HR Insights
March 6, 2024

The essential checklist for helping your middle managers succeed

Here’s how you can support your people leaders so they can sharpen your greatest asset – your workforce.  

Table of Contents

There’s a problem in the middle of the employee and employer sandwich. Today’s middle managers are caught in a balancing act between empathising with their direct reports and driving productivity to meet goals set by upper leadership. 

Middle managers play an essential role in driving performance and retention. They can help motivate their people, develop in-demand skills on a personalised basis, and help overcome obstacles while getting to the root of disengagement. In fact, Gallup found 70% of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager, which means your frontline leaders have a considerable influence over how engaged your people are.  

Your people leaders are also instrumental to your business. They’re responsible for making informed decisions that benefit the team and the organisation.  

This push and pull between employee desires and business deliverables, however, isn’t moving the needle in either direction. In a special Pulse of Talent report, Empowering middle managers for stronger organizations, we found only 48% of our middle manager respondents said they feel committed to staying with their current employer for three to five years.  

High-performing people managers can be agents of change for your workforce and help their organisations stay ahead of the pack. Supporting your people leaders will help them, in turn, inspire employee trust and loyalty, while managing the challenges of talent management.  

Supporting your middle managers will help them be more productive, dynamic, and impactful, but it’s up to you to ensure their wellbeing and efficiency. Here’s a checklist to take a pulse on the wellbeing and efficiency of your middle managers.  

Free up manual tasks 

Gartner found that an average manager has 51% more responsibilities than they can effectively manage. And 75% of HR leaders said their managers are overwhelmed by the growth of their job responsibilities.   

The right tools can help streamline repetitive tasks to free up more time to refocus on the most meaningful work.   

Take inventory of your managers’ job responsibilities. You may want to ask them: 

  • How much of your time is spent on strategy versus administrative work?  

  • How do you ensure your direct reports have the resources they need to complete their work? 

  • How often do you report on organisational goals and keep senior leadership informed?  

  • What role do you play in hiring? How much of your time is spent on talent acquisition?  

  • What role do you play in departmental strategy?  

  • Do you have sufficient tools to free up your manual tasks?  

Manage work energy 

Preventing burnout is an important element of the middle managers role that can require soft skills and personalised support, but often people leaders can feel burnout symptoms themselves without any support. A staggering 70% of 14th Annual Pulse of Talent respondents said more aggressive performance goals increased their stress levels over the last year. To this point, it caused nearly half (43%) to lose motivation.  

HR leaders are responsible for helping prevent burnout across the workforce, with people leaders included. Organisations that find the right balance of empathy and productivity will in turn help managers put employee well-being into action by building fair rosters, minimising burnout, and predicting flight risk. 

  • What is your work energy level at the start of your day?  

  • How burned out do you feel at the end of your shift?  

  • Do you see yourself in this role in the next two years?  

  • How often are you in contact with your team? 

Provide development opportunities 

Training is essential for building in-demand skills in-house, but not all employers offer targeted training for their people leaders. Sixty percent of manager respondents said resources like targeted training would be helpful at making them more successful in their role. 

 Ask your middle managers: 

  • What leadership training courses have you been offered? 

  • What kinds of targeted training would be helpful? Could include soft skills in conflict management, managing employee records, or training in budgeting. 

  • When was your last feedback survey on your performance as a manager? 

Only 17% of survey respondents said they aspire to senior leadership, and only 14% said they want to become a people manager. – 2023 Pulse of Talent Survey  

Plan the leader pipeline 

How are you developing talent to prepare them to lead your teams to reach your organisation’s goals?  

People managers are tasked with a full workload while also balancing employee expectations and budget realities. Our research found that only 14% of Pulse of Talent respondents said they want to become a people manager. Instead of assuming the majority of your workers will accept natural succession into team leads, start building processes now to develop your next generation leaders.  

Take stock of the following:  

  • What resources and training do you offer for managerial tasks, including shift rostering or reporting of departmental budgeting? 

  • What is your process to run a performance review? What is required of the manager and their direct reports?  

  • What performance review opportunities do you have to receive feedback on your leadership skills?  

Become more data-driven 

Your middle managers need to make tough decisions that support employee wellbeing and broader operational goals. To operate with confidence, your leaders need to have data readily available to make the right decisions for both your workforce and your business in real time.  

  • What reporting is available to you for key HR metrics such as flight risk, burnout, retention, DEI initiatives, and candidate activity to manage talent acquisition and retention?  

  • How can you improve fairness, equity, and consistency in your compensation plans while managing compliance requirements? 

  • How quickly are you able to track unplanned labour costs, such as overtime and absenteeism?  

  • How often do you ask for employee feedback? How do you track engagement rates?  

  • Are you able to track and forecast trends across your workforce? Are you able to compare with internal baseline metrics and industry benchmarks?  

  • Are you able to use data to make proactive decisions around HR, compensation, and workforce planning? 

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