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Middle managers play a crucial role in an organization’s people operations as intermediate-level employees connecting the gap between upper-level executives and frontline staff. As the bridge between the company’s strategic vision and actionable plans, middle managers are key in ensuring that initiatives get executed.
Yet, organizations often neglect middle managers. Corporate restructuring can view these leaders as a bureaucratic layer to eliminate when cutting costs. But this approach is a mistake. Good managers drive company success. A Gallup study found that managers are responsible for 70% of the variance in team engagement, meaning their individual approach significantly impacts team performance. The way managers lead and interact with their teams has a substantial influence — more than anything else — on team engagement and performance.
Organizations that successfully promote promising people into middle management generate higher team performance. In short, middle managers are key to success.
Related: Why Middle Managers Are Secretly the Superheroes of the Workplace
Challenges of the middle manager
Middle managers battle many obstacles to keep the company running smoothly. They are often caught in the middle between different departments or teams and must resolve conflicts fairly and productively.
As the primary hands-on problem solvers, they seek approval and support from all levels and departments within the organization. This responsibility pressures managers to build strong relationships with people across various roles and departments to get things done. Middle managers also make difficult decisions, even ones they may not agree with or feel may not align with their team’s or company’s best interests.
Middle managers face intense pressures, leading to elevated levels of stress and anxiety, particularly when they perceive a lack of support or recognition. Companies, including Meta and Spotify, eliminated middle managers in bulk during layoffs, raising doubts about the importance of middle management. In 2022, middle management jobs in the United States declined by 4.4%, the largest decline in middle management jobs since the Great Recession.
Conflicting roles, unclear work structures and an excessive workload can contribute to burnout and feeling overwhelmed. The demanding nature of their positions often leads to a sense of being pulled in multiple directions, making it challenging for managers to balance their team’s needs with organizational objectives. A recent survey found that a record 43% of middle managers reported experiencing burnout, which can result in health issues, reduced productivity and increased turnover.
If companies want to succeed, they must invest in and help their middle managers.
Related: How To Support Middle Managers To Be Able to Lead
How to create a culture of managerial excellence
Establishing a supportive managerial environment means investing in your managers. Training and aiding them will significantly impact employee retention and productivity. Over half of workers believe managers need better training, and 84% say poorly trained managers cause unnecessary stress. Because managers play a pivotal role in employee retention, here are some strategies to set yours up for triumph:
Invest in training through leadership development, effective communication, conflict resolution and team-building. These skills enable managers to lead their teams more efficiently and inspire them to perform at their best.
Emphasize effective communication, the backbone of successful management. Encourage open dialogue, active listening and timely feedback between managers and their teams to address issues early and build trust.
Foster a positive work environment to create a sense of team belonging and purpose. Supportive work cultures lead to higher job satisfaction and improved performance.
Encourage collaboration among managers for effective message cascading and goal alignment via regular meetings and one-on-one sessions.
Inspire employee involvement to establish transparency and instill a sense of ownership in the company’s vision. Start by soliciting their feedback and empowering them as decision-makers.
Reflect on leadership support because leaders are responsible for manager success. Provide the necessary resources, support and mentorship so managers can lead with confidence and competence. When managers thrive, their teams thrive.
Related: When You Fix Problems With Mid-Level Managers You Fix Everything
Measuring the impact of middle management
Creating a supportive managerial environment is only half the battle; maintaining it is equally crucial. Measuring middle management progress enables companies to optimize and properly allocate resources where needed to improve employee engagement and satisfaction. Tracking progress also helps communicate high-level strategic goals, fosters a positive, innovative workplace culture and helps organizations make informed decisions about leadership and management practices — a critical advantage over the competition.
Leaders should evaluate middle managers based on their team’s performance. High-performing middle managers consistently lead teams to meet or exceed performance targets such as productivity, project completion rates and overall team engagement.
Employee satisfaction levels are another vital metric, as managers significantly influence workplace attitudes. In one study, 70% of employees said managers and bosses affect their motivation and morale.
Employee engagement surveys and feedback mechanisms can provide valuable insights into how well managers foster a positive work environment. Happy, engaged employees are more likely to stay with their company longer than those who aren’t; highly engaged business units achieve a 43% difference in turnover compared to less-engaged units seeing higher turnovers of 40% and over. Furthermore, managers impact employee retention by identifying individual team members’ career goals and providing appropriate growth and development opportunities within the organization.
Middle managers hold a critical role as communicators of company objectives and messages, ensuring frontline staff comprehend upper management’s strategic vision. Leaders can measure their effectiveness in this capacity by assessing the efficiency of information flow within the organizational hierarchy. Proficient middle managers reduce misunderstandings, amplify productivity and foster innovation, where creative ideas are cultivated and translated into actionable strategies.
They might be intermediate-level leaders, but middle managers are culture shapers and change leaders, and they are critical to putting strategy into action. Reimagining this much-maligned role can fuel a positive workplace and drive big achievements.