Two Out of Three Women Say Their Manager Is Not Adaptable (Media Release)December 2, 2022
New Catalyst research shows that leader adaptability is key to retaining employees amid changing work landscape and uncertainty.
New York, New York, December 2, 2022 — A Catalyst survey of 5,494 employees in 11 countries across the globe reveals that adaptability is a necessary leadership skill to retain employees and for businesses to thrive now and into the future of work. But nearly seven out of ten employees (69%) say their manager fails to adapt. Two-thirds of women (67%) agree, and the numbers are even higher for people with caregiving responsibilities, with nearly three-quarters (72%) saying their managers are not adaptable.
The report, Adapt or Fail: How Managers Can Enable Everyone to Thrive at Work, shows that the numbers increase for employees with disabilities (77%), and lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or asexual employees (74%). Employees from marginalized racial and ethnic groups (66%) were more likely than White employees (58%) to report that their managers were not adaptable.
Adaptability is broadly defined as the ability to adjust effectively ability to effectively adjust to new circumstances and comprises three components: cognitive flexibility, ambiguity tolerance, and openness to change. In the workplace, adaptability can look like learning new skills because of a change in personal responsibilities or considering a different approach to solving a challenging problem—circumstances that have been ever-present for employers and exacerbated since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Managers With High Adaptability and High Empathy Could Stem Employee Withdrawal, or “Quiet Quitting”
When managers have high empathy and high adaptability skills, employees tend to have more positive experiences compared to employees with managers who are low in both skills. They have increased:
- Experiences of inclusion at work (twice as likely).
- Well-being (four times as likely).
- Intent to stay in their workplace (twice as likely).
When managers have high empathy and high adaptability skills, employees tend to have fewer negative experiences, compared to employees with managers who are low in both skills. They have decreased:
- General work, Covid-19, and personal burnout (43%, 49%, and 42% less likely, respectively).
Interestingly, when managers have high empathy and low adaptability, employees have the highest levels of both sleep problems and work withdrawal (i.e., lack of engagement). This mismatch in skills shows that managers must not just listen to employees but also take action to adjust work conditions in response.
Manager Adaptability Is an Essential Skill for Leading Diverse Teams
According to the data, racially and ethnically diverse teams are more innovative when they have adaptable leaders. Adaptable leaders boost inclusion for racially and ethnically marginalized employees who work on diverse teams.
“Managing amid the unknown is critical as uncertainty and disruption have taken center stage over the past few years,” said Lorraine Hariton, Catalyst President and CEO. “The ability to adapt is a skill all leaders can and must learn in order to thrive—and to create workplaces where employees can do the same.”
“Employees stressed by the volatility of the last few years continue to call on their managers to find new ways of working and show that diversity, equity, and inclusion are valued, and adaptability is a skill that enables managers to meet those needs,” said Kathrina Robothom, PhD, Senior Research Associate at Catalyst and co-author of the report. “For companies worried about attracting and retaining top talent, especially women and others from marginalized demographic groups, this report signals that manager adaptability is a strategic business imperative in the future of work.”
Report authors Kathrina Robotham, PhD, and Tara Van Bommel, PhD, suggest starting by reflecting on your ability to cope with uncertainty and change. Cultivating self-awareness is a key solution leaders can use to build their adaptability skills and “walk the talk” for employees. According to the report, other steps managers can take include developing a growth mindset and creating psychologically safe workplaces by modeling vulnerability and talking about mistakes.
This report drew on global survey data collected through the Future of Work tracker, a survey that measures and monitors trends in the future of work. Read the full report.
Catalyst surveyed 5,494 employees in 11 countries: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, Mexico, the Netherlands, Singapore, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Respondents were recruited through a panel service company. At the time of the survey, all respondents were full-time workers. After obtaining informed consent, respondents completed an online survey about “technology and work-life experiences.” The survey took approximately 20 minutes to complete and included questions about their experiences at work and a demographics section.
Catalyst is a global nonprofit supported by many of the world’s most powerful CEOs and leading companies to help build workplaces that work for women. Founded in 1962, Catalyst drives change with preeminent thought leadership, actionable solutions, and a galvanized community of multinational corporations to accelerate and advance women into leadership—because progress for women is progress for everyone.
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