Are US managers really the best in the world?

Well they are according to the World Management Survey.

A research team from Harvard, the LSE, McKinsey and Stanford surveyed over 10,000 companies in 20 countries about management practices including operational and people management.

They ranked the US managers as the best in the world followed by those in Japan, Germany and Sweden. Great Britain, Italy, France and Australia came next with India, Brazil and China propping up the list.

The study reports that American managers are the best at managing and motivating staff. “American firms are ruthless at rapidly rewarding and promoting good employees and retraining or firing bad employees”

The authors think it’s because there is more competition with large and open markets which allow only the best-managed firms to survive. They also state that America traditionally gets far more of its population into college than other nations. And (perhaps more importantly) it is easier to hire and fire employees in America.

They contract the USA with China where companies often employ managers who don’t speak the same language as the workers and have to rely on interpreters or sign language to communicate with them.

So how true is this?

The American College Board report (on education in the USA) shows that in terms of the percentage of 15-24 year olds with Associate degrees or higher America, with 40%, ranks 12th just ahead of Sweden but just behind Australia. Canada. Korea, and Russia top the list, Japan comes 4th, the UK 17th and Germany well down the list. Of the bottom three in the best-managed survey only Brazil is included in the college board report and they come last.

When it comes to older employees aged 55 – 64 America comes 4th behind Russia, Israel, and Canada. So not quite as good as the survey suggests in terms of education.

When it comes to employment flexibility it’s hard to identify data about employment protection. The USA came bottom of the list of OECD countries based on 2003 data ie it was the least strict/most flexible.

If we look at holiday entitlement it appears that America is the only country in the OECD which doesn’t require employers to grant any paid vacation/holidays and so 25% of all employees get no paid holidays at all. For others 9 days with 8 national holidays is the average. Some companies provide 2 or 3 weeks but usually insist that employees take only 1 week at a time and keep in contact. (Military service employees get 30 days plus national days).

The EU stipulates 2o days or 4 weeks as the minimum for paid holidays whilst Canada and Japan only legislate for 10 days. And not every country legislates for paid public holidays including the UK, the USA, Sweden, Japan, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

When it comes to sick pay most countries provide some relief for short-term sickness but again America is the exception with no national guaranteed scheme. 40% of US workers receive no paid sick leave and for lower paid workers that figure reached 80%. Apparently three-quarters of Americans don’t think it’s important although 1 in 6 say they would be punished for taking short-term sick leave.

And what about the American economy? It’s all about jobs at the moment with an unemployment rate of 9.2% compared with 7.7% in the UK (although comparisons are not straightforward because of definitions and people on JSA here in the UK). With a potential US workforce of 155 million there were only 18,000 jobs created in June. Unemployment rates are up, job creation is down, so whichever way you look at it it’s not good news.

So it seems that the cards are stacked against employees in the USA with very little employment protection, minimal holidays, and little or no sick pay. Cynics might argue that it’s the economic situation and the culture that makes US companies successful and managers have very little to do with it. So is it really true that American managers are better motivators?

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