A recent survey conducted by Right Management, a leadership consulting firm, reveals that 12 percent of British employees would refrain from questioning their leaders’ actions, even in instances of abuse of power, passive-aggressive behaviour, micromanagement, or mistreatment of colleagues.

The survey, which gathered responses from 2,046 individuals across the UK, including 1,793 employees and 253 business leaders, also found that 13 percent of leaders themselves would not question their own leadership quality in any given scenario.

The top three behaviors associated with effective leadership, according to the survey, are building trust (33%), impactful communication (21%), and inspiring passion (20%).

Trust, communication, and passion seen as key leadership traits

“Trust works both ways, so it’s concerning that ten percent of workers aren’t willing to challenge poor leadership behaviours whatsoever. And how can leaders effectively build trust when one in every ten isn’t willing to question their own leadership style? Although they’re in the minority overall, any apathy towards leadership can have a detrimental impact on a workplace culture and the overall potential of an organisation.” says Lorraine Mills, Principal Consultant at Right Management.

Right Management has previously found that 84 percent of organisations anticipate a shortfall in leaders in the next five years, while more than half (58%) of organisations say their top priority is to close this leadership skills gap.

“Regardless of the industry its operating in, a good business will drive a feedback culture, empowering employees to notice and highlight questionable behaviours at any level. A shortage of leaders is not an excuse for poor management to flourish and if anything, those companies lacking or struggling to recruit senior leaders must make even greater efforts to encourage a workplace of openness and transparency,” adds Lorraine.

Age and gender differences revealed in survey results

Across both employees and leaders, apathy towards the quality of leadership appears to increase significantly by age.

Only 6 percent of British workers aged 18-24 said they would not question the quality of leadership in any given scenario, compared to 23 percent of those who aged 55+ are. All leaders aged 18-24 agree there are certain scenarios that would make them question their own leadership.

However, this self-awareness is not mirrored quite so strongly in the older demographics, as 6 percent of leaders aged 25-34 would not question their own leadership in any scenario, rising to 16 percent of those aged 35-44, and 26 percent of 45–54-year-olds, before dropping slightly to 21 percent of leaders aged 55+.

Lorraine says: “It’s important to remember that most workers would bring poor leadership into question. The majority identified several reasons for calling out poor leadership, with the top three choices being because of an abuse of power (36%), leaders not listening (34%), and leaders failing to own up to mistakes (32%).”

Feedback culture can help combat apathy towards leadership

The survey also finds that a much greater proportion of those aged 55+ say they would speak up to an abuse of power (43%) or to leaders who are not listening (43%) when compared to colleagues aged 18-24 (30% and 27% respectively).

Lorraine says: “But this doesn’t take away from the fact that apathy on any level is an enabler of poor management practices and a springboard for distrust and weak or negative workplace cultures – all of which damage morale and productivity.”

“It’s interesting that apathy in leadership qualities appears to rise by age. Often age gaps can be more pronounced in the workplace and it’s easy to forget how younger workers will often look through a different lens their older colleagues, and vice versa.”

Older workers may have more to lose, affecting apathy levels

“Older workers may have a greater tendency to be apathetic because they perceive they have more to lose. While younger workers, at an early career stage, are less likely to have established major financial dependents and responsibilities, and so are more willing to challenge their employers. Employers need to ask how they can leverage these subtle differences to benefit the overall workplace culture; how do they listen to feedback from younger workers while encouraging older workers to step out of their comfort zones? “

The survey finds that while men and women are broadly aligned on the areas that would make them question the quality of leadership, a much higher number of women are likely to call out certain traits. These include an abuse of power (43%, compared to 28% of men) and not listening (41%, compared to 26% of men).

Also, 37 percent of women also chose passive-aggressive behaviour and failure to own up to mistakes as reasons to question leadership quality, compared to 23 percent and 25 percent of men respectively.

A quarter of all leaders (26%) said an abuse of power would make them question their own leadership, while 26 percent also said they would do so if there had been a failure to own up to mistakes.






Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.