Managers and employees without management responsibilities regard Nyt Arbejde as an important topic for the future – but for different reasons. According to this year’s New Work Barometer, there is a gap in the understanding of New Work and the targeting of corresponding measures. Above all, leaders reject changes in power structures.
Almost all German companies are structured as classic organizational structures with different hierarchical levels. In such hierarchies, managers play a central role – also in organizational development. Leaders can actively promote the development of an organization, but they can also hinder it. Not infrequently, they work decisively against a change in organizational structures through passive resistance. Leaders are important multipliers and can support or defeat new management approaches.
This also applies to organizational development in the direction of New Work. Because this means that the decision-making processes shift more to the benefit of the employees. This is accompanied by a new distribution of power: those who have power can give power. And whoever decides can enable or prevent self-determination. It therefore seems relevant to know the managers’ position on the subject of New Work. Do they support the structural and power changes necessary for New Work, or do they actively or passively stand in the way? We explored this question using data from the New Work Barometer 2022.
Bergmann lives – but not with the bosses
In each New Work Barometer, we present four different understandings of New Work for company representatives: The original understanding of Frithjof Bergmann, the Think Tank Humanfy’s New Work Charter, the understanding that New Work above all means independence at the workplace (home office) as well as the definition of , that New Work measures aim to promote psychological empowerment, i.e. the experience of meaning, influence, competence and self-determination. Figure 1 shows the approval of the different understandings separately for managers and employees (approval scale from 1 to 7).
For three of the four Nyt Arbejde definitions, no statistical differences can be demonstrated between assessments of employees and managers. Both groups agree at a relatively high level on the New Work Charter, the understanding of working from home and the understanding of empowerment. There is a clear difference in the original understanding of New Work formulated by Frithjof Bergmann (managers 3.14 (standard deviation (SD) = 1.6) vs. employees 4.06 (SD = 1.81), p < .001) . , d = .55): Managers reject Bergmann's definition more than employees without management responsibilities. It is a moderate difference.
We presented Bergmann’s understanding to the interviewees as follows: “Nyt Arbejde aims to overcome the current wage system. People must do the work they really, really want and, with technological support, produce products themselves that they use in everyday life to get need.”
In the 1980s, the philosopher Bergmann proposed a third way between capitalism and communism. His social utopia wanted to reduce dependent wage labor in the economy. To this end, he required people to produce many everyday products themselves. In the reception of the philosopher, however, the so-called vocation is of central importance: people must find out what activity they “really, really” want to do. A personally meaningful activity and self-determination are important dimensions in the philosopher’s thinking. According to the New Work Barometer, managers reject this individual approach to New Work more than employees. In classic organizational structures, they act as mouthpieces for the employer’s perspective, which is shaped by central decisions and wants to strategically manage the employees’ personal development. Implementing Bergmann’s utopia would have serious consequences not only for the social system, but above all for leaders. Not only would they lose employees through self-sufficiency, but they would also have less control over work allocation and staff development.
New Work yes, but please without loss of power
In New Work Barometer, we ask respondents to indicate how strongly different practices in companies represent New Work for them – be it in the form of structure, culture and management as well as methods and processes. This list was created based on a survey of experts and is always updated in relation to the results from the previous year. Practices that respondents often mention as lacking are added. These targets are marked with N = New.
As shown in Figure 2, practices of empowerment-oriented leadership, self-organization, autonomy at work (home office), open error culture, and self-determined learning achieve the highest approval ratings. The interviewees found that a democratic organizational structure, quality circles, company proposal schemes, elected managers and steward ownership were the least representative of Nyt Arbejde. Looking at managers (N = 319) and employees (N = 262) separately, there is a statistical difference between employees and managers in about a quarter of the practices. Managers see the following practices as less representative of New Work than employees:
- flattening hierarchies
- Bureaucracy Buster
- Democratic organizational constitution
- Elected Executives
Above all, these are practices that challenge the status quo. Bureaucracy busters challenge rules and procedures that managers usually come up with. A flattening of hierarchies and holocracy goes hand in hand with fewer leadership positions. Elected leaders and a democratic organizational constitution reduce the power of leaders. In the case of the measures that managers associate less strongly with New Work, the problem of dominance (who decides?) and distribution (how is it distributed?) is changed in favor of employees. For some managers, this does not seem to be the desired direction for New Work.
Managers only have higher approval ratings for two points. These are the result of mobile technologies and transformational management. Handing a laptop to an employee does not change the balance of power in an organization. And transformational leaders don’t have to give up power either. In the scientifically widely recognized view according to Bass (1999), transformational leaders practice inspirational motivation (vision work), act individually, stimulate their employees intellectually and act as role models. However, they do not transfer responsibility and power to the employees. Therefore, the leadership style could be proven time and time again in dictators.
The importance of New Work is undisputed
When respondents are asked to assess the future of New Work, there are no differences between managers and employees. We asked the participants in the New Work Barometer how important they think the subject of New Work will be in German-speaking countries over the next three years. On a scale from -3 (significantly less importance than before) to +3 (significantly more importance than before), both groups showed almost identical values (Ma = 1.74 vs. Fk = 1.70), which is clearly in the positive interval. Both groups also assessed the question of how the corona pandemic affects the subject of New Work in a similar way. Both groups assume that the pandemic will have a positive impact (Ma = 1.68 vs. Fk = 1.66). They both believe that the subject New Work has a fairly high potential for change (Ma = 1.55 vs. Fk = 1.42).
Why new work? Managers and employees do not agree
In each barometer, we ask which of the four dimensions of the psychological empowerment concept according to Spreitzer (1995) companies promote with their New Work measures. The choices are: employees’ competence, employees’ self-determination, employees’ influence and employees’ meaningful experience. Here again there are clear differences (see figure 3).
While a large number of managers and employees perceive that Nyt Arbejde aims to promote the experience of self-determination in their companies, only a minority see this when it comes to experiencing influence or power. There are also clear differences between managers and employees. While 44.2 percent of the managers believe that Nyt Arbejde in the company promotes the experience of power among the employees, this is just 35.1 percent of the employees. Managers can have a better overview of what goals the companies are actually pursuing with New Work practices. But the change of power could also be their blind spot.
Conclusion: Companies should eliminate management fear
The results of the New Work Barometer show that companies should pay more attention to managers’ assessments of New Work practices. If they perceive practices as less “innovative” that endanger their power, then they will choose such practices less often or promote them in organizational developments. It is particularly striking because 70 percent of the participating managers in the sample of Nyt Arbejdsbarometer come from the HR area. HR has a key position in New Work. This may also explain why so few companies use the experience of power as a New Work topic.
Managers have mostly been rewarded in their careers for having everything under control. That is why they need a perspective on what will improve them or compensate them if they give up power. In their practice, they rarely experience having their hands free when they let go of the handle. Then they could pursue more meaningful activities as a leader. This includes strategy development but also direct communication and HR management in the team. But for many leaders, giving away power means a loss of prestige – and that’s scary. Companies should take these managerial fears seriously and actively address and address them in their New Work activities.
About the study
The New Work Barometer is an annual survey conducted by the SRH Berlin University of Applied Sciences (Institute for New Work and Coaching). The media partner is the personal magazine and HRpepper Management Consultants acts as a practice partner. The Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Confederation of Personnel Managers also support data collection. 581 company representatives took part in this year’s Nyarbejdsbarometer – over 100 more than the previous year.
You can see these basic results of the New Work Barometer in the article “Heading towards the post-agile age?” Read.