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Last updated: 09.05.17

The middle manager: What can businesses do to make communication easier?

The role of the middle manager isn’t an easy one and requires much communication between senior members of staff and those who are being managed.

The role of the middle manager is a tough one. It requires the skill of being able to manage and work with people from all backgrounds and levels, from apprentices to high-level board executives and directors. Numerous studies over the year have demonstrated that those who have power in the workplace often differ in many ways to those who lack power, including their motivations, bias and behaviours.

However, as a middle manager, the position of intermediate power isn’t always as straightforward as it may seem and it can often be difficult for them to reach the right balance.

Many middle managers have a complex relationship with power. This is because when they are dealing with superiors, they will naturally adopt a lower-power behaviour style, while when interacting with subordinates, they must adopt a more assertive and high-power behavioural style. Learning how to act and deal with others in each unique circumstance is therefore crucial.

A varying role

Middle managers will have to balance their attitude, alternating between these power styles. Because of their positioning, middle managers are often left to deal with changes within an organisation, passing on messages and strategies from board executives to employees and implementing these new ways of working.

While middle managers receive pressure from senior members of staff to bring about change in the best possible way, they are also subject to the demands of those they manage, which can in some cases be conflicting. It is psychologically challenging for middle managers to constantly be disengaging from a task that requires one mind set, to engage in another task that requires a different mind set. This makes it all the more important for businesses to ensure they are appointing the right candidates to this role.


Without the correct support, the responsibility and ability to switch power levels frequently can have a negative impact on middle managers. Studies in the UK and US demonstrate that these conflicting roles can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety. This, brings a number of risk factors to any business, like sick leave and low employee retention rates.

In addition to this, conflicting roles can disrupt performance and the ability to focus on a task without being distracted. Research from Columbia University and the University of Toronto found that those in mid-level organisational positions had higher rates of depression and anxiety than employees who had positions nearer either end of the hierarchy.

How can we solve these problems?

While the role of the middle manager poses many difficulties, there are ways to solve these problems. This can be done by:

1. Reducing the number of meetings

While meetings are crucial in the majority of managerial roles, unnecessary meetings can cause stress. This can be eliminated by reducing their frequency and only having them when necessary.

2. Encourage feedback

Encourage feedback from employees by asking them which way they prefer to be contacted. When it comes to power, managers who only ever interact via email can be regarded as impersonal and cause tension.

3. Provide suitable training

Businesses can help middle managers distinguish their role identities by providing the correct training. E-learning will help them understand their responsibilities and how to deal with these, offering them the support they need. With new technologies and legislation, businesses should also provide retraining for middle managers.

4. Avoid micro-management

While input from senior members of staff is important, middle managers should also be given the responsibility and freedom to implement strategies in a way that works best for them. Allow managers the freedom to contact you when they need support or advice.

5. Allow flexibility

Instead of expected the middle manager to fit into a specific framework, businesses should be flexible and encourage them to adopt a way of working that is unique to their style. Many studies show that flexibility in the work environment enables better results with increased productivity and morale.

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