Middle Managers: Not-So-Secret Treasures

If you’re considering a new job, one of the questions asked is about room for advancement – we desire a clear path to climb our metaphorical ladder to the top. The focus is often on two points of the ladder – where I’m starting and the top. But what if I told you the middle steps are some of the most valuable for your business’s success – for your bottom line and for employee retention?

Several studies have found a correlation between overall employee engagement and positive outcomes. For example, IBM’s “Employee Experience Index” specifically found a link between positive employee experiences and better performance, extra effort at work, and lower turnover intentions. Harvard Business Review also states that employee experience drives revenue.

Unfortunately, studies also show that the current employee experience is lacking. According to Gallup’s 2023 State of the Global Workplace, only 31 percent of employees in the United States and Canada report being engaged. Forty-seven percent of employees report intent to leave their current job. These statistics aren’t encouraging in a world where workforce shortages have become the norm for many of us.

What is the secret to improving employee experience and, in turn, improving retention and your bottom line? Think about it – when considering your experience and level of satisfaction at your job, chances are your boss is a significant factor in how you feel about your position.

It’s not surprising that a recent study by McKinsey & Company suggests that there is a direct correlation between strong middle managers and better bottom-line performance. Unfortunately, a recent survey of managers by McKinsey found only 20 percent of them strongly agree that their organizations help them to be successful people managers. Middle managers are often overlooked, and when we see them, many are drowning in bureaucratic details and feeling burned out. How would you manage others in that position? Not enthusiastically.

The same study by McKinsey & Company looked at what middle managers need to succeed and found five takeaways:

  • Have clear expectations
  • Given targeted training
  • Understand why their actions matter (the big picture/shared goal),
  • See inspiring leaders behaving similarly
  • Have support systems in place (structure, role design, and rewards)

This research is informative and empowering, but how can we implement it?

Over the past few years, we have done employee surveys at Loretto, which have inspired us to launch several learning and development programs for employees. As a result of the success of these initiatives, we have restructured our Human Resources Department to make room for a new Learning, Development & Employee Experience Department. Our goal is to expand the view of human resources. Of course, we need benefits experts, but we also need a team dedicated to our employees’ well-being, education, and development.

I realize that pulling a team together to dedicate to this is not realistic for everyone. So I’ll ask – what steps are realistic for you to take? Maybe you could have one position dedicated to employee experience. Perhaps this is an opportunity to educate your human resources team and make a commitment to keep a pulse on employee experience. Are you in a management position? If so, know that research shows you influence your employees’ experience – are there ways you can improve their experience? Could you discuss some of this research with your manager? I hope this post inspires and empowers you to make changes in your organization at any and every level.