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Middle managers identified as organisational “fault line”


Middle managers are under such severe strain that the future success of many organisations is in serious jeopardy, claims a new report by global HR consultancy DDI.

Inadequate skills, divided loyalties, an obligation to implement projects that they don’t believe in and lack of support from senior managers is undermining middle managers’ ambition and prompting some to seek less responsibility. The effect is trickling downwards too, with half of junior employees baulking at the prospect of a management role.

Inevitably, the effects are spilling over into personal lives: the majority of middle managers lose sleep worrying about work, their average working week is at least 45 hours, and three quarters feel they must go to work even when ill to keep up with the workload.

“We have watched business cut out layers of staff and heap ever-increasing responsibilities on those that remain while under-investing in coaching and training. While the board benefits from the freedom to delegate and junior staff are protected from accountability, middle managers struggle with it all. They are the fault line and they need urgent help for the sake of the whole business community,” said DDI’s UK managing director, Steve Newhall.

Its other key findings are:

  • Only half of managers feel they have adequate training or skills in most key management areas, from inspiring and motivating staff to driving performance.
  • More than 50% of employees believe their manager lacks the skills to assist them in their role, with inspiring and motivating staff seen as managers’ weakest areas.
  • Over a third of managers feel isolated in their role.
  • Six in ten managers are unable to delegate work upwards to more senior staff and over half feel unable to delegate work to their reports.
  • Four in 10 managers have little or no influence over who reports to them.
  • More than half of managers have no ambition to take on any additional responsibility, with many wanting less. However, two thirds believe that asking for less responsibility would harm their career prospects.
  • Meanwhile their subordinates are keen to avoid a management role. Reasons cited include not wanting the additional responsibility or pressure or to work longer hours.

    Commenting on the research, Rosemary Anderson, Chair of the International Stress Management Association UK, said: “While companies must adopt processes to identify, develop and support their future leaders, they must also train, coach and support managers in their hugely challenging roles. Failure to do this may not only result in further increases in staff absenteeism but may also cause an increase in downshifting where individuals sacrifice salary for a better quality of life.”

    The research is based on online surveys completed by 500 middle managers and 500 workers during July 2003.

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