Leadership and working life 2021: Results of the future of leadership survey, part 1

The future of leadership – is the direction changing?

MPS People Analytics studies the personnel experience in organizations and its development, conducts different leadership surveys, such as 360 assessments, and analyses various aspects of organizational culture and cultural change. In addition to the surveys we carry out for our customers, we also complete more extensive leadership and working life analyses every year and share their results in our customer events and webinars. Last year, we conducted five extensive leadership and working life studies 

  1. The future of leadership – is the direction changing?
  2. Job search survey for professionals – What do people expect of recruitment and recruiters in 2022?
  3. Effect of stakeholder capitalism on leadership and organizational culture (in cooperation with AESC)
  4. MPS Growth Leaders – Survey on career self-management for executives
  5. Knowledge management survey (with Mandatum Life)

The blog posts present the key findings of these surveys. The first presents the results of the Future of leadership – is the direction changing survey, which is one of the annual leadership surveys conducted by People Analytics. In the past two years, the themes of the leadership surveys were coping and executive worries.

More than 1,400 executives responded to the survey

In the leadership survey of November 2021, we did not only collect responses from executives, as we did in previous surveys. Instead, we also asked non-executive employees, experts and managers to provide feedback. The response rate was really good; the number of feedback responses from top management was 877 (39%) and middle management 562 (25%). 562 experts (25%), 157 managers (7%) and 90 employees (4%) gave feedback. The total number of feedback responses was 2,248.

Expected differences in work engagement and coping between management and personnel

We compared the results for work engagement, coping and communication between management and personnel. In this respect, the results met our expectations. Engagement with work was good as a whole, particularly among executives.

In terms of coping and balance, the results of the two groups differed more. Executives reported more problems with their work-life balance than other personnel. When the respondents were asked if they think they will be able to work at the current pace after two years, there was only a marginal difference between the responses of the management and other personnel. In both groups, 80% believe they can keep up their current workload for the next two years. The blurring between the boundary of work and free time does not seem to affect the coping of executives, which might be due to their strong engagement with work.

In both respondent groups, the results for communication reveal some criticism of how much support and help the respondents feel they receive from their supervisor. A little less than 60% of management and personnel feel like they receive sufficient support and help. The notable difference between management and personnel was in how easy they find it to discuss leadership problems within their organization. Discussing leadership problems feels easy to 67% of executives and only 41% of other employees.

Enthusiasm and drive are higher in older age groups

The questions on work-derived enthusiasm, opportunities for self-development and work pace revealed that the younger respondents were clearly more critical than the older age groups. Some 65% of 30–39-year-old respondents were enthusiastic about their work, while the corresponding figure was 68% for 40–49-year-olds, 76% for 50–59-year-olds, and 87% for over 59-year-olds. These responses represent all employee groups except executives.

And how did the responses to the question on keeping up the current work pace after two years compare in the different age groups? In the youngest group (30–39 years), 71% believed they could keep up the current work pace for at least two years, compared to 77% of 40–49-year-olds and 85% of 50–59-year-olds. The result for the oldest age group (over 59 years), which is nearing retirement age, was only 68%, which is not surprising. However, these results indicate that the older age groups feel the strongest engagement with and enthusiasm about work.

Managers struggle with coping

We asked the respondents to assess their own performance over the past year on a scale from 4 to 10. The average grades for senior (8.43) and middle management (8.41) were almost identical, and the grade given by experts (8.35) came fairly close, too. The average grade for employees was slightly lower, at 8.27. However, the poorest grade for their own performance was given by managers, whose average grade was only 8.07. Furthermore, managers were the least willing to recommend their current role to their child or friend (56%), while senior management was the most likely to recommend it (73%).

Being too busy and not having enough energy were clearly reflected in the score for managers, and the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly made their roles even more difficult. Previous surveys have revealed that even before the pandemic, managers had far too little time for encountering their subordinates, which has left them feeling partly worried and partly guilty. The remote work resulting from the COVID-19 restrictions has made the situation even worse, which has increased the burden of managers.

Around 72% of managers believed they could keep up their current work pace after two years. In other groups, the percentages were higher: 81% in senior management, 85% in middle management and 80% among experts. 78% of employees believed they could keep up the current pace.

In addition, the managers felt that they were the least likely to be able to balance the demands of work and free time (53%). The blurring of work and free time was also evident in the results of executives; 58% of senior management and 64% of middle management felt like they are able to balance the demands of work and free time. The situation was better for experts (72%) and employees (67%).

Social skills are the new ”hard skills” for leaders

We asked the respondents to assess 12 leadership qualities or skills that are proved to correlate with achieving success as a leader. The same question was included in MPS’s leadership survey in 2017, and we wanted to compare the results. We also asked the respondents to assess what the qualities would be in five years.

In 2017, the top qualities were previous leadership experience, business-driven thinking and industry experience. In the present survey, the most important quality was social skills. When the respondents were asked to assess what the most important leadership qualities will be after five years, social skills were still number one, and their importance had even grown.

As a whole, leadership experience and hunger for success are becoming less important, while creativity, open-mindedness and social skills are gaining importance. Of course, a good leader will have all of these qualities in the future, along with many others, but the trend is clearly in favour of human skills. The old division into hard and soft skills is challenged: Social skills are the new ”hard skills” for leaders.

Organizational culture needs to change

We asked the respondents what they would like to change in the current culture of the organization they represent. The respondents saw a list of measures from which they could select up to three alternatives. They could also add their own measure to the list. The most obvious finding was that the respondents really wanted to change their culture: 99.5% of all respondents wanted to change at least one thing, and 86% wanted to change at least three things. The most popular alternatives were increasing agility and readiness for change (33%), increasing internal cooperation (28%) and more open communication (27%).

There were also differences between the respondents in different positions. Senior management and experts called for agility and readiness to change. Managers prioritized internal cooperation, and employees open communication.

The least popular choices were reducing the avoidance of risks (9%), increasing diversity and equality (9%) and investments in sustainable development (6%). Considering the attention given to diversity and sustainability in social debates, it was fairly surprising that they were at the bottom of this list. Investing in diversity and sustainable development was somewhat more popular among younger respondents (10%) than old (6%), but the difference was only 4%.

Commitment to the employer and trust in management have decreased

Around 40% of employees (outside management) felt that their trust in the organization’s management had decreased, while 48% felt that it had remained unaltered and 12% that it had increased. Similarly, 37% of employees felt a decrease in their commitment to the employer, 49% felt that it had remained unaltered and 14% that it had increased. In other words, trust in management and commitment to the employer developed in similar ways. The open comments explaining the reasons for the decrease underlined the impacts of COVID-19, but there were also many other reasons. These include constant change and uncertainly, the lack of clear leadership policies, and transparency issues.

Organizations that demand good interaction skills, open-mindedness and an ability to stand uncertainty will succeed in these new times. From the point of view of organizational culture, this means investments in agility, internal cooperation and transparency. These conditions create the best prerequisites for increased trust and commitment.

Read part 2 here.

Stay tuned!