Middle managers need better support and resources to successfully drive the workplace transition companies are expecting.

We are in the midst of a workplace transition that a majority of managers weren’t prepared for, didn’t sign up for, and haven’t been given the necessary resources to lead successfully. At the same time, their role has never been more critical to their organization’s overall success. 

The pandemic affected so many people in so many different ways that it’s easy to overlook just how dramatic the transition to remote work was for managers, and how vital they’ll continue to be in rebuilding culture in a more flexible working environment. Throughout their entire career, the vast majority had the benefit of direct and in-person oversight, communication, and culture-building—and in the span of a few weeks in early 2020 their role was turned on its head, often with little or no support to help break the fall.  

Managers are typically hired or promoted to leadership positions because they excelled in their previous roles and had some leadership qualities. Then, in early 2020, the expectations started to pile up, extending well beyond what they’d had to deliver on previously. Suddenly, they were also expected to be masters of virtual collaboration and communication technology; demonstrate impossible levels of empathy; help stem the tides of a resignation tsunami; and maintain relationships, culture, and productivity in a remote environment.

In that pivotal period, many managers stepped up to the challenge and many organizations owe a great deal of their success to them.  Now, managers are facing another set of new and unexpected challenges, and yet typically remain without any additional resources and support. 

That next challenge is the transition from the pandemic world of lockdowns and mandated remote work into a more flexible working environment, in which employers and employees have dramatically different expectations. During this next transition, managers will again be vital in holding the organizational culture together in a completely new landscape, often without the resources they need to do so effectively. 

As organizations gradually reopen their offices and return to some degree of pre-pandemic norms, that divide has become more pronounced. According to a recent study conducted by Gartner, 75% of leaders believe their organization features a culture of flexibility, yet only 57% of employees agree. Furthermore, executives are confident that they are providing the technology and resources their staff needs to enjoy flexible and remote work, but the proportion of employees who agree with both sentiments is about 15% lower. Perhaps most concerning, however, is that three-quarters of leaders believe they are taking their employees’ perspectives into consideration when making decisions, but less than half of their employees feel heard. 

Middle managers shouldering the burden of workplace transition

Tucked between the growing divide between employee and employer sentiment is the middle manager, who is again being asked to respond to rapidly evolving workplace dynamics while still achieving business priorities. Unfortunately, they are often not given the resources they need to succeed. According to Workvivo’s most recent survey of human resources professionals – in which two-thirds of respondents were at the managerial level or higher – almost three-quarters say they are under-resourced. 

Furthermore, according to Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index – a survey of more than 31,000 in 31 countries — more than half of managers believe their leadership is out of touch, and nearly three-quarters feel they don’t have the influence or resources to champion change for employees. 

 

At the same time, the data suggests managers have become even more critical to maintaining culture in a remote or hybrid environment. According to the study, new hires are 20% more reliant on managers for onboarding support now as compared to before the pandemic. And those new hires whose managers played an active role in their onboarding were three and a half times more likely to report satisfaction with the process. 

Managers have shouldered a significant proportion of the organizational burdens brought by the pandemic, and will continue to be a vital connector between leadership and staff in the next phase of this workplace transition – but they need more support. That includes additional training and education specifically designed to bridge the gap between the traditional managerial role and the realities of our new world of work. But that’s only the beginning. Managers also need better technology solutions that can help bridge the gap, facilitate effective remote collaboration, improve onboarding, and build a culture within a variety of workplace arrangements.  

Most businesses would not have been able to withstand the challenges of the pandemic without the help of their managers. As we enter the next phase of our ongoing workplace transition, it is important that they receive the resources and support that will be necessary to overcome the challenges that come next.