Beat your managers’ “back to work blues” by giving them a tough project, hard work… and a bit more respect

While there is a strong and overdue focus on improving the work-life balance in many organisations, new research shows most managers are still at their happiest when they can get stuck into a challenging project… and get a bit of respect from their boss for it.

Ms Kedge Martin, the CEO of executive mentors Rutbusters, which commissioned the research, says: “In this era of work-life balance it may sound counterintuitive that many managers will be happier working long hours on a demanding project for nothing more than a bit of recognition. But it reaffirms the adage that if you want something done well, give it to a busy person.”

The new research* looked into what Britain’s 10 million executives and managers want to improve their satisfaction at work, and highlights that challenge and respect are at least as powerful causes of happiness as improving work/life balance.

The research into 1,000 senior managers, business owners, professionals and executives, was conducted for Rutbusters by accredited research agency Censuswide (full details about the research on page 4). Findings include:

  • A challenging project – 64% of executives, business owners and managers say it will make them happier, while only 5% of managers say it will make them unhappier
  • More respect for their experience – 72% say this will make them happier (only 26% say it will have no effect on their happiness)
  • Greater management responsibilities – 54% said it would make them happier (although 37% of managers said it would have no impact on them)
  • More flexibility to work from home – While two-thirds want this, the other third said this will have little impact on their job satisfaction or will actually make them unhappier
  • Shorter commute – 58% say it will make them happier, but 40% say this would have no impact on their happiness
  • 84% of senior managers want more pay and status, although 15% say it will have little impact on their happiness
  • Around 14% of senior managers are burnt out, deeply dislike their job and only turn up because they feel they have no other options. Definitely don’t give these ones important projects!

Kedge Martin added: “The big finding is that senior managers worried that their best people will go elsewhere because of a dose of back-to-work-blues after the summer holidays should use September to give them a challenging project.

“Of course, people need the right training, resources and support to succeed, and the role of an effective boss is to give them these, rather than simply give them all the blame but none of the tools.

“Elaborate schemes to give more home working and a better work-life balance are great, but actually these aren’t always motivational for many people, especially ambitious and talented managers. These people want demanding projects and recognition, not necessarily more time nappy-changing or chatting at the school gate.”

“It’s not surprising that so many people in our research said they wanted more pay and status, don’t we all! However, all the research over the years shows that as long as people don’t feel underpaid, money is actually a poor motivator for all but money-orientated people, such as top salespeople and financial traders.

“While 26% of managers said having a new boss would make them unhappier, a third of managers would instead be pleased. That’s quite sad really. We will all have had great bosses and bad bosses in our career, and about three quarters of managers don’t feel their current boss helps or inspires them. Managers should reflect on this too.”