How ‘socially Unskilled’ Managers Are Denting Productivity

Wednesday 20 January 2016
Sir Professor Cary Cooper speaks on how businesses can boost the productivity of their staff through better wellbeing

New CMI research has revealed that companies are suffering from low productivity as a result of overworked and overstressed staff not performing to the fullest.

Managers who said they experience the most stress had the lowest levels of productivity of those surveyed (less than 70%), while managers who were free from stress reported productivity levels of more than 90%.

CMI companion Sir Professor Cary Cooper, one of the lead authors of the CMI Quality of Working Life report, said the findings lead him to fear for the future of the UK economy and the workers that drive it.

“The long hours culture is very worrying,” he said. “We have a productivity issue in the UK: we are seventh in the G7 and seventeenth in the G20 on productivity per capita. What country is one of the top in the world for productivity per capita? Germany. What is the average hours of work in Germany? 35, one of the lowest in the world.”

The Quality of Working Life survey also found that more open, empowering management styles are connected to lower levels of stress, higher job satisfaction and greater personal productivity than more ‘command and control’ styles.

The worst generate up to four times more stress than the best: as many as 28% of those whose line managers are secretive or suspicious in style report that they often feel stressed – compared to just 7% of those whose managers who are empowering.

Professor Cooper said that this was evidence enough that staff were being let down by inadequate managers who had not been given the proper training to allow them to prosper in their position of leadership.

Read the sorry tale of the accidental manager

“The thing that is causing people to get ill at work and adversely affect their quality of working life is line managers who are not socially and interpersonally skilled – they don’t have the soft skills that are needed,” he said.

“The more socially skilled managers we have, the more they will recognise when people have unmanageable workloads, unrealistic deadlines or are showing signs of stress and currently we don’t have enough of them.”

Backing up the findings of the CMI study, the latest productivity research from OECD found that quality of management and leadership is the number one factor in determining productivity.

But management training, such as that delivered by CMI, can teach these softer skills and improve the overall quality of management in an organisation – boosting productivity.

Plugging the Gap

Chancellor George Osborne has said that filling this productivity gap is one of his key economic aims, but Professor Cooper said the government is focussing on the wrong issues when it comes to providing solutions.

“We hear from government that what’s important is the right equipment and IT and that that’s the magic bullet for the UK economy,” he said. “The magic bullet really is having top rate managers from shop floor to top floor, who have these social, soft skills and create a wellbeing culture.

“A wellbeing culture is a culture in which people are actually motivated to come to work. We don’t have enough of that, we are too bottom line focused and aren’t as people orientated as we should be.”

“That’s really important for the UK economy and for the health and wellbeing of workers,” he added.

Professor Cooper argued that, in order to ensure a successful future for UK Plc, businesses need to act now to ensure the next intake of young managers are properly and professionally trained.

“When we start recruiting the next generation of line managers we have to have these soft and interpersonal skills high up the criteria list,” he said. “Without them we are going to be in trouble.

“We need somebody who can team build, who can be flexible, who can allow flexible working arrangements, who won’t allow a long hours culture and who understands the importance of work life balance – all of that is the kind of manager we need for the next generation.”

Read about the Chartered Manager Degree Apprenticeship: training the next generation of leaders

Find out more about the Quality of Working Life study and download the full report at