Why middle managers keep the peace

May 08 2008 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Middle managers are a much maligned as a breed. But they serve a vital role in keeping deeply distrustful workers and senior management talking to each other.

British and Irish research by HR consultancy BlessingWhite has found that, while almost three quarters of workers trust their immediate managers, fewer than half feel the same way about their senior management team.

Middle managers, it has argued, therefore play a hugely important part in straddling the divide between workers and management, both in communicating to executives the concerns of employees, plus explaining and delivering the vision and strategies of the organisation's business leaders.

However, the survey also identified a worrying case of itchy feet among many middle managers, suggesting that the top team are not doing enough to value their contribution or keep them on side.

More than half of the middle managers polled said they definitely planned to leave their current roles at some point this year, or were wavering.

In addition, nearly a third of middle managers said they did not trust their senior management team, therefore making it much less likely they would be able to act effectively as their organisation's go-between.

Tom Barry, European managing director at BlessingWhite, said: "Our research has revealed that many senior managers appear to be issuing strategies from an ivory tower. Their direction can't filter through middle managers who don't trust them."

It's not all bad news, though. The so-called Generation-Y of workers born between 1977 and 1990, themselves much maligned as spoilt, demanding slackers, are more trusting of senior management than other workers, with nearly six out of 10 saying they trusted their senior team.

This suggested that both middle and senior management needed to work hard to maintain, and continue to earn, this higher level of trust among younger workers, said BlessingWhite.

"These results display clearly the importance of trust in engaging team members. Without it, managers at all levels will struggle to lead their staff through this period of economic uncertainty and may even consider leaving," said Barry.

"Business leaders must give middle managers the structure and tools they need to help staff establish a strong connection with, and commitment to, their work. But they must also find a genuine, authentic leadership voice themselves Ė one that inspires trust.

"The most successful companies make employee engagement an ongoing priority, not a once-a-year event. Without trust, engagement initiatives can seem hollow," he added.