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Leadership & Management

Two in three employees say their manager struggles with soft skills

Health Industry Hub | February 3, 2022 |
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Leadership & Management: A nationally representative survey of Australia’s multigenerational workforce has found that two in three (65%) managers and bosses are perceived to be lacking people skills, while almost one in three (29%) – the equivalent of 3.4 million workers – dislike their manager.

Conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Australian College of Applied Professions (ACAP) in late 2021, the independent survey of 1,000 Australian workers revealed that 65% of workers believe their manager/boss struggles with soft skills, with the biggest perceived skill gaps being empathy (27%), effective communication (25%), active listening (21%), flexibility (21%), and emotional intelligence (20%).

The survey further found that three in ten workers ‘dislike’ their manager and that eight in ten (83%) Australian workers have been working from home in some capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic – with half of these workers (53%) holding concerns about having to physically interact with their manager/boss when they return to the workplace due to the perceived gaps in soft skills.

The survey also found that more than half (53%) of workers believe their tolerance for bad behaviour, rudeness, work politics and drama has reduced compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Australian College of Applied Professions CEO, George Garrop, said “The pandemic and its consequences have created challenges for workers, managers and business leaders alike. The ongoing shifts around remote and flexible working, employee burnout, mental health struggles, isolation, financial worries and many other factors, have taken a toll on workplaces – and also, evidently, on the relationships between workers and their managers.”

The findings from this survey indicate that a lack of soft skills – or rather ‘people skills’ – is contributing to an expectation gap between managers and their teams, which may foster workplace dissatisfaction and potential resignations.

“As an organisation steeped in applied psychology, we understand that the ‘Great Realignment’ of workers’ expectations is natural given that many people have searched for new meaning in a changed world. Yet, it is interesting to see that younger generations in particular are expecting more from their workplaces, especially in terms of the people skills they want their managers and leaders to have. The adage ‘people leave managers, not companies’ is ringing truer than ever,” Mr Garrop added.

Interestingly, the survey revealed significant differences in values and perceptions among generational groups, especially between Gen Z/Millennials and Baby Boomers. Gen Z (74%), Millennial (70%) and Gen X (65%) workers were significantly more likely than Baby Boomer workers (49%) to say their manager/boss struggles with soft skills, and similarly much more likely to indicate they dislike their manager (Gen Z 33%, Millennials 33%, Gen X 32% compared to Baby Boomers 13%). Gen Z (58%), Millennials (60%) and Gen X (50%) were also more likely than Baby Boomers (41%) to say they have concerns about having to interact physically with their manager/boss when they return to the workplace.

Recent research from Diversity Council Australia (DCA) also showed that less than a third of Australian workers have an inclusive manager.

“We need to be doing more to engage those managers, and their employees, who aren’t aware of the benefits of inclusion at work. This report is a great starting point for that conversation – before it turns to mass resignations,” said DCA CEO, Lisa Annese.

Mr Garrop added “These findings suggest that managers and leaders with strong people skills will be increasingly important for organisations looking to attract and retain the best emerging talent, and to get the best out of staff. Traditional workplace cultures and management practices that have emphasised technical skills – without giving due weight to people skills – are no longer meeting the expectations of workers from younger generations – especially Millennials and Gen Z.

“This survey tells us that younger workers are seeking employers that lead with empathy, emotional intelligence and positive human relationships. They want to feel good, be invested in and genuinely cared for – a solid pay-packet, job security and career progression may no longer be enough.”


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