Press Release

U.S. employees give senior leadership low marks, Willis Towers Watson research reveals

Managers fare better but with room to improve

June 22, 2017
| United States

ARLINGTON, VA, June 22, 2017 — U.S. employees give their senior leadership low marks on key aspects of people management, including the ability to develop future leaders, evoke trust and confidence, and demonstrate sincere interest in employees’ well-being, according to research from Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW), a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company. Employees, however, give their immediate managers higher grades, although research shows significant room for improvement.

The Willis Towers Watson Global Workforce Study found that less than half (45%) of U.S. employees have trust and confidence in the job being done by their organization’s top leaders. That’s down from 55% who responded similarly in 2014. Just under half (47%) believe leaders have a sincere interest in employee well-being, while barely four in 10 (41%) think their organization is doing a good job of developing future leaders.

“With today’s dynamic business environment and the changing nature of the new world of work, the need for strong, effective corporate leaders is at an all-time high,” said Laura Sejen, managing director, Human Capital and Benefits, Willis Towers Watson. “The fact that a significant percentage of workers don’t believe their leaders are as effective as they can be is worrisome, given that strong leadership is a key driver of employee engagement.”

Employees view immediate managers more favorably. More than eight in 10 (81%) say their managers treat them with respect, while 75% say managers assign them tasks that are suited to their skills and abilities. A solid majority (60%) believe their managers communicate goals and assignments clearly.

The research, however, shows that immediate managers have much room for improvement. Barely half of employees (56%) say their managers make fair decisions about how performance is linked to pay, while half (50%) believe managers have enough time to handle the people aspects of the job. One of the key leadership tasks requiring strong people skills is performance management. Yet over 80% of managers spend less than six hours per employee per year on this task. If managers devoted more time to performance management processes, they might improve their ability to coach their teams. The research indicates poor scores in this area, with only four in 10 employees saying their managers coach them to improve their performance.

“Given the increasingly important role that managers and supervisors are playing in defining the work to be done, motivating workers and ensuring a sufficient talent pipeline, many organizations are taking a keen interest in how manager behavior affects engagement and how managers can build more engaged teams,” said Patrick Kulesa, director of employee research, at Willis Towers Watson.

Employers enhancing leadership development initiatives

The Willis Towers Watson 2016 Global Talent Management and Rewards Study, which surveyed more than 2,000 companies globally, including 441 from the U.S., found that U.S. employers are taking steps to enhance their leadership development programs, but there is also room for improvement. Six in 10 employers agree they develop leaders who will be able to meet changing business needs, while more than half (55%) report they make effective use of a leadership competency model. Just over half (53%) currently use leadership development technology, while another third (31%) plan to add this technology within the next two years.

“As digital disruption, demographic changes and the accelerated pace of innovation transform how work gets done, organizations are rapidly reexamining what they expect of their leaders and what steps are needed to improve their leadership skills. Employees with effective leaders and managers are much more likely to be highly engaged, which is linked to improved business performance,” said Sejen.

For more information on leadership development, read this new white paper from Willis Towers Watson, “Reset leadership expectations to engage today’s workforce.”

About the surveys

The Willis Towers Watson Global Talent Management and Rewards Survey was conducted from April to June 2016 and includes responses from 2,004 companies worldwide, including 441 companies from the U.S. The participants represent a wide range of industries and geographic regions.

The Willis Towers Watson Global Workforce Study covers more than 31,000 employees selected from research panels that are representative of the populations of full-time employees working in large and midsize organizations across a range of industries in 29 markets around the world. It was fielded online during April and May 2016. The U.S. sample includes 3,105 employees and has a margin of error of ±1%.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 40,000 employees serving more than 140 countries. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential. Learn more at