Under Pressure: Mid-Level Managers Impact Culture and Turnover

April 9, 2021
Author: ThinkWhy Staff

Being a successful mid-level manager can be a juggling act. Days can consist of managing people and departmental operations, overseeing the completion of company initiatives and strategizing with senior management to improve traction and results. When things go wrong – whether with people or projects – mid-level managers are usually the first line of contact.

Stressed out middle management can impact employee retention.

So, when mid-level management gets burned out, the stakes are higher for senior leaders and the impact to their organizations.

Stress and Employee Turnover

Middle management has a direct impact on a team’s morale and retention rate. According to the Work Institute’s 2019 Retention Report, the top three reasons people cited for quitting their jobs is a lack of career development, nonexistent work-life balance and manager behavior.

In the report, many reasons that contributed to how a manager’s behavior influenced an employee’s decision to leave were preventable: unprofessionalism, lack of support, incompetent leadership and poor employee treatment. The Work Institute noted that participants rated negative general behavior and communication from their managers had worsened compared to the previous year.

While these traits have always been a hallmark of bad management, when combined with the additional stressors caused by pandemic conditions, more importance is placed on a mid-level manager’s ability to drive individual contributors and next-level team leaders to seek employment elsewhere.

Related: Curbing the High Cost of Employee Turnover


Reduce Stress Levels

A top employee retention strategy is to hire the best people for the job and company culture. This includes mid-level managers. With that set in motion, the focus from HR and the executive team is to offer this crucial part of a company’s workforce the job support they need.

In pre-COVID times, mid-level management may have lacked vital support from senior leadership. The pressure to meet unreasonable requirements and pressing deadlines and not having achievements acknowledged are common sources of stress for mid-level management. During the pandemic, these stressors have only increased, with the addition of others that have put mental health in the workplace on the radar for HR and leadership teams everywhere.

Andrew Sumitani has worked on several projects focused on mid-level management. He is senior director of marketing for Seattle-based TINYpulse, which creates employee engagement surveys.

"By using simple but effective technology, middle managers can balance their roles more effectively," he said to SHRM. "What's critical is for that technology to create a safe space for transparent, candid feedback to reach all levels of the organization. Subsequently, middle managers won't be spending as much time collecting and providing feedback for upper managers. They'll have that time to properly coach, mentor and lift their direct reports and become outstanding leaders themselves."

Many stressors can be alleviated by setting clear expectations and performance goals and allowing them to use their time more efficiently. Here are three specific ways to do that.

  • Lighten workload with technology. Managers spend a lot of time on administrative tasks. Nowadays, many of these tasks can be automated or streamlined so that managers can spend more time leading and problem-solving. Common tasks that technology can simplify are managing staff and project schedules, onboarding and training, and tracking data for performance reviews.
  • Limit the number of meetings. Make sure meetings are productive. Sometimes, things can be discussed via email, updated via a project management platform, in a short phone call, or recurring reports. The senior leadership team needs to be aware of time restraints placed on mid-level managers. Not only are these managers responsible for their own work, they also must be available to their teams, as well as senior management.
  • Provide professional development opportunities. Often, mid-level management may get stuck in a rut because of their people management and administrative duties. Offering these managers opportunities to learn new skills, become better leaders or gain strategic new exposures to business operations is a way for them to remain engaged and grow.

When you’re running an organization and handling high-level corporate concerns, it is not uncommon to be unaware of the struggles other team members experience. However, the middle management level of the organization is vital to achieving company goals and reducing employee turnover. Providing them with the tools and support to manage stress levels will benefit the entire enterprise, no matter their role in the organization.

LaborIQ by ThinkWhy reports, forecasts and advises on employment conditions and the impact to jobs, industries and businesses across all U.S. cities.