4 Effective Strategies for Middle Managers to Overcome Pressure

4 Effective Strategies for Middle Managers to Overcome Pressure | Leadership | Emeritus

The 2023 Middle Manager Report by the Predictive Index reveals that 79% of middle managers are on the verge of burnout, and 58% feel that senior management is often unheard of their concerns. Moreover, 70% of middle managers want to go back to being individual contributors if they can do so for the same pay. These statistics highlight how middle managers have difficulty managing people and acting as the bridge between senior executives and junior-level team members. If you are in a similar situation, read this blog to learn effective strategies for middle managers to stay engaged at work and handle manager squeeze.

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What are the Main Challenges Faced by Middle Managers?

The role of middle managers can be compared to an umbrella carrier who shields their team from unwanted or unreasonable initiatives forced by the top management. However, in doing so, they often face several challenges. Here are some of the top middle management challenges that cause a middle manager squeeze.

1. Missing Support From Top Management

The most significant challenge for middle managers is the lack of support from top management. They bear the whole responsibility and are, therefore, unable to seek mentorship or support from their seniors.

2. Lack of Autonomy 

Middle managers often communicate strategies developed by senior leaders to team members and lack autonomy over tasks.

3. Spending Time in Non-Managerial Work

A McKinsey survey reveals that middle managers spend almost half of their time on non-managerial tasks such as administrative work and work that requires independent contribution. They spend less than 33% on coaching their team members, which inevitably impacts productivity.

ALSO READ: What is Coaching Leadership? Understanding its 10 Salient Features

How Can Middle Managers Overcome the Pressure of Being Caught Between Upper Management and Their Subordinates?

Some effective strategies to handle manager squeeze and overcome middle management challenges are:

1. Identify the Source of Pressure

May Busch, an executive coach, suggests, “The first step to overcoming pressure is to identify its source. If the pressure is coming from the top management, you need to communicate better. For lower-level teams, active listening is required. However, if it is from external stakeholders, you need to set clear boundaries.” 

2. Use Tools to Automate Processes 

Constant communication and back and forth between top management and the operational team take a lot of time. Hence, middle managers can automate processes to improve efficiency. You can use project management tools like Jira, Asana, or Trello to get real-time task updates and enable transparent communication with the top management.

3. Set Priorities

Dr Hayley Lewis, a coaching psychologist, recommends setting clear priorities to avoid a middle squeeze. She suggests creating a list of all tasks and dividing them into three categories—people, strategy, and operations and then adding the priority level for each task. Managers can do this once every week to avoid feeling overwhelmed and stressed.

4. Establish Boundaries 

Setting clear boundaries related to workload and accountability can also reduce manager squeeze. 

What Strategies Can Middle Managers Use to Enhance Their Engagement at Work?

Here are a few tips for boosting engagement at work:

1. Focus on Performance Enablement

Middle managers must switch from performance management to a performance enablement framework to increase work engagement. It involves creating a culture that fosters employee growth and offering necessary tools to employees to increase productivity.

2. Encourage Open Communication

An open communication culture fosters better relationships among employees and management. Moreover, it makes middle managers and employees feel heard and valued, thus increasing work engagement. 

3. Conduct Training Workshops

Middle managers can also make their team feel valued and help them achieve their career goals by conducting training workshops, thus keeping them and their team engaged. 

ALSO READ: Building the Right Employee Skills to Close the Leadership Gap

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How Can Middle Managers Achieve a Work-Life Balance While Fulfilling Their Responsibilities?

Here are a few tips for middle managers to maintain work-life balance and reduce the impact of manager squeeze:

1. Self-Assessment 

Sally Foley-Lewis, a middle-manager leadership coach, recommends embracing authenticity and self-assessment to thrive as a middle manager. It involves seeking feedback and evaluating performance regularly. You can use self-assessment tools like Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and DiSc Assessment.

2. Pursue Leadership Development Courses

Practical leadership courses also help learn skills and practices that improve productivity and maintain a work-life balance. 

3. Learn to Say “No”

Middle managers should also learn to say no to additional tasks or responsibilities when they do not have the bandwidth. Additionally, this reduces pressure on lower teams to stay engaged at work

4. Block Time for Self-Care

Middle managers should block specific time slots throughout their day for self-care activities like exercise, meditation, or reading to maintain a work-life balance.

What Leadership Skills and Qualities are Essential for Middle Managers to Succeed in Their Roles?

The role of middle managers is evolving. They are no longer mere intermediaries between the management and employees. Instead, they are the unsung heroes who play various roles, including a coach, mentor, supervisor, strategist, and policy-maker. Therefore, they need to learn the following skills to avoid manager squeeze:

1. Communication

Excellent communication is considered the superpower of middle managers. They need to communicate the strategies formed by the top management to the employees for efficient execution and communicate progress back to the senior leaders. Moreover, middle managers should also be able to communicate feedback clearly. 

2. Resilience

Resilience is the ability to perform under stress and overcome setbacks to achieve long-term goals. It is essential for the career development of managers. Middle managers can build resilience by seeking challenges outside their comfort zone, learning emotional intelligence, and building a support network.

3. Self-Awareness

This skill helps managers gain confidence, work on their shortcomings, build better relationships with team members, and make better decisions.

4. Motivation and Influence

Middle managers’ core responsibilities involve communicating the business vision to employees and motivating them to achieve organizational goals. Therefore, motivation and influence are essential qualities.

5. Adaptability 

Adaptability helps middle managers assess the situation and modify their leadership style and strategies to ensure team efficiency.

ALSO READ: Top Leadership Styles and Skills You Need to Become a Future-Proof Leader

As middle managers experience the manager squeeze between the top executive and employees at the lower level, career development for managers often takes a backseat as they struggle to manage several things. However, the true role of a manager is to mentor their team members while simultaneously seeking new professional experiences, learning, and development. This is where leadership development courses come into play. They enable middle managers to acquire leadership and technical skills for efficient team management and career growth. Explore Emeritus’ skill-based online courses to become a powerful manager. 

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About the Author

Content Writer, Emeritus Blog
Sneha is a content marketing professional with over four years of experience in helping brands achieve their marketing goals. She crafts research-based, engaging content, making sure to showcase a bit of her creative side in every piece she writes. Sneha spends most of her time writing, reading, or drinking coffee. You will often find her practicing headstands or inversions to clear her mind.
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