Corporate Trouble? Focus on Managers

COMPANIES across America are cutting layers of employees and striving to do more with fewer workers.

A new study, however, shows that often firms look in the wrong place for these productivity improvements, focusing on line workers rather than their managers.

"Supervisory practices are one of the leading causes of burnout and performance problems," says Stacey Kohler, who coordinated the study for St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Company.

The study of 28,000 employees at 215 companies insured by St. Paul found that, of workers who rated their supervisors poorly, 52 percent felt "burned out" in their jobs, compared with 25 percent for those workers who rated their bosses as good.

The same pattern of striking differences held for workers' views of productivity and tension in the workplace.

"Companies are trying to get more and more out of their people," says Dr. Kohler, "It would behoove them to look at their supervisory practices."

In the current economy, demands for increased productivity are not often accompanied with large pay hikes. Good managers can help to mitigate the effect of modest raises with clear work goals, effective planning, and communication.

The study found that "compensation practices had the weakest link to burnout and performance problems," Kohler says. "Once some acceptable [pay] level is reached, other factors in work life have a stronger, more salient effect."

Facing an era of constant restructuring, employees who thought their firm did not adjust well to change were almost twice as likely to rate managers poorly as employees who thought their companies adjusted well to change.

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