Middle managers get a pretty bad rap

January 18th, 2024

They are usually blamed for poor employee engagement scores. Yet these managers are the single biggest determinant of employee satisfaction, performance, and perceptions of well-being.

Mid-level leaders matter.

Their roles are critical in shaping an organisation's overall success and well-being, yet they are often set up to fail.

It’s the paradox of the middle.

Middle managers are the critical link between top-level leadership and front-line employees, yet they often bear the brunt of blame and criticism, which leads to stress.

These managers are the bridge that connects senior management's strategic vision with the organisation's day-to-day operations.

Mid-level leaders translate high-level objectives into actionable plans, guide their teams, and ensure everyone is aligned with the organisation's goals.

They're responsible for relaying employee feedback to senior leadership, making them the voice of the workforce.

However, the challenges mid-level leaders face are real. They navigate the delicate balance between meeting targets and caring for their team. And often, the balance is out.

This alone can lead to stress, burnout, and feelings of isolation.

There is often a lack of support and recognition of these challenges by senior leaders, which creates a vicious cycle that affects both middle managers and their teams.

How do you support the role middle managers play and provide them with the necessary tools, training, and support to succeed?

Here are some ideas where you can make a difference:

  1. Invest in leadership development programs that equip your mid-level leaders with the skills they need to excel in their roles. These are the behavioural skills to manage and support their team rather than the technical skills that already exist. Behavioural skills are things like understanding their emotional intelligence, communicating effectively, and having difficult conversations.
  2. Recognise and appreciate your middle managers’ contributions and ensure they feel valued. Understanding what makes them feel appreciated is crucial for this. Even a simple "thank you" or acknowledgment goes a long way to showing you noticed their efforts. Mid-level leaders often work tirelessly, and their efforts can go unnoticed.
  3. Encourage a healthy work balance. Helping them learn how to manage their own well-being to effectively support their teams. Flexible working, mental health resources, and succession planning can all contribute to this balance.
  4. Find out if your middle managers clearly understand their roles and responsibilities. Confusion about expectations leads to frustration and inefficiency. Regularly communicate goals and objectives and provide feedback.
  5. Foster a culture of collaboration and transparency. Your managers should feel comfortable sharing feedback and ideas both upwards and downwards.
  6. Encourage (or provide) mentoring and coaching to help middle managers level up in their careers.
  7. Create feedback mechanisms that allow mid-level leaders to share their concerns and suggestions with senior leadership. And then do something about what you are hearing.
  8. Encourage curiosity and a learning mindset with your middle managers. Provide resources for them to stay current on industry trends and management best practices.
  9. Allow these managers to make decisions and take ownership of their teams' success. Trust their judgment and give them the autonomy to lead effectively.

Middle managers are the keystone in your organisation. Their impact on employee satisfaction, performance, and well-being cannot be overestimated.

Understanding and acting on this means you unleash their full potential and create a more vibrant and productive workplace.

It's time to shift perspectives and recognise that your middle managers are not the problem. They are the solution to many of the challenges organisations face.

Set them up to succeed and watch the positive ripple effect on your entire workforce.

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