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Workplace Stress

Let’s be straight – the corporate world globally has clung on to some pretty old-school ideas about team well-being, mental health, talent management, and, especially, about climbing the career ladder.

There still remains in the majority of companies an unwritten rulebook that says you’ve got to jump roles to get ahead, the more people you are responsible for, the more important you are, and if you’re really good at your job, you should be a manager, whether you like it or not.

And if you’re in middle management for too long, well, you must be doing something wrong.

Challenging the Promotion-Equals-Success Myth

But here’s the thing: that rulebook? It’s way past its sell-by date. So says new research by Emily Field, Bryan Hancock and Bill Schaninger of McKinsey & Company in a recent white paper that looks at the eight ‘CEO priorities for 2024’.

We’re working in times that change at lightning speed, and holding onto old beliefs is causes more harm than good. They’re squashing people into jobs they don’t like and aren’t even that good at. And when it comes to middle managers, explain the authors, they’re really getting the short end of the stick for three big reasons:

  • Companies often promote their best middle managers away from what they’re great at – leading their teams and making connections.
  • Those same leaders keep shoving their star performers into management, without stopping to think if they’re cut out for it – one of the bedrocks of toxic cultures.
  • Talent who stick to their guns end up drowning in paperwork and feel like their hands are tied because the higher-ups don’t let them make any real moves.

Is it, in fact, time to flip the script and see middle managers as the rockstars of the company? They’re the ones in the thick of it, making sure everyone’s pulling in the same direction. Companies that get this are the ones that see their teams do amazing things.

The Mental Health Toll

  • Unwanted Pressure: Being pushed into a management role you didn’t ask for is like being handed a pair of shoes that don’t fit – it’s uncomfortable and you can’t go far in them.
  • Stress Overload: When folks are promoted into these roles, the stress can go through the roof. Not everyone’s cut out to be a boss, and that’s okay.
  • Identity Crisis: It can lead to a real identity crisis. You’re no longer doing the work you love; instead, you’re stuck managing spreadsheets and meetings.
  • Fear of Failure: There’s this constant fear of dropping the ball because, let’s face it, managing people is a whole different ballgame.
  • Feeling Trapped: It creates a feeling of being trapped. You want the pay raise, but not the management headaches that come with it.

The key takeaway? Those middle management folks can be total power players. When a team’s killing it, it’s often thanks to a standout manager. Once you spot these gems, do everything to keep them happy in their role, assert the authors.

Rethinking Compensation for talent

So, what can companies do to keep their middle managers from eyeing the exit? Here are a few ideas from McKinsey and Company’s white paper:

Pay Them What They’re Worth: It’s not rocket science. If someone’s excelling in the middle, don’t be stingy – pay them as much, or more than the folks at the top. If the C Suite grumbles, balance it out with some extra stock options.

Give Them a Stake: Speaking of stock, middle managers often get the short end of the stick here. Give them a slice of the pie. Even if it’s just a small share, it’s like saying, “We win, you win.”

Bigger Playground, Same Game: Instead of shuffling them off to a new job title, how about expanding what they manage? Think bigger teams, bigger projects – but let them keep doing what they do best.

Titles That Mean Something: A new title needs to come with perks that matter – more responsibility, more say, and yeah, more money.

Let Them Lead the Charge: Got a middle manager with a killer idea? Give them the reins and see what happens.

Flexibility is King: Just as they look out for their teams, the company should look out for them. Flex hours, work-from-home days – these things can mean a lot.

Ditch the Old Rules

When it comes down to it, it’s all about asking what they value most. A bigger pay packet, more vacation days, a chance to take on a pet project – it varies from person to person.

Think of it this way: middle managers are like the coach of a sports team. You wouldn’t celebrate a big win by promoting the coach to a desk job, right? You’d give them a bonus, a trophy, maybe even a parade.

That’s how we should be treating the middle managers and talent who make our companies thrive.