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Half of workforce feel threatened by their boss

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Civil servants, scientists, doctors and retail managers the most threatened. Civil service leaders are the most threatening in the UK – almost three-quarters of civil servants feel threatened by their leader. Lack of quality leadership part of the ‘productivity puzzle’

Almost half of UK employees say their boss makes them feel threatened, according to research released this morning by Head Heart + Brain, a leadership development consultancy. In a damning indictment of the leadership skills of UK bosses, when asked ‘does the leadership of your organisation make you feel threatened or rewarded?’

47 percent of UK employees said they felt actively threatened by their leader. Jan Hills, partner at Head Heart + Brain, explains: “On the whole, UK leaders are failing to send out positive signals of reward to their employees.

It is making organisations less productive and more resistant to change, something which the UK cannot afford as it tries to drag itself out the economic quicksand created by the 2008 financial crisis.” Leaders in the civil service are the most threatening in the country: almost three quarters (72 percent) of civil servants said they felt the behaviour of their boss made them feel threatened, more than any other sector. The civil service has undergone tumultuous changes in the last three years. Two-thirds of Britain's most senior civil servants are so demoralised that they are considering leaving their jobs, according to one recent poll which also found that almost one in four Whitehall staff in the top three grades of the service want to leave their jobs immediately. The Cabinet Office said 95,000 people had not turned up for work when civil servants went on strike on budget day.

Scientists (63 percent) and doctors (60 percent) were the second and third most threatened professions. Jan Hills explains: “In the current economic climate, both business and public sector leaders feel they have to run just in order to stand still. They are under immense pressure to make their organisations leaner, while also improving performance. And pressure breeds threatening behaviour if it isn’t channelled in the right way. If it is managed in the wrong way, stress can gradually erode the quality of their leadership until it deteriorates to a disastrously low level. It creates a vicious downward cycle where productivity begins to suffer as the work force begins to feel increasingly threatened by brain-fried leaders. Neuroscience teaches us that the best leaders consciously manage their employees in a way that makes them feel rewarded. Feelings of reward boost engagement, boost decision making skills, and boost productivity. It employees feel threatened, they process information less effectively and can’t perform at their best.”

People working in retail also feel more threatened by their leaders than the rest of the working population, 58 percent of retail managers said their boss made them feel threatened, well above the UK average of 47 percent.

This suggests the poor performance of some UK retailers, and the sector’s particularly poor set of Christmas 2012 results – are in part due to the brain-fried and threatening leadership of retail bosses. Retailers shut an average of 20 stores a day last year. Jan Hills comments: “A lack of quality leadership is holding some sectors back, and the retail sector is one of the biggest culprits. Christmas sales were down and stores like HMV and Blockbuster have folded. Retail leaders aren’t coping well with the pace of change in the sector. They are managing their employees in a threatening way, which is dragging down productivity and making it harder for the sector to adapt to seismic changes in the economy. This is particularly worrying in a sector where there is such a close link between motivated employees, customer service and profitability”.

Threatening bosses are widening the productivity gap in the economy. Despite the level of employment being above its pre-crisis peak, the UK economy is projected to grow by just 0.6 percent this year , and may officially fall into a triple dip recession. And even though over half a million jobs being created in 2012, GDP remained flat. There are currently 29.73 million people in work, the highest number on record, but a lack of quality leadership is neutering the productivity potential of the largest UK workforce in history. Jan Hills explains: “The proportion of people in work is at its highest for more than 40 years, yet the economy is marooned in the longest period of economic stagnation seen for over a century, with little sign of it escaping until at least 2018. It’s a real puzzle. And a lack of quality leadership is one of the biggest pieces missing.”

Government expects the economy to do more with less, but in fact it is doing less with more when it comes to the labour market. To get the most out of their employees, and to close the productivity gap, UK bosses need to lead in a more brain-savvy way. They need to maximise feelings of reward in their employees, which will improve the engagement and decision-making of their workforce and ensure they are firing on all cylinders.”

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