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Why are middle managers so unhappy?

Matt Levin Jan 23, 2024
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Remote work has made it more difficult for managers and their subordinates to understand their roles and feel recognized for their work. AFP via Getty Images

Why are middle managers so unhappy?

Matt Levin Jan 23, 2024
Heard on:
Remote work has made it more difficult for managers and their subordinates to understand their roles and feel recognized for their work. AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Consumer vibes in this economy are getting better, but vibes in the office are still off. According to a new Gallup analysis, only 1 in 3 American workers say they are engaged with their job. Less than half say they know what is expected of them at work.

And apparently the most bummed out are middle managers, who report more burnout and work-life balance issues.

Why? Well, being a middle manager has always kind of sucked.

The execs above you get access to the corporate jet and big expense accounts. Meanwhile, you’re the one who has to tell your direct report that clipping their toe nails during a meeting is grossing out all the other team members, even if it is over Zoom.

But to quote the Don Draper “Mad Men” School of Management, “That’s what the money is for!”

Gallup chief scientist Jim Harter says sure, compensation matters.

“But it’s not going to make you clear on your role. It’s not going to make you feel like you’re recognized for good work,” said Harter.

He says remote work has made things worse, for managers and their subordinates.

“Managers, when you have people in person, all the informal conversations that happened might clarify expectations more quickly,” said Harter.

Plus even if it does pay more, being promoted into a management position often makes the work itself less satisfying.

“They may be doing less of the technical work that they were doing when they were an individual contributor,” said Laurel McKenzie, a behavioral scientist at the business coaching company CoachHub. “So they’re doing less of what they love, and managing people doing the things they love.”

McKenzie says part of the growing dissatisfaction in middle management may also be generational. Millennials are getting well into their 30’s, and now they’re becoming bosses themselves.

“In my mid 30’s, like what does that mean, what am I doing with my life, and you start asking yourself all these big questions,” she said.

Questions like, ‘do I really have to respond to that Slack message at 8 PM about the nail clipping drama?’ 

Adam Waytz at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management says to make middle managers more engaged in a hybrid work world, we should allow them to unplug.

“How do we let people go home from work at a reasonable time, disconnect at a reasonable time, not burden them with emails on the weekends, on vacations, after hours,” said Waytz.

Which is easier said than done.

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