(This is the second part of our series about Company Culture. As Silicon Jungle (a part of the Alibi X start-up family) grows and learns a number of lessons, check out pt. 1 – here)
Many people feel that their workplace or the people they work with are like family. There is no surprise then that middle management has one of the tougher spots on the work food chain. Just like the middle child feels left out in a family with 3 or more kids, middle managers struggle in the workplace as well. The middle child works the hardest to make mommy and daddy happy, but still remains the least appreciated or noticed at times. The first child is always seen as the natural leader, and the baby, is always granted an easier road with more opportunities for some reason. The middle child just works, works and reaps fewer rewards…. or so it seems. For the purpose of this article, we are focusing on middle managers who have worked to middle management after staying with the company for 5+ years.
So back in 2014, the Harvard Business Review conducted a survey of over 300,000 “unengaged and uncommitted” employees, and middle managers were identified the most discontent in their role, more so than entry-level employees and top leaders and directors. They published a piece called, “Why Middle Managers Are So Unhappy” –https://hbr.org/2014/11/why-middle-managers-are-so-unhappy
We won’t delve into the nine of the reasons, but the undertones of these 9 reasons can deeply affect company culture no matter the size of your company and its matters enough to pay attention to middle management with 5+ years of experience.
Younger employees and new executives often bring fresh and new ideas, and middle management is seen as the overseer of the constant every day work that must be done. When “all duties as assigned” come up, they are usually the ones who take the brunt of the work, because they have the most experience in a company. Especially in a company where many of the top Directors and Executives are brought in externally and are not home grown. Middle managers see the next level as a glass ceiling that they can break only if they move to another company. Many people would think in this day and age that it’s not a big deal, people move from company to company more than ever before. However, when a good employee decides to stay within your company, do you value their loyalty?
Going back to the idea of family, there are people who treat complete strangers better than their own family members, not on purpose, but due the fact that there is no need to impress your family who is always going to love and accept you. You want to win the stranger over for whatever reason. Thus, companies invest and spend time on bringing in new innovative employees and thought leaders than they do for employees who have historical and valuable knowledge.
One way to allow middle managers to provide value is they are more likely to know WHY and WHERE a company needs to improve, they may be less susceptible to change, but if changes are being made, being inclusive of those employees who have been loyal. Don’t assume that because they have stayed they are happy and do not have an opinion to offer. Step 1: Comminicate
This is tied to the previous example. It is easier to understand why someone is pursuing a higher salary, or higher position, but do we understand why someone would keep working in the same position and not pursue something more. There are people who are understand their strengths and their weaknesses. They understand the idea that everyone cannot be the CEO, maybe they don’t want to be, or value other things. Whatever the reason, they may move around less and not pursue higher positions right away, but if they are effectively doing their job, are they being appreciated? Do their direct reports respect that their decision to stay in the same role for over 3+ years? Is the reflection of others in the company? On the flip side, if middle managers are asked to fill in the gaps, they may have less time to innovate. They may lack the time to bring about new ideas and implement drastic changes due to all of the pieces that they have to manage. To fix this problem, the solution is two-fold, Step 1: Communicate and Step 2: Appreciate. Money and promotions are not the only ways to show appreciation to staff. Companies need to make sure to show appreciation for their middle managers, especially when they serve a critical piece that fits into the overall machine. Encouraging competitiveness has it role in the workplace to produce results at times, but for middle managers there are often less spots to fill. Showing appreciation will improve the culture.
One of the most important reasons, to pay attention to middle managers is that they have the potential to make a big impact on your entry -level employees. Your entry-level employees listen and pay attention to their managers, and especially their second-level managers, and if they are unhappy and mistreated, your entry-level employees are paying attention. It can affect their work production, their happiness-level at their current position, and change the immediacy in which they start looking for a new job. And unfortunately, middle managers are more likely to go out of their way to let the entry level employees know about their unhappiness. Of course, the loyal ones might not taint the image of the company and the brand, but you can’t be 100% sure. Middle managers have the potential to be your company’s poison pill when it comes to personnel, especially if they felt valued at one point in time and then later feel discarded. Their experience and knowledge can always be held against the company.
It is important to value every employee for their purpose and role in the company, but middle management is often neglected, and leaders need to be cognizant of this reality. Because Billy Bob has been there for 10 years, and Mary Jane, who arrived from the competitor with bright ideas, she may be important for the right now, but Billy Bob has shown commitment to the company, it’s important to return the favor in reason. Communication and appreciation is the biggest key to success here. Just do it.
Also published on Medium.