Ah, middle manager stress. Being a middle manager often feels like being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Managing the expectations of upper-level executives while leading and nurturing subordinates can be a daunting task. When coupled with limited development opportunities and a significant load of non-managerial tasks, it’s no wonder middle managers are feeling the squeeze[1^][2^].

Recent organizational trends such as a move towards flatter structures and a shift towards technology for efficiency have further increased the stress levels for middle managers[2^]. To help middle managers navigate these challenges and thrive in their roles, organizations need to reevaluate and redefine traditional management approaches.

The Harvard Business Review pinpointed the exhaustion faced by middle managers to their position in the organizational hierarchy. This role requires managing both superiors and subordinates, navigating workplace politics, and dealing with constant organizational change, leading to heightened stress levels.[3^].

Here are seven takeaways to implement in your business to alleviate middle manager stress and foster success:

  1. Prioritize Development Opportunities: Middle managers can feel overlooked in the development department. Providing personalized incentives, such as increased autonomy and targeted learning opportunities, can motivate them and boost job satisfaction[1^].
  2. Rebalance Task Distribution: Freeing up middle managers from excessive administrative tasks can give them more time to focus on strategic and people-management tasks – areas that can significantly enhance organizational performance[1^].
  3. Unlearn Traditional Structures: Flatter, more agile management structures can redefine the role of middle managers, making them more resilient. This involves transforming from mechanistic management to human-centered leadership, and from being simply controllers to being value drivers[2^].
  4. Value Middle Managers: Recognize that middle managers are integral in identifying future leaders, honing coaching skills, and advancing diversity agendas. Their value extends beyond the supervision of day-to-day operations[2^].
  5. Leverage Their Experience: Redeploy midlevel managers as hands-on individual contributors where possible. Their wealth of experience and expertise can significantly benefit organizations[2^].
  6. Targeted Resources: Organizations can support middle managers by providing them with targeted resources and training to effectively navigate upward and downward management, while also helping them adapt to constant organizational changes. This can mitigate feelings of exhaustion and enhance productivity [3^]
  7. Assess Often: In order to improve their experience, you must constantly check in on it. Due to their unique position in the organization, it helps to include them in assessment programs and digging deep into what part of the experience is most taxing to them.

By implementing these strategies, you can ensure that middle managers are equipped with the tools and support they need to succeed, which in turn leads to greater productivity and success for your organization as a whole.


1^: Stop wasting your most precious resource: Middle managers | McKinsey

2^: Leading Off: What’s next for the middle manager? A leader’s guide | McKinsey

3^: Why Being a Middle Manager is so Exhausting – Harvard Business Review


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