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Are Miserable Middle Managers Bringing Down Your Bottom Line?

March 12, 2020 - minute read

How alarming: as it turns out, the very employees charged with motivating your workforce are also your most depressed, dissatisfied people. America’s middle managers are struggling, and if employers don’t make changes, it may hurt their bottom line. If it hasn’t already.

Think about it: middle managers are charged with incentivizing, training, and engaging the workforce, while overseeing productivity. If they’ve lost their own drive and focus, how effective can they be in helping employers meet their goals? 

Unfortunately, many employers who depend heavily on middle managers also operate on razor-thin margins. They can’t afford to let operations slide, even an inch. If they don’t address this problem head-on, they’ll face bigger problems down the road. 

What Research Reveals

According to a landmark study on job satisfaction—which surveyed more than 320,000 employees across the corporate hierarchy —employees with the lowest engagement and commitment scores share several common characteristics. They’ve been with the company five to ten years. They get decent performance reviews. And, yes, they’re middle managers.

In a Columbia University study of more than 22,000 employees, middle managers reported the highest rates of anxiety and depression—18%, compared to 12% for blue-collar workers and 11% for executives. (This is backed by a comparable British study, which found that 28% of middle managers believe their work is hurting their mental health.)   

Understanding the Middle Manager’s Mindset

Researchers believe that the problem lies in the fact that middle managers are caught in the crossfire between senior management and rank-and-file workers.

They’re the ones who must enforce policies they were never asked to weigh in on and handle the resulting resistance. As they move back and forth between two often-conflicting groups, they’re tasked to somehow manage their opposing perspectives and demands.

No wonder middle managers feel stressed, unappreciated, and unheard. They’re high enough on the hierarchy to see their operations’ inefficiencies, but don’t believe they can influence improvements. Nor do they see many opportunities for career advancement.

Furthermore, according to a study by McKinsey & Company, the middle managers’ worktime breaks down like this:

  • 30-60% administration and meetings
  • 10-50% nonmanagerial tasks (like performing their employees’ work themselves).
  • 10-40% actively managing workers

Middle managers aren’t just overworked, they don’t spend much time actually managing people—the very thing workers—and organizations—can benefit from most.

Improving the Work Life of Middle Managers

Fortunately, there are many commonsense steps employers can take to make middle managers happier and more productive:

  • Encourage managers to submit their suggestions and ideas, and involve them in problem-solving activities.
  • Insist that managers observe a healthy work-life balance. Don’t let them work 12-hour days or forgo PTO to “catch up,” even if they appear willing. 
  • Offer advanced training opportunities and pathways to career advancement when possible.
  • Recognize their value and show your appreciation, whether through formal recognition programs or informal gestures.
  • Lighten their administration burden, by leveraging the efficiencies of HR technology.

What to Look for in Manager-friendly HR Technology

Old-school manual processes and user-unfriendly software are exhausting and unnecessary. If they know what to look for, employers can find HR software that’s loaded with time and work saving features designed specifically for middle managers, such as:

Robust Scheduling Software

Fewer than half of employers use scheduling software, although it’s much faster and more efficient than manual scheduling. Great scheduling software allows managers to quickly build optimum schedules and sort workers by skills and certifications. It calculates labor costs for any given schedule and flags inadvertently-scheduled overtime, so middle managers can confidently create cost-effective schedules. 

Powerful Time and Attendance Software

Middle managers continue to spend vast amounts of time managing basic time and attendance issues. Effective time and attendance software cuts the hours needed to finalize time cards for payroll by flagging open punches and other anomalies for quick review. It offers foolproof data collection methods, like biometric time clocks and mobile apps with GPS, that prevent time theft, an ongoing challenge in many companies. 

Automated Performance Management Software

Most middle managers dread performance review time because it creates so much additional work. Advanced performance management software streamlines the process by automating workflows, facilitating forms creation, and collecting and collating 360-degree feedback, all while issuing auto-notifications that keep the process on track. 

Versatile Online Learning Management Systems

Today’s online LMS systems make a great complement to face-to-face training—whether the topic is required safety/compliance training or skill development. Look for a platform that allows you to upload your own materials as well as access pre-packaged courses and also tracks course completion status, LMS solutions greatly ease the workload for middle managers tasked with training responsibilities. 

Insightful HR Analytics

One of the best tools available for middle managers is HR analytics, which can provide an eye-opening overview of their teams’ (and their own) performance. Analytics measure everything from overtime costs and missed time-clock punches to hiring and termination rates. It allows managers to spot problems quickly and track improvements, while giving employers oversight into how their middle managers are doing

In summary, your middle managers are incredibly important to your organization’s results, but they’re dealing with challenges you may not be fully aware of. Give your middle managers the support and tools they need, and you’ll elevate their performance—not to mention that of your workforce and your bottom line.

Filed Under: Human Capital Management Performance Management Learning and Development Analytics