19. March 2024

Why is everyone talking about… the ‘middle manager crisis’?

Personio Pulse: This Week in HR - 1

Welcome to Personio Pulse: This Week in HR, where each week we take a look at the latest trends in the world of work, what you need to know about them and what they mean for you as an HR professional. 

This week we’re covering the ‘middle manager crisis’ and what it might mean for your employees, your HR team and your organisation.

What you need to know

The pressure of being a middle manager: It’s a storm that has been bubbling for a while. Worryingly, 55% of them are actively seeking out new roles, partly because they are at a high risk of being laid off themselves, according to The BBC. Why is that figure so high?

Well, research by Glassdoor revealed this week that confidence for this cohort has fallen by 6.2%. With overall employee confidence at the lowest levels since Glassdoor started collecting data in 2016, it’s a major cause for concern. The report cites high levels of burnout for middle managers from the pressures of layoffs, RTO mandates, and more stringent performance reviews. 

Research by McKinsey also emerged this week that found that nearly half of their time is dedicated to non-managerial work, spending nearly one full day a week on administrative tasks. So, as an absolutely core part of our organisations, what can we do to help this crisis of confidence?

What others are saying about it 

“Between executive and front-line employees, middle managers are critical connections up and down and through the organisation,” explains Kathryn Simpson, author of Leading for Change. “They work with their direct reports and engage them in the organisation’s strategy and values. In growing organisations middle managers become even more critical as they create consistent direction and culture.”

However, the cost is greater when they aren’t empowered, says Kathryn: “Without strong and powerful middle managers, inconsistent messages are passed around the organisation and resources are not used effectively. Middle managers can feel disempowered as they feel sandwiched between passing on direction from above and getting negative feedback from below rather than leaning into their role as key influencers and decision makers.” 

What that means for you

  • Free their time up for impact: Middle managers can only succeed in fostering employee growth and driving value for your organisation if they have time to do it. Ensure any HR management they must do in their day-to-day is as automated as possible – every leave request, new hire to make and performance review to organise needs to be easy and quick for them to complete, so they can focus on growing their teams and driving results.  

  • Provide them with timely training: Be careful not to simply add to their list with the training you provide. Ensure that the resources you share (such as how to improve performance reviews or how to support employees during layoffs) are provided at the right time and are as relevant, practical and succinct as possible for them to fully utilise. These learning experiences should be tailored: Don’t assume a one-size-fits-all approach for both first-time and seasoned managers.

  • Create opportunities for peer support: Why not enable real-time feedback by gathering every manager in your organisation in one Slack channel? Anne Kiely, Chief People Officer at Aer Lingus, shared at Dublin’s Talent Summit how she did exactly this in her previous role as HR Director, EMEA at Twitter (now X): “It was a really rich experience for them – learning from peers can be so much better than learning from HR.”

  • Help managers set strategy: By providing ownership to your managers of the goals that your organisation sets in place, it can be a lot easier to believe in, distribute the ‘why’ to their teams and actually hit these targets. Ensuring that your middle managers understand and help shape the ‘vision’ will help turn these goals into reality, while also crosschecking that the goals that are set are realistic with the teams and other resources they know so well.

What else should I read? 

That's all for this week's edition of Personio Pulse: This Week in HR. Check back next week as we continue to dissect the latest trends impacting the ways we work. 

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Hannah Popham

Hannah Popham

Hannah is a Senior Content Marketing Manager at Personio. She loves writing about the ever-changing ways that we work and how they intersect with our lives outside work.

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