Why I Would Rather Be A Janitor Than A Middle Manager

By David Mizne

I worked as a janitor once. It was the summer of 1995, between my junior and senior years of high school. Sure the job sounds glamorous, but it was actually pretty gross. The upside? I had zero supervision cleaning a beach-front mall, which meant that I spent most of my days nervously approaching bikini-clad girls and working on my tan.

I bet my care-free janitorial experience is starting to look pretty good to some of you – even those in leadership positions. According to a recent Harvard Business Review Study of over 320,000 disengaged employees, middle managers are the most unhappy segment of the American workforce. Despite the huge pay difference, the middle manager often feels stuck within his career, disgruntled and consistently wondering about the simplicity of the path less travelled.

The HBR study surprisingly indicated that many employees at the center the company’s organizational structure hated their jobs. They were good performers who’d been at their company for five to ten years. So why are middle managers so unhappy? 

Middle managers are screaming for attention and empowerment but focus has been placed elsewhere. Here are the top three reasons at the source of this management dilemma:

1) Leadership Sucks

The CEO and leadership team still traditionally look at their roles as the top of the pyramid, forgetting to establish effective leadership practices where everyone is fully supported. Flip the organizational chart and “think of the CEO as the trunk of the tree, the one who holds and supports everyone in the organization to grow and keep the vision alive.” This creates a trickle down effect, where middle managers feel fully supported and in turn support the employees.

2) The Career Ladder is Broken

Managers reach that middle rung and find the next one harder to reach, or pretty much broken or invisible. Due to a lack of support, they feel there is no career progression or new opportunities, and seemingly the only way to move up is to get out.

One solution is for leaders to engage middle managers on a regular basis. Find out what they envision for themselves in the next three to five years and provide feedback on how they can best achieve those goals.

3) Lack of purpose

“My job doesn’t make a difference.”

“The company can function without my role.”

These are the things that managers are saying when they begin to feel their job duties lack importance and make little difference within the organization. But contrary to the myth that the role of the middle manager is coming to an end, middle management actually holds a crucial role in the organizational structure. As Wharton Professor, Dr. Ethan Mollick says, “the often overlooked and sometimes-maligned middled managers matter. They are not interchangeable parts in an organization.”

Middle management stands at the front lines of an organization’s success, facilitating and overseeing the day-to-day duties of their teams. They drastically affect the bottom line, so if managers spend their days wishing they were at the beach it’s time for some self-reflection by upper management.

The solution is not for middle-managers to leave their high-paying job to clean toilets (unless that’s their highest calling). Instead leadership must demonstrate through regular communication and feedback that managers and employees are valued.

Ask middle managers where they are challenged, either personally or professionally. Find out what the organization is doing wrong in their eyes and solicit suggestions to fix those issues. Create a space where they can share triumphs and then show your appreciation for those efforts. Their responses will become conversations, and the conversations will turn into the actions that will vastly improve your business.

David Mizne, is Content Manager at 15Fiveweb-based software that improves communication between managers and employees to align goals and uncover obstacles and opportunities that are often missed. David interviews some of the most brilliant minds in business and reports on topics ranging from entrepreneurship to employee engagement. Follow him @davidmizne.

Image CreditFNV Bondgenoten

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