Middle managers are burned out — here’s how to save them

Middle managers are feeling fried. In the latest Future Forum survey of more than 10,000 global desk workers, that mid-level group reported the highest levels of stress and anxiety and the lowest scores for work-life balance. A whopping 43% of them are at risk of burnout, the survey found. And that isn’t just their problem: the syndrome is associated with lower performance and retention.

It’s easy to see why, more than executives, senior management or individual contributors, middle managers are having such a rough time. They are under pressure from above to do more with less, and from below as they try to manage concerns ranging from compensation to flexible work policies. But what can your company actually do about it?

It starts with rethinking the purpose of these roles to better fit our new ways of working. Then, it comes down to giving these front-line managers the training, digital tools, and autonomy they need to succeed.

“Perhaps the biggest question to ask regarding middle management is how do we expect them to lead?” Future Forum wrote in 2021. “Are they there to take attendance, and be human routers of information on projects? Are they supposed to empower teams based on purpose? Or, are you expecting them to do both?”

Middle managers have never been more important

When the pandemic hit, many business leaders pivoted quickly, bypassing bureaucratic overhang, and making important strategic decisions in tight groups. Emboldened by the speed of the pivot, some organizations began drifting toward flatter structures to become more agile. But in a work-from-anywhere era defined partly by more empowered workers, the management layer between executives and individual contributors has never been more vital. 

“We’ve gone a bit sideways, wanting to wire out the role of the human,” Bill Schaninger, senior partner at McKinsey, said on a podcast. “We’ve allowed the environment to cloud the purpose of a well-performing individual in a well-structured, middle-management role.” 

What does that role look like? Forget about managers keeping tabs on productivity and evaluating talent. Schaninger said the best organizations should train and empower middle managers to become coaches, mentors, and facilitators, and act as a crucial communication layer between broader organizational goals and how each individual contributes.  

Technology helps ease the burden

Automation is already freeing managers from mundane tasks like processing forms, data analysis, document management, and workflow approvals. Gartner predicts that 69% of these routine tasks will be fully automated by 2024, resulting in a complete overhaul of the manager’s role. 

At the same time, organizations like Salesforce are rethinking meeting culture, using collaborative tools like Slack, Quip, Miro and Jamboard to replace meetings in favor of working asynchronously. The goal with “async week” — we’ve had four so far – is to find better ways to work and give employees more control over their workday. Despite some lingering drawbacks — in surveys, 13% of employees reported working more hours than usual – they are experiencing fewer disadvantages with every async week. 

For managers, who likely have more meetings than individual contributors, fewer meetings means more time to focus on strategic team goals and initiatives, which could be helpful in easing burnout. 

Train your managers to be better managers

According to a January 2022 Gallup report, middle managers are disenfranchised by the lack of clarity around expectations, and fewer development opportunities. Gallup noted managers need to continually develop in their work, feel invested in, and need to have coaching conversations with their managers, just as they do with individuals on their teams.  

This will require a shift in thinking at the leadership level about learning and development. McKinsey noted the vast majority of corporate training for managers today involves onboarding, compliance, and the introduction of new products and services, with little attention on leadership development. 

Business leaders need to invest in not just training but ongoing and immersive learning for managers where it becomes ingrained in the fabric of the company. Take Salesforce, for instance. As working, and the workplace, have dramatically changed, we overhauled how we develop leaders. The old way of doing things — overinvesting in top talent with a formal nomination process — eventually stopped aligning with the changing work landscape. The goal was to build more and better leaders at every level. 

The new approach, called Great Leader Pathways, is a six-stage, targeted curriculum that ties the relevant mindsets, skills, and behaviors with leader success at every level. It’s an open-enrollment model that democratizes access to leadership roles, and is rooted in the concept that anyone can lead. 

Champion the middle manager’s ability to innovate

In his recent book, Built to Innovate, INSEAD professor Ben Bensaou makes the case that middle managers are the “forgotten heroes” of innovation. Rather than disregard them as blockers contributing to paralysis by analysis, they should be supported and incentivized to stimulate their teams to innovate. 

Middle managers, he wrote, form an important bridge between senior leaders and individual contributors. After all, they have the power to give employees the time and motivation they need to innovate, and can ensure ideas are refined, filtered and, if worthwhile, brought to the attention of senior leaders.  

For this to work, organizations need to implement processes and structures that provide opportunities to unearth ideas from unexpected places. One example Bensaou cited in his book: a global pharmaceutical company that trained innovation coaches to help middle managers coach and motivate their teams to innovate. With the coaches, the managers review ideas, provide feedback, and connect the innovators with others in the organization. 

“We’re moving from a place where someone dictates to the team what needs to happen, to managers asking, ‘How can I help you do your job better? How can I unblock you? How can I enable you?,’’ said Chris Herd, founder and CEO of Firstbase, a fast-growing startup that helps companies set up and manage remote workers. 

The nature of work has changed in profound and irrevocable ways. So too should attitudes about the value that middle managers can bring to their teams. It’s an important piece in curbing the burnout that threatens to derail organizational culture, growth, and innovation. 

Source link

Interesting Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *