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Workplace relations: ‘a marriage under stress’


The relationship between employer and employees has been likened to ‘a marriage under stress’ by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

Lack of communication, feeling taken for granted, little trust, feeling dissatisfied – and ultimately the rush towards the exit were all highlighted in the report: ‘Working Life: Employee Attitudes and Engagement 2006’, commissioned by CIPD and conducted by Kingston Business School and Ipsos MORI.

Mike Emmott, CIPD employee relations adviser, says: “Many employees feel like neglected spouses. As in any marriage, good relationships need work and commitment. But with only three in ten employees engaged the findings suggest many managers just aren’t doing enough to keep their staff interested.

“Lack of communication means many employees feel unsupported and don’t feel their hard work is recognised. As a result the sparkle has gone out of the relationship, damaging productivity levels in many UK businesses.”

The study interviewed 2,000 UK employees and the report’s findings include:

  • 30 per cent of employees say they rarely or never get feedback on their performance

  • 42 per cent of employees do not feel they are kept informed about what is going on in their organisation

  • Only 37 per cent of employees are satisfied with the opportunities they have to feed their views and opinions upwards

  • 25 per cent of employees say they are rarely or never made to feel their work counts

  • 44 per cent of employees feel under excessive pressure once or twice a week or more

  • 43 per cent of employees are dissatisfied with the relationship with their manager

  • 47 per cent of employees are looking for another job or in the process of leaving their job.

Catherine Truss, professor of human resource management at Kingston University Business School and lead author of the report, says: “This study clearly shows how much management practice affects people’s attitudes towards their work. There is so much that managers can do to make their staff feel valued and improve levels of engagement that will benefit both employers and employees.

“We found that people who are engaged with their work perform better, are more likely to act as advocates for their employer and experience more job satisfaction. So it is in the interests of everyone to find ways of addressing low levels of engagement in the workplace.”

There is the basis for a successful partnership, Mike Emmott added, but neither employers nor employees are really putting in the effort needed to lift the relationship out of the rut.

“Neither is getting the full benefits from the employment relationship and this has to be a top priority for organisations. Getting people to turn up for work is the easy bit. Getting them to go the extra mile requires effort and imagination. Employers should be looking to generate passion and enthusiasm, and to make work a happier experience for all their employees,” says Emmott.

Professor John Purcell, director of the Work and Employment Research Centre at the University of Bath, says: “High-performance organisations will also have a large majority of employees, but never all, who are willing and able to solve problems, take initiatives, help colleagues and customers and work collaboratively with their manager.

“Opportunities to engage in discretionary behaviour are denied to around a third of people who find their skills are not used in work. This points to the need for more attention to be paid to job design.

“We know that people who have reasonable autonomy in doing their job, sometimes called ‘elbow room’, and who find their job challenging, are likely to have high levels of job satisfaction and experience less work-related stress.”

He added that the other key to employee engagement was communication, a point agreed with by management consultant Charles Woodruffe.

Woodruffe says: “People want a sense of involvement – of being to some extent in a partnership with their employer. The report singles out having the opportunity to feed their views and opinions upwards as the most important driver of people’s engagement. It also identifies the importance of being kept informed about what is going on in the organisation.”

The research also found that women were more likely to be engaged and loyal than men – even though many more worked part-time. The authors highlighted this as an indication of the importance of work-life balance.

According to Purcell, the survey’s results indicate that the key challenge for HR practitioners is not policies but facilitating the building of better organisations.

This means greater emphasis on communication and job design while avoiding the trap of ‘one size fits all’.

One Response

  1. Marriage under stress
    While reading this article, the thought kept running thru my mind……..”How many times have I heard this?”

    So I have a question for all visitors to HRZone…….

    Why is it with all the management training; the management and business education thru to the highest levels, the significant number of graduates [the thinking people] taking up senior positions in organisations; why is it that we remain seemingly oblivious to the simple reality that treating people in a way that negates all the criticism in this article will produce efficient workplaces where people enjoy participating??????

    Methinks the answer lies in determining what it is that makes seemingly intelligent folk change when they take up senior positions, where the emphasis moves from caring for the troops, to caring for the ego and the executive salary. What say you English folk who we colonials dare call Poms!


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