From education to employment

Management practices are more important for driving productivity than where you work

Daisy is Head of Policy & Public Affairs at the Chartered Management Institute (CMI)

#ManagementTransformed – Thinking ahead to the new world of work: Top Four ‘Lessons From Lockdown’ 

The Spending Review announcement last week focused heavily on lower-level skills and helping the unemployed.

This is obviously necessary.

And welcome.

But it is also a missed opportunity not to think ahead – even in the context of a one year funding settlement – to the new world of work.

This year, the world of work has been completely transformed.

Large swathes of workers have moved from working in fixed workplaces to working entirely or partially from home.

We’ve also seen acceleration of digitalisation plans as well as huge operational challenges for organisations of all sizes.

It is in this context that the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) launched “MANAGEMENT TRANSFORMED: Managing in a marathon crisis new research examining how workplaces have changed since the pandemic struck, how managers have responded to this, and the challenges that have been thrown their way.

These are our ‘lessons from lockdown’:

1. You can be productive wherever you work, as long as you have good management

CMI’s research hypothesis was that where you work – in a restaurant that had been forced to close, a busy hospital, or a booming tech business – impacts your productivity.

However, management practices were shown to be more important at driving productivity – particularly how managers foster trust and a strong company culture.

Our research also shows that management and leadership skills will be critical to effectively respond to the challenges of the crisis and to be resilient, both from an organisational and individual perspective.

Despite this, management skills often fall through the gap in terms of skills and business policy priorities (see, for example, the backlash against employer-valued management apprenticeship standards).

2. In times of uncertainty and change, management is more important than ever

Managers have played a crucial role in the pandemic, helping to steer their organisations through a difficult and unpredictable year. Managers often act as a key pillar of support, due to having wide-ranging responsibilities within their organisations, from taking strategic company decisions, to managing constant change and uncertainty, to facilitating an effective working environment.

It  was disappointing, therefore, to see limited reference to management and leadership skills in the recent Spending Review.  Investment in these skills and capabilities must be encouraged because they are essential to enable businesses to thrive and adopt new innovations and technical expertise.

3. Multi-functional skills, such as communication and empathy, are seen as increasingly important to help manage the transition of changing work practices

Management Transformed research found that, during the pandemic, multifunctional skills such as communication and looking after staff wellbeing were essential to deliver happy and productive workplaces:


 of those surveyed say that communicating clearly is the most important trait during pandemic  


of employees rated wellbeing as the top priority for 2021  


of employees said overall workplace culture had improved or stayed the same 


 of employees now work remotely or in a hybrid way  


of senior leaders report employees are more involved in decision making  


 of managers say the productivity of their direct reports has increased

To ensure job quality as well as quantity, the government needs to ensure that upcoming investment in retraining and skills – including through the National Skills Fund – focuses on supporting all workers to build these multi-functional skills.

Skills such as problem solving, communication, and taking responsibility are vital to ensuring that we have resilient entrants to the labour market across all sectors and job functions. These should be embedded at the heart of the government’s skills plans. 

The government should also specifically look to aid the potential “missing middle” of managers who may lack training support if businesses reduce their professional training budgets and new government investment focuses on lower level skills.

4. We must be alert to the social mobility implications of changing working practices; while broadly positive, they have impacted different workforce groups in different ways

Our data shows that respondents were almost twice as likely to report their workplace culture had improved if their company had embraced flexible working culture. This links to the need for managers to be empathetic to employees during this period of transition.

However, findings suggest that Generation Z are more likely than any other generation to miss growing their career networks through informal conversations in the office, with half (51%) of respondents in this category expressing this view. Additionally, women with children continue to be less likely to communicate with their line manager when working remotely (compared to men with children). And Black employees are more likely to report that their manager does not trust them, or they do not know if their manager trusts them, despite reporting overall that inclusivity had improved throughout the pandemic.

The government should consider the social mobility aspect of remote and hybrid working on different groups. Keeping management and leadership practices up to date is important for supporting effective inclusion practices within a workplace. The government should encourage large employers – particularly large graduate recruiters – to consider how they operate their training programmes, and to share expertise with other businesses in order to ensure younger workers and other under-represented groups are not disadvantaged by new working practices.



We have seen a massive shift to remote working, but our research actually shows that where you work does not impact on workplace happiness or productivity.

Management is universally important and employees’ needs remain broadly the same.


Trust is critical to productivity in the era of Covid: the location that staff work in has little impact as to whether managers perceive that productivity has increased.


Covid-19 has put traits centring around effective communication as some of the qualities most highly valued in managers in the UK.


Workplace wellbeing is increasingly important and there is an expectation for managers to meet the wellbeing needs of their workforce. Ensuring staff wellbeing should be a top priority for managers in 2021.


Senior leaders believe they are increasingly placing employees at the heart of their organisations during the pandemic but employees don’t always agree. Leaders need to ensure that employees are part of their company journey and genuinely feel listened to.


Organisations that have fostered a sense of belonging and made efforts to bring people together during the crisis say that their culture has benefited as a result.


Although staff from diverse ethnic groups were more likely to think that workplace culture had improved since March 2020 than UK employees as a whole there are still EDI challenges. Black employees prioritise workplace diversity much more than all UK employees. More worryingly, Black employees are more likely than any other ethnic group to feel their manager didn’t trust them to undertake their job role.


Flexibility is key for women with children looking to the future: these women are also more likely than their male peers to miss the quiet of the office. Women with children have less contact with their managers, than men with children.


Gen Z have similar workplace concerns as other generations, but they are more likely to miss the change to the daily routine when home working. Understandably their major priority now is around job security.

The Government’s immediate focus on jobs is understandable, but we want to see it go further – embed skills and retraining in economic recovery efforts, and ensure multifunctional skills development is available to everyone.

This will enable businesses to take on new staff – especially those at the beginning of their employment journey – and enable workers to switch careers or boost their chances of re-employment if their sector or company has been particularly hard hit. We need this if we’re to build back better and faster.

Daisy Hooper, Head of Policy & Public Affairs at the Chartered Management Institute (CMI)

The only Chartered professional body for managers and leaders, the CMI works with business and education to inspire people to become skilled, confident and successful managers and leaders. Daisy leads the CMI’s thought leadership programme, including recent work on Management Transformed, looking at the skills managers and leaders will need in a world transformed by technological change and societal disruption. She has a background in higher education, and teaching and learning policy.

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