65% of Australian workers believe their manager struggles with soft skills

George Garrop, Chief Executive Officer at Australian College of Applied Professions

As millions prepare to return to the office, a nationally representative survey of Australian workers has found that two in three managers and bosses are perceived to be lacking people skills, while three in ten (29%), the equivalent of 3.4 million workers dislike their manager.

It was conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Australian College of Applied Professions (‘ACAP’) in October 2021 and they independently surveyed 1,000 Australian workers.

The survey 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.

Half of these workers (53%) hold concerns about having to physically interact with their manager/boss when they return to the workplace.

When asked what their main reasons were for being concerned about physically interacting with their manager/boss once back in the workplace, workers said their

  • Managers/bosses lack emotional intelligence (39%)
  • Do not communicate effectively (34%)
  • Tend to micro-manage (32%)
  • Struggle to work flexibly and to adapt to change (32%)
  • Are not good at active listening (32%)
  • Lack empathy about life outside of work (31%)
  • Don’t believe in work-life balance (28%).

Different perceptions among generational groups

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.

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.

In terms of which managerial soft skills lacked most, Gen Z and Millennial workers said their manager struggles most with empathy and emotional intelligence while Baby Boomers said their manager struggles most with active listening and communication.

Tolerance reduced since pandemic

The survey 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 pandemic.

“The pandemic and its consequences have created challenges for workers, managers and business leaders alike.”

Australian College of Applied Professions CEO, George Garrop offered his insights.

“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.”

Younger generations expect people skills from managers

“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 leaders to have.”

“The adage ‘people leave managers, not companies’ is ringing truer than ever,”

“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.”

“Through programs such as ACAP’s recently launched MBA, managers and leaders can develop the fully rounded mix of technical and people skills they need to get the best out of themselves and others in the new age of work.”