By Daniel Hunter

Mediocre managers are just as damaging to employee well-being as the more outlandish David Brent style nightmare bosses, according to new Kingston University research carried out for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

Not taking responsibility for mistakes, passing on stress, panicking about deadlines and telling staff what to do rather than consulting them were some of the most damaging managerial behaviour described by those surveyed for the report.

These characteristics, which researchers found continually chipped away at staff motivation, were cited alongside some of the more obvious and extreme ‘David Brent’ type behaviours — such as inappropriate humour or favouritism — as ways in which managers undermined employee well-being.

“Many people will at some time in their working lives have been managed by someone whose over-the-top behaviour telling offensive jokes and cultivating ‘teachers’ pets’ highlighted a lack of self-awareness and a major inability to manage people,” Dr Rachel Lewis, a lecturer at Kingston Business School, who headed the research, said.

“However, our findings demonstrate that it’s actually the less obvious, mediocre managers who too often ‘fly under the radar’ in organisations, that may inadvertently cause stress and could actually be just as damaging to staff engagement over time.”

In these tough economic times, how people were managed on a day-to-day basis was even more critical for organisations that wanted their staff to be happy and therefore more productive and effective, she said.

The research, which was carried out with research consultancy Affinity Health at Work, pinpointed how managers should act in order to get the best out of people. It showed how managers who were calm under pressure, invested time in getting to know staff as individuals and who discussed workers’ career development, were likely to benefit from higher levels of employee involvement and lower levels of stress and absence. It said that managers who consult staff and ask them if they are OK, and take responsibility if things go wrong are also more likely to motivate and retain employees.

“The aim of this research is to support human resources departments, employers and managers by providing a behavioural framework that identifies what managers need to do in order to create long-lasting employee effectiveness. The framework can be used to support managers in developing the core people management skills to enable them to get their teams motivated and working at a consistently high level,” Dr Lewis added.

The research was based on an analysis of responses from a survey of 500 employees and 120 managers.

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