should not overlook monetary rewards for senior staff. “Flexible working and other incentives are important, but to me it’s money that helps me safeguard my work/life balance. Earning well gives me a more comfortable lifestyle at the end of a long day and means I can delegate the tasks at home that I need to.” She points out that managers often become more senior at a time when the financial demands on their personal lives are increasing – not least due to raising families, saving for retirement and the ongoing cost of living in expensive cities. 

“It’s often being able to afford a treat – be it a trip or simply a nice lunch – that gets you through the working day,” she says. “As a senior manager you are often responsible for the profit and loss of a business, but that work needs to be financially worthwhile on a personal level to protect your own peace of mind too. ” 

Read more: the Managers and Professionals Salary Survey

*Name has been changed for confidentiality

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