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Boost Employee Engagement by Investing in Middle Managers

Spinning too many plates for too long inevitably leads to disorder, whether with crockery, or with people and organisations. Middle managers often find themselves juggling multiple responsibilities, priorities and challenges whilst leading their teams and simultaneously responding to demands from senior management – no wonder it can feel a weighty responsibility, involving so many roles:

  • The “day job”: Likely to be the primary reason for being in the organisation, which inspires and motivates the individual.

  • The manager and leader; creating a great employee experience for team members and, increasingly, incorporating well-being support, for which they may have insufficient experience or training.

  • The senior management direct report; supporting organisational decision-making and responding to organisational objectives and priorities.

  • The great communicator; providing clarity to team members and line managers about workstream targets, processes and progress.

  • The all-rounder; a consistently reliable, approachable, motivational, inspirational, collaborative, problem-solving and responsive leader, direct report and colleague.

In such situations, these managers can become ‘squeezed’ between conflicting pressures and experience deteriorating well-being and reduced performance.

Through our work with clients, we know that with effective support from leaders, middle managers’ well-being and productivity can be preserved.

The first step towards valuing and retaining talent is recognising what matters most to people ... The second step is doing something about it...

For organisations concerned about middle managers experiencing stress, providing an opportunity for individuals to anonymously express their feedback, ideas, difficulties, and what matters most important to them will provide leaders with the rich insights required to make relevant, impactful changes.

Positive impacts can be achieved by implementing targeted, meaningful strategies based on this valuable feedback. These can be as far-reaching as restructuring the organisation to reduce hierarchy and shifting towards a more people-centric approach, to direct campaigns to improve communication about priorities, provide appropriate career development paths, and implement convincing reward and recognition programs.

In general, when considering how to support your middle managers, consider the following:

1. Asking for their views:

Begin by asking for their suggestions and what matters most to them so you can fully understand their perception of their situation.

2. Acting following Feedback:

Actively listen to middle managers’ feedback and take meaningful action based on their insights. Involve them in decision-making processes when possible.

3. Recognition and Reward:

Acknowledge the vital role middle managers play. Appreciate their efforts; implement a robust recognition and rewards program to celebrate the accomplishments. Recognition and reward can motivate and inspire people to excel.

4. Clarification of Roles and Priorities.

Clarity surrounding roles and responsibilities is vital to ensure individuals’ goals are achievable and to prevent delay caused by ambiguity. Provide clear guidance about area(s) of focus to help minimise conflicting demands. Communicate shifting priorities to avoid confusion and frustration. Understanding the ‘why’ behind priorities provides a greater sense of meaning and purpose.

5. Autonomy:

Middle managers feeling entrusted and empowered to deliver their goals autonomously are more like to experience greater levels of engagement and performance.

6. Training and Development:

Ensure managers are equipped with the necessary skills and training for their role. Consider coaching or other forms of career development; lateral as well as vertical to allow them to explore different areas of the organisation and expand their expertise. Not only will this enhance their ability to fulfil the role, but great personal satisfaction can be derived from ongoing learning. Moreover, feeling capable and competent in a role creates confidence and motivation.

7. Well-Being Support:

Offer comprehensive well-being programs that support and promote a healthy work-life balance.

8. Communication:

Create a culture of open communication and implement feedback mechanisms where middle managers feel comfortable expressing their achievements, ideas, difficulties, and needs.

9. Peer Support:

Encourage professional connections and collaboration with peers, through shared learning opportunities, projects or social events, for example quarterly lunch for all middle managers.

The key thing to remember is that ACTING on feedback is so much more important than just doing a survey or assuming you know what is needed … acting on feedback and implementing strategies to address the middle management squeeze not only enhances the well-being, motivation, and engagement of individuals in these roles, but will have a ripple effect on their team members, creating a positive and productive work atmosphere.

Fostering such an environment allows the organisation to flourish, as individuals thrive and perform at their best.

To obtain rich feedback from the people you work with and help you support your multi-hat-wearing, plate-spinning middle managers, please do get in touch.

For some interesting reading about supporting your middle managers, see:

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