Further education is stocked with deluded David Brent-style bosses who believe their unhappy employees are having a good time, a survey suggests.
When asked to judge the morale of their institution, about 65 per cent of senior managers said it was high. But when their staff were asked to assess their own morale, less than a third said they were happy.
The survey of 3,000 college workers by market research organisation RCU reveals a divide in morale, with senior managers notably happier than their staff while harbouring unrealistic views about their employees'
About one in five lecturers disliked their job, whereas 87 per cent of managers enjoyed their work.
Barry Lovejoy, head of colleges at the University and College Union, said:
"It shows that they are forgetting or there is an ignorance about what it's like at the chalkface - or whiteboard face.
"Senior managers spend most of their time away from the business of delivering the courses and more time meeting the requirements of funding and targets. They spend less and less time having face-to-face contact."
He said it was unlikely to be issues with students that was sapping lecturers' morale. "Lecturers tell us that the best bit of the job is when they are with the students. It's everything else that's the problem," Mr Lovejoy said.
One of the most important issues for staff was that all employees were treated fairly and with respect. While 88 per cent of managers believed they were doing a good job at this, less than half of staff agreed.
Workload and pay were the two factors that demoralised lecturers most, said Mr Lovejoy. In the survey, staff were most likely to disagree with the statement "my salary is fair remuneration for the work I do". However, it was not ranked as the most important issue, with lecturers claiming to be more concerned with issues such as the quality of service provided by the college.
Staff also criticised colleges for ineffective communication, lack of consultation with staff and lack of opportunities to progress.
But they agreed that they and their immediate colleagues work effectively, that the college had a clear commitment to learning and, in most cases, that the college provided a good service.
There were great differences in morale between colleges. In the worst case, just 6 per cent of the staff of one college thought morale was high. In another, 75 per cent were in good spirits.
The Association of Colleges said its members had no intention of being David Brent figures. Sue Dutton, AoC deputy chief executive, said:
"Colleges do not want to be complacent about their relationship with their staff and, given the huge challenges facing the sector, they do want staff whose morale is high."
She said the frustration of staff with bureaucracy and external demands was shared by senior managers, which was why the AoC was calling for more self-regulation.
The survey also found that more experienced staff were more likely to be unhappy. "A sizeable and senior group of staff in colleges think morale is low and on a downward path," the report said.