I’ve been trying to write a blog post about why middle managers are so unhappy for about a month now. I’ve kept the Word file open on my computer and every once in a while I’ll stumble upon it amongst all the other windows that are open on my screen (I’m telling you, I feel like I have a hundred things going on simultaneously at the moment), and it glares accusingly at me, reminding me that in my last blog post I promised you all that I was reviving my blog. And here I am, having not posted a thing since December.
It’s not that I don’t know why middle managers are so unhappy. I do. According to studies, they are the unhappiest group in the organizational world and the main reason is that they are just that – in the middle. They don’t generally make the strategic decisions, but they do have to implement them. They deal with and have to manage expectations from both above and below and are burdened with administrative responsibilities. They reportedly spend about 35% of their total working time in meetings. That’s more than a third!
This leads to a feeling of not having agency, that their hands are tied, which in turn affects wellbeing. I see this again and again in my opting out research.
So why is this so hard to write about?
The thing is, I already wrote the blog post, I had a version ready for publication, but when I looked at it I just thought it was boring. And if it bores me to read, I’m pretty sure it will bore you too.
So, the other night I decided that’s it. I need to get this written. This is part of my book project on what organizations need to do to create work places that people won’t long to leave (because let’s face it, a lot of people dream of opting out), and the crass reality is that I need to produce texts. No words, no book.
I sat down at my computer and started reworking the post. I wrote and rewrote. I reorganized the text, moving sentences back and forth and back again. But no, it didn’t help. It didn’t make the post any more interesting. I just wasn’t feeling it.
And this is the thing, I need to start from me. I need to have a connection to what I’m writing, I need to feel it. I can’t just spew out text on command if I’m not feeling it and think anyone will want to read it. What I had written wasn’t a blog post, it was more of a well-formulated list of why middle manager are so unhappy.
So today it hit me. I need to write down my experience. It’s ironic, but maybe understandable, that writing, which I love to do, which feels meaningful and provides me with such a sense of accomplishment, can also be so painful and angst-ridden. I was actually watching an Instagram live by an artist I follow, Philippa Stanton (@5ftinf), and she said exactly this (maybe not in those words, but that was the gist). Hearing it made me feel relieved and understood. Maybe it isn’t so weird. After all, writing (or any creative art form) is actually a very personal endeavor.
But back to middle managers. Why is this important? Well, for one, every once in a while, I see stories and reports of how it’s become increasingly difficult for companies to get people to accept promotions if the result of that promotion is a middle management position. Despite the promise of a raise and a more prestigious job, people are increasingly saying thanks but no thanks.
Then there is also the issue of people leaving. When I started researching opting out, it was more of an exception than anything else, simply because leaving is hard. But now people are doing it in numbers never before witnessed.
So what do we do? Well there are a lot of things we can do to help the individual middle manager. But on a whole, we really need to look at organizational working cultures and practices. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, something has got to give.
What about you? Are you a middle manager? Do you recognize any of this? Or are you in a workplace where you can thrive? Tell me about it, I would love to hear from you!
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. All emails are confidential.
PS. Those of you hoping for a list, here is one from a study published by The Harvard Business Review of reasons given by middle managers on why they are so unhappy (in order of importance):
- Bad leadership
- They see no career or promotion opportunities
- Their work lacks meaning and purpose
- They feel that they are treated unfairly compared to others
- They don’t feel valued or appreciated
- They don’t believe the problem will be addressed if they raise an issue
- They’re overworked
- They see the organization as inefficient and ineffective
- Their distinctiveness in not valued or appreciated