stressed out man at computer with messy deskThere is increasing evidence to show that middle management is not valued that highly within the corporate world. For example, this study by has revealed that few than 25 percent of companies think that their middle managers are effective and this Gallup study shows that 90 percent of employees are disengaged or actively disengaged. The profile of line managers has hit such rock bottom that companies may soon start struggling to attract talent, with over half of employees, according to Randstad, not wanting to move into middle management. It seems they are preferring to opt for the obscure but more rewarding confines (or perhaps freedom) of sub-managerial and technocratic roles, which can also pay comparable and even superior salaries.

So, it’s clear that middle-management is heavily undervalued, but is it justified? Does middle management deserve such a low stock rating or is middle management an important and even crucial part of the management hierarchy that employees should be proud to be part of?

Well, according to several studies I have read, middle management does have a severe PR problem as its underlying importance is not fully recognized. Take this study by Rapid Transformation, LLC, published in the HBR, which looked at 1,000 middle managers and senior executives involved in major transformation change and innovation efforts over a period of 5 years. The results were highly illuminating and showed that apart from the senior executives, the most crucial determinant of success was the role of the middle-managers. They found that the successful projects had middle managers operating as change agents and influencers of those above and below them in the hierarchy. The study also identified that the effective senior managers had been effectively empowered, and all this demonstrated that middle managers are one of the most crucial layers of the organizational hierarchy and these roles deserve much greater prestige, respect and support than they receive.

There seems to be an industry-wide tendency to undervalue middle managers. For example, another study by Sologig has shown that many healthcare employers have been hiring back middle managers they laid off during the recession after they saw counterproductive consequences. It seems that 27 percent of employers laid off middle managers during the recession; 45 percent of those who laid of middle managers have been hiring them back; and 74 percent of those surveyed pointed out that they experienced lower morale, motivation and succession planning as a result of having fewer middle managers. Similar results have also been seen in the IT and retail sectors.

And so after looking at these studies, it is clear to see that middle management has a PR and reputation problem and is seriously undervalued as a result, given that so few workers want to move into middle management and so few bosses value middle management.

The situation is troubling since research shows that the presence of effective middle managers can significantly boost morale, productivity, engagement, staff retention and the speed and implementation quality of change programs.

And if you are now recognizing yourself as a company that is undervaluing middle management, now is the time to do something to address it.

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