Life Is Hard For America’s 10.5 Million Middle Managers

Bill Lumbergh Gary Cole Office Space middle managemetn

To many people, middle management is a punchline — the physical embodiment of bureaucracy. It’s also a significant part of the economy, accounting for some 10.5 million jobs, and one of the most fraught and difficult positions in corporate America, reports Melissa Korn in The Wall Street Journal.
The piece profiles Michelle Davis, a 36-year-old analytics director at FICO, who finds herself in the classic middle manager limbo.

She has “many duties but little authority, people to please both above and below, and days when her schedule is just barely under her control, filled with meetings or consumed with sudden crises,” Korn writes.

In addition to the lack of autonomy, the career advancement opportunities are poor. Since companies have slimmed down and cut out many management levels, the leap to the next level is frequently very large and hard to accomplish.

Middle managers are also more subject to turf wars, and rarely a prime focus for their companies. That’s despite them being badly needed in order to execute whatever upper management comes up with.

The definition of a middle manager changes based on who you ask, but usually refers to someone with several direct reports or supervisees, but who generally doesn’t manage other supervisors.

Google’s founders originally had a certain disdain for middle managers, thinking that bosses were mostly unnecessary. But as they’ve created one of the most data-rich and sophisticated HR departments in the world, they’ve found out that middle managers are incredibly important, according to a piece by Farhad Manjoo at Slate.

After taking surveys of managers and looking at employee performance, “we were able to show them that those pointy-headed Dilbert caricatures actually make a difference to their jobs,” Google People and Innovation Lab analyst Jennifer Kurkoski told Manjoo.

That’s why Google invested in an eight point plan to create better managers, and a rigorous data based system to hire them.

Other companies would do well to follow its lead.