Bottom line bosses fail to spot staff discontent

FRESH evidence that employers often know little about what really motivates their staff is contained in a survey that indicates that more than half of all male and a third of women office workers are less loyal to their organisations than they were a year ago, writes Roger Trapp.

It is not lack of pay rises or poor promotion prospects that are upsetting them, it is the fact that they do not feel respected and regard job promises as not being kept.

The survey, by Napier Scott, the recruitment consultants, also showed that workers under 20 and over 35 and those paid less than pounds 40,000 a year were likely to be more loyal.

Women emerge as more loyal because they are apparently more willing to accept extra money in lieu of career satisfaction. This underlines the tendency for women to be less career-minded, while men are more likely to be self-centred and aggressive about their plans.

When workers claim that promises have not been kept, they are typically talking about how the company has changed its mind over such issues as job specification, promotion prospects and redundancy levels. The survey quotes Tony, a 23-year-old earning pounds 16,000 a year, as feeling less loyal because "when the new computer systems came in, there was a lack of instruction and management direction". A 25-year-old on pounds 40,000 wanted to leave since he "was being treated like part of the furniture"; Helen, a secretary in her late twenties, felt no one noticed how much work she did.

Others become disenchanted because they saw "the organisation of the company has been turned upside down and there is a lot more pressure".

Much of this is inevitable because of increasing competition, but John Sims, managing director of Napier Scott, believes that discussing changes with employees can reduce resistance and distrust. "Unless there is communication with the workforce over changes, staff feel they have been lied to about their jobs and career prospects," he said.

This feeling is contributing to what is being called "mid-career crisis". This used to take place when executives hit their fifties and realised there would be no more promotions. In the past decade it has been spotted in those nearing 40. Now it is starting to affect executives of 30.

Mr Sims said the survey of 200 office workers showed that although many thought money and promotion were the keys to staff loyalty, it was more important to have the basics of good management in place.

"Managers are so obsessed by the bottom line that they haven't got time to be nice or even civilised to their staff," he said. "This is building up an enormous amount of resentment. The survey shows that many are just hanging on to their existing jobs because there are no alternatives. If and when a feel-good factor returns to the job market there is going to be an explosion of people moving."