Save the middle manager!

 The role of middle managers in corporate America has historically been seen as insignificant and ridiculed. They are often viewed as bureaucratic enforcers who stifle creativity and lack power, stuck between the CEO and other employees. However, in recent weeks, the criticism of middle managers has escalated as companies look to cut costs and improve efficiency. Many, including Meta and Shopify, are restructuring their corporate hierarchy, resulting in fewer management layers. Elon Musk has even ordered Twitter's engineering managers to write code themselves, in addition to their supervisory duties. While this may seem like a positive move towards reducing bureaucracy, in reality, middle managers are the ones who keep large organizations running smoothly. Studies show that they have a greater impact on a company's performance and bottom line than senior executives. By cutting these vital positions, companies are sending a message to potential supervisors that they are not valued and making it harder for remaining managers to succeed in a rapidly changing business environment. Despite the move towards flatter management structures, research continues to show that effective middle managers are critical to a company's success. The war on middle managers has achieved some benefits such as quicker product delivery but has led to a culture that undervalues them, despite their significant contributions to their organizations. Research by Gallup shows that high employee engagement is linked to team-specific dynamics, emphasizing the importance of effective middle management in creating a positive workplace culture that drives success.

Many managers are not given the recognition they deserve for their impact on their teams. Research has shown that immediate supervisors have a much greater impact on team engagement than executives. This is because they have a more direct relationship with their employees, are more aware of their individual needs, and can tailor their feedback and assignments to better suit them. In fact, a recent study found that supervisors had just as much of an impact on employees' mental health as their spouses and even more than their therapists. Similarly, in the gaming industry, managers were found to account for a larger portion of the differences in revenue across games than designers. Despite this, middle managers are often overlooked in favor of focusing on high-performing innovators or top executives. It's important to recognize the crucial role that managers play in integrating and coordinating the innovative work of others, rather than underestimating their contribution to the success of a team or organization.

The tech industry's fixation on top performers has led to a devaluation of middle managers, who are essential in getting the work of talented coders out into the world. Both Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have shown disdain for managers, with Zuckerberg even expressing a common trope that middle managers are not really doing anything. This assumption is incorrect, as managing people is a job that requires a significant amount of time and effort. Gallup found that the upper limit for the number of direct reports a manager can effectively oversee is 10, and companies that shed middle managers risk overburdening their remaining supervisors with teams that are too large to oversee properly. This can lead to burnout in the ranks of middle managers, with many reporting high levels of stress. Instead of eliminating or burdening middle managers, companies would do better by recognizing their value and helping them become more effective. Those that do so are more likely to weather economic turmoil and succeed in the post-pandemic workplace.

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