HAPPINESS, for most managers, is a challenging project and a bit of respect from their boss, according to a new study into Britain’s 10 million executives and bosses.

The research considered what they would want to improve in their workplace at a time when there is a strong focus in many organisations on improving work-life balance. And it highlights that challenge and respect are at least as powerful causes of happiness as improving that balance.

Kedge Martin, CEO of executive mentors Rutbusters, which commissioned the research, said: “In this era of work-life balance it may sound counterintuitive that many managers will be happier working long hours on a demanding project for nothing more than a bit of recognition.

“But it reaffirms the adage that if you want something done well, give it to a busy person.”

The study involved 1000 senior managers, business owners, professionals and executives, and was conducted for Rutbusters by Censuswide.

It found that more than two-thirds of them (64%) said a challenging project would make them happier, while only 5% of managers say it would make them less happy.

More pay and higher status was the goal of 84%, although 15% said this would have little impact on their happiness. A new boss was the choice of a third (32%), approaching three-quarters (72%) wanted more respect for their experience, but just over a quarter (26%) said it would not affect their happiness level.

Two-thirds of the sample (66%) wanted more flexibility to work from home, while the remainder said it would have little impact on job satisfaction, or would make them unhappier.

A shorter commute was the happiness goal for 58%, against 40% who said it would have no bearing on their happiness; and more than half (54%) said greater management responsibilities would make them happier, with 37% saying it would make no difference.

Around 14% of senior managers said they were burnt out, deeply disliked their job and only turned up at work because they felt they had no other option – not the type to be given important projects.

Martin said senior managers should use this month to address post-holiday blues.

“The big finding is that senior managers worried that their best people will go elsewhere because of a dose of back-to-work-blues after the summer holidays should use September to give them a challenging project,” she said. “Of course, people need the right training, resources and support to succeed, and the role of an effective boss is to give them these, rather than simply give them all the blame but none of the tools.

“Elaborate schemes to give more home working and a better work-life balance are great, but actually these aren’t always motivational for many people, especially ambitious and talented managers.

“These people want demanding projects and recognition, not necessarily more time nappy-changing or chatting at the school gate.”

“It’s not surprising that so many people in our research said they wanted more pay and status, don’t we all. However, all the research over the years shows that as long as people don’t feel underpaid, money is actually a poor motivator for all but money-orientated people, such as top salespeople and financial traders. While 26% of managers said having a new boss would make them unhappier, a third of managers would instead be pleased. That’s quite sad really.

“We will all have had great bosses and bad bosses in our career, and about three-quarters of managers don’t feel their current boss helps or inspires them. Managers should reflect on this too.”