December 13, 2007 6:29 AM PST

U.K. survey: IT managers blamed for staff malaise

Overly authoritarian and bureaucratic IT managers are bad for morale and productivity and are making their staff sick.

According to the Quality of Working Life survey conducted by U.K.-based management-services firm Chartered Management Institute, the most widely experienced management styles in the U.K.'s IT sector are reactive (45 percent), bureaucratic (38 percent), and authoritarian (24 percent)--management styles that can all have a negative impact on workers' morale, productivity, and even health.

These three management styles have also become more common in the IT sector--with reactive and bureaucratic styles increasing by six percent since 2004, and authoritarian leadership rising by 5 percent. A CMI spokeswoman said rates of reactive management in IT are "slightly higher" than in some other industries.

The CMI said there is evidence to show that more positive types of management--those which seek to empower staff and encourage a supportive and open workplace culture--are better for business as they can boost staff morale and productivity.

"Where cultures are more innovative or more proactive, there's generally greater motivation in organizations," the CMI spokeswoman told

More than a third (37 percent) of organizations that are performing well have "accessible" management teams, whereas 56 percent of declining companies display bureaucratic tendencies and a quarter have a "secretive" environment.

Bad management also can be blamed for workplaces where a "sick-note culture" exists.

Just one in 10 respondents to the survey said absence increased in organizations with "innovative" and "trusting" cultures. By contrast, almost half (45 percent) said rates of absenteeism have gone up where employers treat staff with suspicion.

However, a reactive management style in the IT sector could be attributed to the nature of the work, said the spokeswoman. "It's often viewed as a service function. Often IT will feel that they are at the beck and call of the business units, so they're often having to react to changing business priorities," she said.

The spokeswoman said IT managers should think about how they can be more proactive, by "going to the business and saying how IT can support the organization's goals." She also pointed to the fact that, when it comes to sensing that they are helping organizations achieve their goals, IT managers can have a lower sense of achievement than managers from some other sectors.

"There's a link for me," she said, "around feeling that you're having to react and a sense of: 'How much impact do I have on enabling the organization to achieve its goals?' So perhaps we need to work harder at getting IT managers to help staff, help people, help themselves understand how they help achieve the organization's goals--and have a greater sense of purpose and drive in those goals."

The Quality of Working Life survey is based on the views of more than 1,500 individuals, with 262 respondents from the IT sector.

Natasha Lomas of reported from London.

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There is nothing particularly new here, although it is nice to see fresh data reinforcing a study that is now over twenty years old. Those interested in the background can consult an ACADEMY OF MANAGEMENT REVIEW article published in 1986 by Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries and Danny Miller under the title "Personality, Culture, and Organization." This was a fascinating study of the parallels between organizational pathology and neurotic behavior at the management behavior (the higher the management level the stronger the parallels). I suspect that the only significant difference between then and now is that management behavior has been steadily drifting from the neurotic to the psychotic!
Posted by ghostofitpast (199 comments )
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If staff morale is down, I'm willing to bet that it has more to do with companies all over the world, trying to do more with less. Employees are expected to work longer hours, sacrifice their personal time. Raises tend to be stagnant or very low. So most people use the computer on their office desk as an escape tool. They stay in touch with friends, watch videos, listen to music, play games. The PC is their entertainment device.

IT is in charge of making sure that the computers are able to do the jobs they were purchased for. IT has to put controls in place to keep viruses and spyware out, avoid software conflicts that result in crashes, keep the Internet bandwidth open enough so that legit business needs (e-mail) are not choked to a crawl by people watching YouTube videos all day. So basically, what IT needs to do to keep systems working, is counterproductive to what the staff wants to do, which is to keep their systems playing! IT becomes the Ogre that you hate.

If IT were to allow people to use their computers anyway they like, IT would spend most of it's time fixing crashed or infected computers. Workers would not be productive while their desktops are being reformatted, which means that the company isn't making money. And when the big boss asks the workers how come they are not working, they won't volunteer that their activities crashed their computer. They will simply state that their computer is not working and they are waiting for IT to fix it. So now, the big boss is mad at IT!
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