Rewarded or threatened? UK workers divided

Nearly half of employees in the UK say that leadership in their organisations makes them feel threatened as opposed to rewarded.

A survey by Head Heart + Brain, a leadership development consultancy, shows that civil-service workers feel more threatened than other sectors, with 72% picking “threatened” when asked this question: Does the leadership of your organisation make you feel threatened or rewarded?

Overall, 47% said they felt threatened by leadership in their company.

If employees feel threatened, they’re less engaged and less productive, said Jan Hills, partner at Head Heart + Brain, which conducted the telephone survey of 1,277 workers in a variety of roles and industries.

“Feelings of reward boost engagement, boost decision-making skills and boost productivity,” Hills said in a news release. “If employees feel threatened, they process information less effectively and can’t perform at their best.”

Employees who are less engaged at work have higher levels of absenteeism and are more likely to look for another job. Additionally, companies with low levels of employee engagement are often less productive.

Finance professionals’ opinions about leadership mirror those in the survey: 50% feel threatened. Behind civil servants, the next most-threatened categories of workers were scientists (63%), doctors (60%) and retail managers (58%).

Among categories with at least 50 responses, IT professionals felt the least threatened, at 40%.

The survey also asked workers to rate the leadership ability of their current boss on a scale of 1 (“terrible”) to 10 (“excellent”). Twenty-one per cent gave their bosses a rating of 8, followed by 17% giving a 7 and 13% giving a 6.

The average rating for a boss’s leadership was 6.12.

“In the current economic climate, both business and public-sector leaders feel they have to run just in order to stand still,” Hills said. “They are under immense pressure to make their organisations leaner, while also improving performance. And pressure breeds threatening behaviour if it isn’t channelled in the right way. If it is managed in the wrong way, stress can gradually erode the quality of their leadership until it deteriorates to a disastrously low level. It creates a vicious downward cycle where productivity begins to suffer as the workforce begins to feel increasingly threatened by brain-fried leaders.”

The rating generally falls in line with a recent US survey about bosses. Forty per cent of workers gave their supervisor a grade of B (on a scale of A, B, C, D and F), followed by 26% who gave an A and 20% who gave a C.

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Neil Amato ( is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.