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Employees would rather suffer a hangover or receive a credit card bill than talk to their boss, global survey shows

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Leaders lack empathy with their staff, have poor leadership skills and that a third of them are ineffective, according to global research published this morning by talent management firm DDI.

The report found one in three respondents (34%) only sometimes or never consider their leader to be effective, and over a third (37%) are only sometimes or never motivated to give their best by their leader.

Lessons for Leaders from the People Who Matter includes data from an online survey undertaken for DDI by Harris Interactive.

This polled more than 1,250 full-time employees in non-management positions in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, China, India, Germany and South East Asia (Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore), and found they would rather suffer a bad hangover, do housework or see their credit card bill arrive in the mail than face the prospect of sitting through a performance discussion with their boss. And only 40% of respondents report that their boss never damages their personal self-esteem, leaving 60% saying they do sometimes, most of the time or always.

The majority of respondents not currently working for the best manager they ever worked for (53%) said they would be 20% to 60% more productive if they were working for their 'best ever' boss, and a quarter (26%) said they would be 41% to 60% more productive. In other words, for every two to three people managed by their 'best ever' leaders, there would be a productivity gain equal to a whole new extra person.

Simon Mitchell, director at DDI UK and one of the report authors, said: "We wanted to hear how the customers of leaders themselves saw their managers and bosses. These findings should be of enormous concern to any business. They show that leaders are failing in their obligation to employees and, therefore, their organisation. The consequences of managers and bosses with poor leadership skills are enormous, and the impact good leaders have in terms of employee motivation and productivity are significant."

The survey also found nearly half (45%) of respondents think they could be more effective than their manager, but only 46% would actually want to. Respondents cited the additional stress, responsibility and pressure as reasons for staying where they were. This has implications for the future supply of leaders.

Comparing the results from people with the best and worst managers (based on respondent perceptions), those reporting they felt motivated to give their best leapt from 11% to 98%, and those reporting that their manager does a good job helping them be more productive went from 5% to 94%.

Mitchell continues, "Workers report that managers fail to ask for their ideas and input, are poor at work related conversations and do not provide sufficient feedback on their performance, so it's no wonder employee engagement levels are low. Leaders remain stubbornly poor at these fundamental basics of good leadership that have little to do with the current challenging business climate. It's important that organisations equip the people managing their workforce with these basic leadership essentials, and that managers are aware of their own blind spots in these areas. The good news for businesses and employees alike is that many of these leadership skills can be learnt."

The research also reveals a third (34%) of bosses single out certain employees as 'favourites' (most of the time/always) and only half of the respondents (51%) say their manager asks for their help in solving problems most of the time or always, and 45% say their boss 'only sometimes or never' gives sufficient feedback on their performance.