New STUC report exposes widespread punitive management practices

January 29th 2013

Today (Tuesday 29 January 2013) the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) publishes a major new report, ‘Performance Management and the New Workplace Tyranny’ written by Professor Phil Taylor of the University of Strathclyde.

The report is the culmination of a three year study examining the impact new forms of Performance Management are having on workers across Scotland with particular reference to the financial services and telecoms sectors. The report finds that:

• The practices are widespread affecting thousands of workers across the Scottish economy;

• The unrelenting intensity of work generated under new forms of Performance Management is having a significantly negative impact on employees;

• Performance Management practices are not merely unjustifiable on grounds of welfare, decency, dignity and well-being, but also counterproductive from a managerial perspective. They require enormous commitment of resource by middle and front-line management and serve merely to create a deep well of discontent amongst a highly pressurised workforce;

• Although it was beyond the scope of this study to establish relationships between PM and occupationally-related ill-health, the evidence overwhelmingly confirms the stressful consequences for workers arising from the new regimes of work.

Commenting as the report was published, Grahame Smith, STUC General Secretary said:

“The management practices described in great detail in this report are totally unacceptable. The sad truth is that far too many people in Scotland encounter fear and intimidation in the workplace on a daily basis; rising incidence of stress and other mental health problems is the inevitable result. This is not only unacceptable on grounds of decency but ultimately unsustainable for businesses and the Scottish economy in general. The STUC looks forward to discussing the report with policymakers at UK and Scottish level and working to develop effective interventions aimed at ensuring Scottish workplaces are both welcoming and productive”.

Professor Taylor said:

“Employees’ experience of Performance Management in the workplace contrasts starkly with the version presented in HRM textbooks. This research evidence challenges the claim that it is based upon consent and mutual agreement between employers and employees. People are certainly not being treated as an organisation’s most valued asset.

“Instead, the widespread experience of employees is of top-down, highly-pressurised and intensified work, with most facing an array of often unachievable targets. Workers are being increasingly tightly monitored and measured and then placed into performance appraisal categories. Frequently, these are in pre-determined distributions – sometimes known as the Bell curve – with a certain percentage deemed to be underperformers, irrespective of the level of actual performance.

“This is when the problems really begin for employees, because ‘underperformers’ are then put on improvement plans, sometimes known as PIPs, which can cause huge anxiety and stress because they can be almost impossible to get out of. The evidence is that these PIPs most often are not about providing the coaching and support needed to help employees improve but are for ‘performance managing’ people out of the door. The speed of these ‘managed exits’ is astonishing – in two case study organisations it was only 12 weeks between being put on an improvement plan and then being exited”.

A former HRM manager described how deliberate the strategy was, ‘We were being asked to find grounds to get rid of people without having to pay for it. If we could not find them, we would have to make up the grounds for managed exits. In my section of 80, 9 people were managed out of the organisation on performance grounds..’

The same manager reported on the ill-health outcomes of this punitive practice, ‘Many are working harder and harder because they are worried at ending up at the bottom of the performance management heap. The pressure of avoiding becoming a poor performer drives people to work harder and is causing mental health problems, some of them serious…I have had female colleagues breaking down and weeping, I have had a man go to pieces in front of me’.


Note The report was commissioned by the STUC after a motion passed unanimously at its 2009 Conference, following reports by union reps and members that new forms of Performance Management were putting unbearable pressure on many workers. Specific concerns had been raised about links between Performance Management and workers’ experience of mental ill-health.

Contacts Kevin Buchanan 0141 337 8100

Stephen Boyd 0141 337 8100

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