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Rigid workplace cultures are holding back employees

John Yates

More than half of UK workers feel that both the structure and culture of their workplaces are holding them back from doing their job more effectively (55 percent and 53 percent respectively), with 53 percent warning they will consider moving jobs unless their organisation changes.

That’s according to recent research from ILM, the leading specialist provider of leadership qualifications in the UK, who previously published a manifesto calling for workplaces across the UK to foster a more collaborative culture in order to boost business success and aid retention.

The research identified a clear mismatch between employees’ desire for independence and flexibility, and the reality of their current working environments. Almost three quarters (74 percent) of UK employees say they would like more freedom at work, with more than a third (34 percent) saying they work in a regulated and controlled structure. When asked how they’d like to change their company culture, the top answer was more freedom and flexibility (35 percent) followed by more innovation and creativity (32 percent).

“Rigid structures, siloed working and overly complex hierarchies are things of the workplace past,” says John Yates, Group Director at ILM. “People today want to work at flexible, fun and friendly organisations – and those who can deliver on that always have an edge in recruitment. Organisations need to be flexible, allowing employees to pursue career ambitions and manage conflicting home life pressures as much as possible, and encourage creativity – injecting passion and new ideas into the workplace.” As well as wanting more autonomy, today’s workers are looking for more input in the business. Two thirds (66 percent) of UK employees want to have a greater say in the business and 64 percent are seeking a better understanding of where they fit in. Just a quarter (24 percent) say that their managers definitely foster collaboration.

John Yates concludes: “Today’s leading organisations are typically collaborative, encouraging feedback and input at all levels. Rather than decisions being made at the top (the ramifications of which are cascaded amongst workers whether they like it or not), forward thinking organisations are engaging employees at each stage to generate ideas and ensure buy-in from the start. The result is a more passionate and dedicated workforce, that is aligned with the company’s vision and objectives.”

Case study
Media agency OMD UK is one business putting this into practice, with schemes including The Minerva House Employee Council – a group of employees from all levels and disciplines that provides feedback to the Board on how to make the business bigger and better. The OMD Board Academy even helps the junior team to deliver training and development.

Managing Partner – Head of People, Kate Herbert, says “People are at the heart of our business, so it’s important for us to develop their skills and careers at every level. We make sure that people across the organisation are working in a culture where their voice is heard, empowering them to be leaders in their own right. It’s a two-way relationship and we want to create the kind of company that people want to work with.”

Previous data released from this research identified a ‘leadership lag’, calling on businesses to shift the focus of leadership from the top of their organisation to instead develop leaders at all levels and ensure the UK remains economically competitive. For more information on ILM’s leadership manifesto, please visit

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