Mid-Level Managers: Superheroes of the Workplace


Just like sports or Hollywood blockbusters, the business world also has its heroes, though they’re not always who you think.

Everyone recognizes the obvious supermen and superwomen, the C-level execs who receive accolades of righting a company caught in a tailspin or continuing to grow already-healthy profits. Then there are the hourly employees who bring dreams into reality, who lay hands to projects and make them happen.

But the real unsung heroes of business are often veiled in clean, pressed khaki pants and department store ties, and are largely responsible for the success of all the other heroes.

You may know them as middle managers.

The Middle Management Stigma and Why It’s Completely Inaccurate

If you’ve ever seen the show “The Office” (or any other Hollywood creation with office employees), you may believe there’s no greater career disaster than being stuck in a middle management rut. No one respects you. You’re there to do someone else’s bidding. You’re skilled enough to go beyond an hourly position, but just not quite smart enough for a larger leadership role.

But, just like Disney did with princes, unicorns, and happy endings, pop culture’s depiction of what middle management actually does is far from what you see on tv.

Often times, middle managers are the ones who are mocked and disrespected by their employees. They’re intimidated by their executive superiors. In short, they’re stuck in the “middle” of two different ships, and they’re ultimately responsible for steering both in the same direction, in tandem, no less.

As a result, the stigma surrounding a career in middle management has led many to believe that someone in such as role isn’t good enough for executive leadership, and instead is relegated to doing the dirty work for the company while letting their superiors take all the credit.

Sound about right?

It’s true, in part. But what the folks in Hollywood will never show is that middle managers are the ones who get things done. And truth be told, there are a lot of things to “get done” if a company plans to stay afloat.

The Real Role of the Middle Manager and Why Business Can’t Exist Without It

There’s an old saying that says most employees don’t quit companies – they quit managers. If your company has a relatively low turnover, you can likely thank your middle managers for most of it.

Contrary to popular belief, middle managers aren’t just paid to keep other employees on their toes. In a recent study from TINYPulse, findings show that middle managers also play an integral role in employee retention, company culture, professional development, and keeping employees happy.

The study found that about 70% of the 502 employees surveyed revealed their direct manager had tried to initiate some form of employee engagement, such as asking for feedback or recognizing employees for their work. The remaining 30% admitted they’d prefer their manager to take on that responsibility versus someone in HR or at the executive level.

In short, middle managers are shifting from perceived supervisory-only positions to more engaging roles that benefit everyone on their team. They’re working hard to find out what makes their employees tick, and what they can do as managers to promote a better work environment for all.

As a result, middle managers are playing an increasingly important role in deflecting attrition. TINYpulse’s study noted that the respondents whose middle managers played a direct role in engagement were 20% less likely to leave the company if offered a 10% pay increase elsewhere.

Other studies have shown that engaged employees are an astounding 87% less likely to leave the organization, while more than half of disengaged employees might consider an opportunity elsewhere. Given that hiring new employees can often cost as much as one and half times their normal salary, rapid turnover alone can devastate a company’s bottom line.

Without happy, loyal employees, business would certainly fail to go on as usual.

Will the Middle Management Role Ever Get the Praise It Deserves?

Good leadership goes a long way in promoting the company’s best interest, but it neither starts nor ends at the C level. Executives and lower level employees typically have their own interests and speak their own language, with middle management often acting as the translator and negotiator for both sides.

On the one hand, these heroes are responsible for teaching their team how to carry out the plans of the top level. On the other side, they must also help their superiors to understand and conquer any issues stemming from those plans that could negatively impact the lower tier. Ideas that sound good in theory may be a complete disaster when put into motion, and unless upper-level execs have experienced the hands-on portion for themselves, they may never fully realize the impact of their decisions.

That’s where mid-level managers swoop in to save the day, and quite possibly the company, at times.

In short, our middle managers are the visionaries, the strategists, the engineers that take complex plans and goals and turn them into manageable blueprints. They’re invested in seeing their employees succeed, because their success also means a win for the company. They take it upon themselves to identify their team members’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, interests, and other factors that can ultimately benefit everyone involved.

With the right people in place, there’s nothing a company can’t achieve. And there’s no one better to make these decisions that the middle managers who are directly responsible for their people.

The Hero Every Business Needs, but Doesn’t Always Deserve

There’s another old saying in business that many companies live by: “The customer is our number one priority.”

However, it’s the companies that place their own people at the top that tend to see the best results.

Start by giving credit where credit is due. Middle managers don’t get nearly the praise they deserve, especially given their integral role in the lives of those they manage.

When you prioritize your team, they’ll take good care of your customers.

Alisiana Peters

Author: Alisiana Peters

Alisiana is a senior marketing coordinator at HiringThing, an award-winning online recruiting software provider dedicated to changing the way businesses hire talent. Questions? Contact HiringThing Marketing.