Sep 28, 2022 - Economy

Take care of middle managers in the hybrid world

Illustration of three briefcases, with the one in the middle squashed.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A number of surveys, studies and interviews are pointing to one big trend: Middle managers are getting short shrift in the new working world.

Why it matters: The middle of any organization is key to its culture, productivity and success — but as work changes, it's that same middle that's bearing the brunt of the turmoil.

  • Zoom in: A new Gallup study, out today, found that middle managers are struggling the most with hybrid work — the way of working that most major companies around the world have now adopted.

What's happening: In a distributed workforce, those at the very top, in the C-suite, know their role is to set the company's mission and lead. 

  • On the other side of the organization are individual contributors. They're typically clear on their goals, and the majority enjoy hybrid work because it cuts out the daily commute and distractions in the office.

But managers' mandate is far more confusing.

  • They're the communication line between the top and the bottom and need to motivate workers — both tasks that are muddied by hybrid environments that lack consistent face-to-face interactions.
  • Because of their position in the middle, managers are often in the most meetings. And they're feeling the heat from both sides.
  • And when their jobs get tough, middle managers can't even lean on peers due to the isolation of remote working, Gallup notes.

The data supports these observations: A recent Columbia University study polled 22,000 workers and found that 18% of managers reported symptoms of depression.

  • Compare that with 11% of owners and executives and 12% of blue-collar workers.

The stakes: Middle managers are the supporting beams of any company, and burnout in this cohort reverberates through the organization.

  • Case in point: Just think about the recent "quiet quitting" trend. Many young people are disengaging from work because they're lacking the mentorship and guidance they crave from middle managers in this hybrid environment.

What to watch: Companies need to pay attention to their managers.

  • If you manage someone who manages people, ask them how they're doing and how you might help.
  • If you're a manager, consider getting together with your peers and your team in person to rebuild some of those bonds that may have dissolved.

The bottom line: Our offices are forever changed, and workers at all levels will have to learn to thrive in the new normal.

Go deeper: "Quiet quitting" threat elevates significance of middle managers

Go deeper