Manufacturing bosses: Loneliness surges during pandemic

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Loneliness in the manufacturing industry more than doubled during the pandemic, new research by law firm Shakespeare Martineau has revealed.

Pre-Covid, less than 1 in 3 leaders (31%) in the sector reported feeling lonely or isolated. During the pandemic, this surged to 63% and it has since dropped to 38%.

One thousand senior decision-makers in UK businesses – including from the manufacturing industry – were surveyed by Censuswide on behalf of Shakespeare Martineau as part of its annual Ambition Index*.

A quarter of manufacturing bosses also spoke about how a lack of time and their struggles to maintain a work-life balance are holding them back as leaders.

Jody Webb, corporate partner at Shakespeare Martineau, said: “Being in a senior leadership role can be a lonely place as people are trying to maintain a managerial professional relationship with their teams. Those at the top are also more encouraged to think about others, and their own physical and mental health is always last on the list.

“With Brexit, material shortages and supply chain disruption, there are a whole host of challenges putting pressure on manufacturing leaders at present, so it is easy to understand why 1 in 4 say they are unable to maintain a work-life balance and struggling with a lack of time.

“However, it’s important that leaders know they are not alone and that they should talk about the emotional – as well as the practical – side of leadership with peers and trusted advisors.”

Despite this, manufacturing business leaders say they are feeling more ambitious now than pre-pandemic. Before Covid hit the UK, 90% of respondents said they felt ambitious. This dropped to 75% during the pandemic, but has since risen to 94%.

Jody said: “This is really positive to see. The manufacturing industry is renowned for its resilience and innovation, forming the powerhouse behind the UK’s economy.

“Many businesses in the sector have looked at internal processes and efficiencies during Covid and some have diversified in order to survive the double whammy of Brexit and the pandemic. Many have stepped up to make ventilators for intensive care units, PPE for hospitals and hand sanitiser, for example.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, they now feel positive about their businesses and are in a stronger position to take them forward.”

When asked what their ambitions are for the next 18 months, almost 40% of leaders said improving their responsible business agenda, which was more than double that of other industries, such as construction and education.

Jody said: “We are increasingly seeing a responsible business agenda as a requirement from investors, buyers and consumers – it is no longer a ‘nice to have’.

“With increased scrutiny on a business’ ethical and environmental practices, combined with statutory legislation on reporting climate-related financial disclosures, many organisations will be looking at the environment, social and governance (ESG) standards. With businesses having to look at all aspects of their supply chain, this will filter down to many manufacturers who will need to demonstrate their ESG approach to buyers of their products or risk falling behind in a competitive market.

“COP26 has helped to bring the climate agenda to the forefront of people’s minds. The target to reach net zero by 2050 means the UK’s manufacturers have an important role to play given the amount of energy they often use. Perhaps this explains why manufacturing leaders have responsible business high on their agenda.”

The majority (60%) of manufacturing leaders plan to invest more into their businesses in 2022 than this past year. Topping the list was product development (44%), and technology and IT (40% each). This was closely followed by learning and development and talent (27%).

Jody said: “This is a very encouraging sign. While we need business to invest to grow and support economic recovery, it’s pleasing to see that leaders are also looking inwardly and building business resilience.

“It is not surprising to see that of those who are investing, there is a focus on new products, technology and IT. Automation is crucial within the manufacturing industry to keep up with demand and improve efficiencies. Product development is the life-blood of the manufacturing sector and can support a step into new markets locally and internationally.

“Investment by businesses and support from lenders will be key to many manufacturing businesses in making the transition to a low carbon economy.

“There is also a shift in focus to technology, IT, and learning and development – rather than fixed assets and property – which will further support businesses become more efficient and agile.

*Shakespeare Martineau commissioned Censuswide to survey 1,000 senior decision-makers within UK companies in November 2021. Of the respondents, 52 said they worked in the manufacturing industry. Full responses for the manufacturing industry are below.

How ambitious or unambitious are you or have you been (in regards to your work/career/business over the following time periods?

Responses

Pre-pandemic (past)

During the pandemic (now)

Post-pandemic (now and in the future)

Ambitious (net)

90%

75%

94%

Very ambitious

67%

29%

52%

Somewhat ambitious

23%

46%

42%

Somewhat unambitious

10%

23%

6%

Not at all ambitious

0%

2%

0%

Unambitious (net)

10%

25%

6%

How lonely or isolated have you felt over the following time periods?

Responses

Pre-pandemic (past)

During the pandemic (now)

Post-pandemic (now and in the future)

Lonely/isolated (net)

31%

63%

39%

Very lonely/isolated

6%

13%

4%

Somewhat lonely/isolated

25%

50%

35%

Somewhat lonely/isolated

25%

15%

29%

Not at all lonely/isolated

44%

21%

32%

Not lonely/isolated (net)

69%

36%

61%

What, if anything, is holding you back as a leader? (tick all that apply)

Maintaining a work-life balance

25%

Time

25%

Lack of support network – within your business

21%

Lack of shared vision with those you work with

17%

Lack of support network – externally with other professionals

15%

Imposter syndrome/self-doubt

13%

Nothing is holding me back as a leader

13%

Skills

12%

Confidence

6%

Lack of support from family

6%

Prefer not to say

0%

Other

0%

Please indicate whether your business is investing more, less or the same in 2022 when compared to 2021

More

60%

Less

11%

The same

23%

Don’t know

6%

What, if anything, is your business investing in now and in the near future? (tick all that apply)

Product development

44%

Technology

41%

IT

41%

Learning & development

27%

Talent

27%

New markets

23%

Fixed assets – e.g. machinery and equipment

23%

Responsible business/sustainability 

21%

Geography – expansion 

17%

Property/premises

13%

Salaries

13%

Our business isn’t investing in anything right now or in the near future

6%

M&A

4%

Other

0%

What, if anything, are your company’s ambitions for the next 18 months? (tick all that apply)

Improve efficiency

52%

Growth in profit

50%

Develop new products

46%

Enter new markets

42%

Improve responsible business agenda

38%

Increase diversity within the business

38%

Launch in new areas/geographies

31%

Improve customer service

29%

Team growth

27%

Improve community impact

25%

Business survival

17%

Decrease debt

15%

Exit – sale 

15%

B Corporation status

10%

Exit – float

4%

We have no ambitions for the next 18 months

0%

Other

0%

 

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