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Why our poor management culture is failing working people

Published date
Our latest report shows that far too many workers feel unsupported, demoralised and unsure of their rights at work
  • A new TUC report published today examines workers’ views on line management and discuss why line management isn’t as good as it might be.
  • One in three workers don't feel comfortable approaching managers about problems at work, over a third don’t feel they or their colleagues are treated fairly, and nearly half say their line manager didn’t explain their rights at work.
  • Employers need to provide better training and support for line managers, and the government must do more to enforce workers’ rights and increase awareness of them.

Line managers have a big impact on our experience of work. We all remember that great line manager who we loved working work with.

Unfortunately, plenty also remember the line manager who made work a misery.

Lots of workplace issues, from staff well-being to discriminatory performance management, are often caused in part by poor line management.

And there’s increasing evidence that poor management might be one of the causes of our stagnant productivity.

New TUC research released today offers some insight into workers’ perspective on how they’re treated by their line manager.

It reveals that while a majority of workers seem pretty happy with their line manager, there’s a significant minority who clearly aren’t.

Workers’ rights

One area where way too many line managers are struggling is ensuring workers know their rights.

We asked working people how well the phrase ‘my line manager makes sure I know my rights at work’ describes their workplace. 18 per cent told us that this does not at all reflect their experience of line management, and 26 per cent said it reflected it only a little.

This is a big concern. It’s the reason we want all workers to get the same workplace rights from day one, why we want better enforcement of these rights, and why we’re calling for a legal requirement for employers to provide clear information about them.

After all, if employers are legally required to display a poster on health and safety information at work, we can see no reason there shouldn’t be a similar requirement for information about employment rights.

Chart showing responses to question on line managers explaining rights at work
A lot of line managers are failing to inform workers of their rights

Support and morale

Our research also shows that too few line managers are doing a good job of supporting those that they manage.

Almost a third of workers don’t think their line manager would support them if they had a problem at work. A third don’t feel comfortable approaching their managers about work problems. And 4 in 10 aren’t even sure their manager wants what’s best for them.

It’s also clear that far too many line managers aren’t doing enough to boost morale at work.

Almost one in five workers told us that the phrase “my line manager helps morale at work” in no way reflects their personal experience. A further 27 per cent said it only reflected their workplace a little.

Chart showing workers' views on their workplace and line managers
Many workers don't feel like their line managers give them enough support

Blame the companies, not the line managers

It’s easy to point the finger at line managers when we see stats like these. But the blame doesn’t lie with them.

When we look at the wider research on line management, there’s a reason why managers might be struggling. The skills needed to be a good line manager require training, time and a knowledge of workers’ rights.

Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of employers aren’t investing the money or time to improve the capabilities and confidence of their line managers.

We need to address the UK’s poor management culture to change this.

There’s currently little incentive for employers to make sure everyone knows and has access to their rights because government enforcement is weak. Better enforcement would increase the costs and risks for companies, and encourage them to properly train their line managers.

We also need to provide workers with an alternative if their line managers aren’t there for them, or are letting them down.

Union representatives in the workplace offer this alternative.

They inform workers of their rights, help to ensure these rights are enforced, and provide workers with a collective voice that gives them a stronger position when negotiating with their employer. They can also support any workers who have issues with their line manager.

That’s why unions need to be given access to workplaces.

These measures, along with a range of other policies set out in our report, will help shift us towards a more worker-focused culture, where employers ensure that people know their rights, invest in training for their staff, and enable their line managers to fully support those they manage.