Focus: Management Success, Management Challenge (Note: though this article was written several years ago, it's is still compelling for today's management landscape.)
By STEPHANIE ARMOUR,
TODAY Posted: 2007-08-20 14:38:56 USA
The love is gone. Middle-management jobs are fast falling out of favor as the brass ring loses its allure. Instead, the jobs are being seen as handcuffs that require long hours with scant reward -- a onetime career goal now being shunned in large part by the newer generation of workers now entering the workplace.
This major workplace shift has employers worried about how to glamorize middle management at a time when looming baby boomer retirements will have companies facing an urgent need for leadership. Some, such as IBM, are adding special programs to their middle management jobs, giving them more of the glory. Others are trying to find ways to provide middle managers with some of the same flexibility and other perks long considered the domain of front-line employees.
Research shows waning interest in middle management jobs and higher levels of dissatisfaction among those holding the positions. Just four in 10 managers are extremely or very satisfied working for their employers, according to a 2007 survey of more than 1,400 respondents by Accenture, a management consulting and outsourcing company. About 25 percent of those looking for new jobs said they were searching because of a lack of advancement prospects, and 43 percent of middle managers polled felt as if they were doing all the work but not getting credit for it. One-third reported frustration with their work-life balance.
Lack of Flexibility
Managers such as Raj Nijjer, who oversees a staff of four software test engineers at a software company in
"You have to be available all the time," Nijjer says. "Part of my team just moved to a new location, so I also have to travel all the time. It's hard to have work-life balance … middle managers have to answer to executives as well as be responsible for their direct reports' actions."
There are many reasons that middle-management jobs are losing their desirability, and it's a shift that reflects how dramatically the workplace has evolved. Today, company loyalty is an anachronism, and that means employees are building their own career marketability. Front-line employees may have an easier time showing measurable results, but middle managers, who may have less-tangible skills, such as the ability to motivate or deal with conflict, may find their strengths less easy to market.
But that's not the only driving factor:
•More work. Middle management jobs have become more demanding. Technology means middle managers have to do more multitasking and are expected to be accessible to their staffs, a Herculean challenge in the age of globalization. Employees may be spread across the globe, and a manager may have to get up at 3 a.m. to take a call from an employee in another country.
"They're working longer hours, but they're not getting the recognition and excitement. They're literally jumping from meeting to meeting. The jobs can be marginalized," says Dan Coughlin, a business speaker and author of Accelerate: 20 Practical Lessons to Boost Business Momentum. "If you go from meeting to meeting, the company may not realize the value you're creating."
And meetings are ubiquitous, especially as employers put increasing priority on work teams. Employees overall said they spent about 5.5 hours each week in meetings, and about 70 percent said the meetings are not productive, according to a survey by Microsoft.
The extra work heaped on managers today is a main reason that Shane Ede, 27, an internet technology specialist in
"My direct supervisor spends 30 percent to 40 percent of time in meetings,"
•Generational differences. Baby boomers, born roughly between 1944 and 1964, were reared with the ideal of company loyalty and the notion of a hierarchical career path that included paying dues and gradually ascending the corporate ladder. Middle management was considered a plum assignment that also brought job security.
But that's not true for Millennials, or the younger generation, also known as Generation Y, born generally between 1980 and 2000. Now coming of age along with their Generation X predecessors, they have seen the massive downsizing frenzies since the 1980s that often targeted middle managers. Research shows this demographic group also places a higher value on work-life balance and is less willing to sacrifice family and personal time for the office. In addition, the younger generation of workers -- raised on stories about ethics scandals at major companies such as Enron -- tend to be leery of those in middle-management jobs, says Terry Bacon, author of What People Want: A Manager's Guide to Building Relationships that Work.
•Flexibility and security. For many in middle-management positions, perks such as workplace flexibility (telecommuting, compressed workweeks and other family-friendly programs) are benefits that are out of reach. And younger workers put a high premium on work-life balance.
That's partly why management has lost its allure. Thirty-six percent of middle managers -- defined as a director, supervisor, team leader or manager -- are currently interested in making a career change, according to a new survey for CareerBuilder.com by Harris Interactive. (CareerBuilder is partly owned by Gannett, the publisher of
Jessica Rosen, 26, is an operations leader at a financial advisory company in
"I would love to take a management job, but I work remotely," Rosen says. "In terms of evaluating people day in and day out, I couldn't."
Some employers are taking steps to try to change middle-management jobs into more coveted positions among their employees. At IBM, a number of initiatives are underway, says Mike Markovits, a vice president.
That includes an action plan in which all IBM employees review with their manager their career goals and what skills they need. There are also some workplace flexibility options for managers. Middle managers can move through different business units and international assignments, with the goal of developing new skills, while remaining with the same employer. And managers learn that their people skills are valued and measured: Employees who work for managers are asked to answer questions such as whether their manager shows appreciation for contributions.
"We do quite a few things to engage middle managers," Markovits says. "It's very important. You want to engage everyone in your workplace."
Recently, when a second-line manager decided to relocate to
With flexibility sometimes being possible, middle-management jobs are not dead. A number of employees continue to covet and thrive in the positions, but they also have a greater appreciation of the personal demands that taking on today's supervisory jobs can entail.
Robert Leckey, a sales vice president at VendorSeek.com, which facilitates business-to-business interactions and is based in
"If you work for a company with a bad or outdated business model, the middle manager can be squeezed. They don't get to make the ultimate decisions," says Leckey, 34. "You get a lot of whining from employees, and bosses pressing in on you from the other end. You can have a staff that is resistant to change. It's not surprising to me that people are turning away from management jobs. It can be overwhelming."
Copyright 2007 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
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