Managers seek focus as change blurs their jobs

`Many managers feel that the cost-cutting pressures of recent years have now gone far enough'

MANAGERS perform better if they feel valued and have a challenging job, while financial incentives such as performance-related pay have little effect, according to a comprehensive survey of management attitudes just published by the Ashridge Management Training College.

The survey, based on completed questionnaires from 563 senior managers, also suggests that reports of flattened hierarchies may have been overstated.

Half the businesses reject management delayering and more than 10 per cent have increased layers of management. Where organisations have rationalised, managers who are left frequently complain of being burdened with trivial tasks.

There is a widespread view among managers that downsizing and restructuring exercises have been badly handled and left organisations less efficient. "Clearly, many managers feel that the cost-cutting pressures of recent years have gone far enough and now pose a serious threat to innovation and development," says Laurence Handy, director of research at Ashridge.

These pressures are responsible for growing workloads on managers, 50 per cent of whom work more than 60 hours per week, compared with less than 30 per cent in other European countries. More than 60 per cent of the British managers frequently take work home.

An expectation that managers will work excessive hours may also be a factor in limiting the number of women who break into senior management. Asked if they think they have to make a choice between career and parenting, 40 per cent of women feel they have, compared with 20 per cent of men.

Similarly, while just 28 per cent of the men have no children, the figure is 68 per cent among women managers.

In recent years "mentoring" programmes have been promoted as a means of giving women a fast track within organisations. Yet the Ashridge survey shows that men are twice as likely to receive personal guidance.

Under the surface, there are also a number of resentments lingering among Britain's managers. The most common of these is a perceived lack of respect. Managers in the financial services industry are particularly critical of the lack of support they receive from senior executives. Predictably, it is managers in the utilities who feel the least loyalty and commitment to their organisations.

Growth and career challenges are more likely to be found in the services sector than in manufacturing, and in small and medium-sized enterprises rather than big business.

An important challenge for employers is to meet managers' continuing expectations of promotion, despite delayering. Half of the managers surveyed still expect to be promoted.

Organisations also need to address the concerns of a significant minority of managers who feel that their personal development needs are being ignored.

The good news for the economy is that the emphasis now is on building for expansion. It seems that what managers most want now is stability, allowing them to make the best of new structures, even though they may be unpopular.

"Whereas a high proportion of our managers were previously heavily involved in change programmes, this past year most have been grappling with the unforeseen difficulties in implementing these programmes," says Dr Handy.

"While they realise that change is a fact of life, there is a clear sense of `change programme weariness' among our respondents. Once again, the message from our managers is the need for focus, meaning and clarity of responsibilities and objectives."

q The `Ashridge Management Index' is available from the Ashridge Management College in Berkhamsted for pounds 25.

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