Middle Managers Are Secretly the Superheroes of the Workplace

Middle managers, middle management

What comes to mind when you think of the term “middle manager?” Is it someone who has little power, spends a lot of time micro-managing people and whose career is in a rut?

We wouldn’t blame you for thinking that. In popular culture, middle managers get a bad rap. From “Office Space” to “The Office,” the middle manager is often hapless, mocked by his employees and bullied by executives.

There are close to 11 million people in the U.S. working in a non-executive “middle” management role, according to the Wall Street Journal (compared to about 238,000 executive leaders, according to the Department of Labor). All those mid-level leaders are extremely important because they are directly responsible for the success of employees doing everything from writing magazine articles to designing jetliners. They have real leverage when it comes to inspiring success.

How middle managers reduce attrition.

Middle managers have a superhuman ability to shrink attrition. Employees whose direct managers are responsible for engagement were 20 percent less likely to quit for that much of a pay bump.

Employees whose managers lead employee engagement strategies include: they have higher levels of work-life balance, have a stronger perception of their ability to grow in their careers, and are more likely to say that their company takes their feedback seriously and responds with action.

Limeade, a corporate wellness technology company, found that managerial support was more crucial than C-level support for employee well-being efforts.

The middle manager’s future.

Managers already have considerable control over employee engagement efforts. We don’t see any reason for this trend not to continue, especially with the number of middle managers working in the U.S. and around the world (The Economist reported in 2011 that Lloyd’s Banking Group would layoff 15,000 middle managers — which begs the question how many they had in total).

Companies invested in employee engagement should, however, consider the role managers play. One issue that we’ve seen is managerial efforts colliding with company-wide initiatives. To avoid this, adopt “common language” across the company, which allows both managers and executives to be responsible for employee engagement under a company-wide umbrella.

While the impact of managers on employee engagement efforts merits further study, one thing is certain: Managers are surpassing stereotypes. They’re involved in decision-making; they’re deeply connected with their employees, and they’re unsung superheroes in the workplace.