Skip to content

The Collapse of the Middle Management

The Collapse of the Middle Management


Most middle management jobs are disappearing. Gone are the sheltered jobs belonging to university graduates managing a group of workers for thirty years before retiring peacefully into the night. Gone are the middle managers whose sole purpose are to convey messages and strategies from the highest echelons of the company to the operations, technicians and men-on-the- ground. Some experts in the HR sector term them as “gray ceiling” – a vast crowd of babyboomers who are occupying millions of plum senior-level jobs.

Does this mean there is no longer hope for a substantial group of the workforce? Not necessarily, but the managers of today need to grab the horse by the reins and transform themselves into the leaders of tomorrow in order to avoid an early retirement.

Are you a middle manager?

Middle management came about as a way to bridge the gap between the rank-andfiles and the big dogs, as well as the money being made along the process curve. Over time, middle management took on kind of a joke designation because of an ongoing perception that so many middle managers were bad at their jobs. By some measure, 82 per cent of managerial hires end up being the wrong one. That is not a very positive sign.

Middle management’s job is taxing, and that is a big reason why engagement numbers are so low. When you try to keep the boss happy, you cannot always your own employees happy. And that is especially true in organisations without clear priorities — which is many of them. As corporate business models evolve due to the emergence of Industry 4.0, some of the fundamental roles of middle management are now shifting.

The era of Industry 4.0 buries another role

If you watch Mad Men, you will remember each account manager having a designated secretary to manage not only their work schedules, but also their personal dayto- day activities. This may be true in the sixties, which is the era Mad Men was based in, but how many companies use secretaries today? Unless you are the CEO or a senior executive in an MNC, your company likely does not employ secretaries.

With the advent of easy-to-use mobile applications, such as Google Calendar, Evernote and TripIt, anyone, no matter how busy they are, can manage their own affairs.

In factories, we were used to seeing photos of seeing rows after rows of workers along the assembley lines. These have now been taken over by robots and computers. With fewer workers, you need fewer managers.

Similarly, technology has already encroached the middle management space. Leaders can directly approach operations and vice versa with the press of a button. Technology can monitor performance closely, provide instant feedback, even create reports and presentations. Skilled teams today are also becoming increasingly self-managed. Who needs managers now? That leaves people with only general management skills in a very vulnerable position. Those who continue to ignore the inevitable and stay in their current shell may not be content.

A study showed that supervisors and managers had the highest rates of both anxiety and depression. Supervisors had a 19 per cent rate of depression and managers had a 14 per cent rate, compared to 12 per cent for workers and owners. As for anxiety, supervisors had an 11 per cent rate and managers had a seven per cent rate, compared to five per cent for owners and two per cent for workers.

What is next for managers?

It is about constant learning and transforming themselves into leaders. They need to have the competency to lead and contribute ideas to add value and grow the company.

Attend competency courses: The debate over whether great leaders are made or born has gone on for ages, but that is not really the point. There are industry courses available to help you learn to lead others. Couple a good leadership course and extensive industry knowledge, you will be a good catch to get out of the middle management rut.

Think small: Start-ups and other small enterprises tend to have less rigid hierarchies than big companies do, and they care far less (if at all) about seniority and highly structured job roles. This allows you to build experience dealing with different kinds of tasks and learning new skills in the process.

Get a mentor: Whether you stay in your current company or go elsewhere, you need someone higher up who will coach you on the political subtleties of the organisation, and maybe even talk up your achievements to the people who have the power to promote you.

Find a mess you can fix: Being willing to solve a thorny problem – preferably one that is keeping your boss awake at night, and that no one else wants to tackle – is a proven way to become visible, and promote-able.

Be an entrepreneur: When all else fails, be an entrepreneur. It is definitely no easier or less stresful than being employed, but it allows you the freedom to lead and make use of the contacts you have made. Who knows how much further you could go?