Does a major restructuring at a time of budget cuts, demands for increased efficiencies, exhortations to do more with less and threats to further reduce management posts lead to bad management, or does it simply expose the bad managers? Do staffing cuts and increased workloads turn previously well-thought-of managers into bullies?

Is this a climate which breeds the wrong type of management behaviour, one in which arrogance, secrecy and bullying flourish? Two recent reports show how cost-cutting in the workplace are affecting the relationship between staff and managers. In the first, a staff survey reported that the biggest source of conflict in the workplace is not money or job security, but workloads. As posts are cut, managers are expecting staff to do more. At the same time, a survey of managers reported that they feel ill-equipped to deal with large-scale restructuring and subsequent redundancies. What is more, managers are concerned about how they are going to keep staff motivated when workloads are increasing and pay is frozen.

In the NHS, like most sections of the public sector, compulsory redundancies and wage cuts are a new and shocking experience. Management has, up until now, meant staying within budget, hitting performance targets and making modest efficiency savings. What emphasis there has been on people management has largely been around tackling an individual about their time-keeping, attendance, inappropriate summer clothing, reluctance to attend training courses or antagonism towards certain colleagues.

With the help of HR, managers have, at times, had to deal with problematic individuals without demoralising staff groups whilst creating an atmosphere that ensures the organisation recognises staff value and the work that is done.

The pressure on managers is further increased as HR functions are becoming centralised or outsourced as part of efficiency measures. From a manager’s perspective, this distancing and rationalisation of HR is a withdrawal of support. 

Managers who fear for their own jobs are feeling under pressure to deliver the same level of service, despite staffing cuts, restrictions on overtime and the use of agency staff. Not surprisingly, that pressure is experienced by some of their staff as undue pressure to take on bigger workloads or accept responsibility beyond their skill set and experience level.

To deal with the people management issues that big budget cuts, restructurings, redundancies, pay freezes and staffing cuts are throwing up, all mangers need additional support and the opportunity to develop their leadership skills.

Where is this to come from in the face of training budget cuts?

It will largely have to come from managers themselves in the form of peer group support through management learning sets and mentoring. The role of individual trusts will be to make this a systematic approach to management development.