Middle managers are critical in companies as they are closest to day-to-day operations and frontline employees. However, according to Capterra's recent research, they often feel burned out and desire more training. 

Middle managers

Middle managers play a multifaceted role in companies as they balance the strategic priorities of senior leadership with the operational realities of frontline employees. Therefore, middle managers are vital for maintaining productivity, overseeing processes, and effectively communicating messages across all levels of the organisation. 

However, being a middle manager often comes with challenges, from juggling priorities and navigating company politics to performance pressure taking a toll on well-being. Such difficulties can have far-reaching consequences for businesses, such as communication breakdown, talent managers seeking opportunities elsewhere and even errors in judgment. This highlights the importance of HR and senior leaders supporting middle management to help them effectively navigate their roles within the company. 

Capterra surveyed nearly 100 middle managers in Australia to better understand how companies can improve certain management areas. Through the analysis of this data, we present strategies companies can implement to benefit middle managers, ranging from increased training to automating time-consuming processes through artificial intelligence (AI). The full methodology is at the bottom of the article. 

73% of middle managers are overwhelmed, stressed or burned out 

Middle managers may find themselves in a challenging position to meet the expectations and demands of people above and below. As they often work behind the scenes, translating senior leadership's vision into actionable plans, their contributions may go unnoticed or underappreciated compared to more visible roles within the company. 

Factors such as these can contribute to a middle manager's overall wellbeing. In Capterra’s 2024 Manager Sentiment Survey, we asked respondents how often they feel overwhelmed, stressed or burned out at their current job and found that 73% said they do “sometimes” (60%) or “always” (13%). 

How often middle managers feel stressed or burned out

Capterra’s survey also found that over half of middle managers (65%) don't have enough time in a typical workweek to accomplish everything they need to do. A further 63% also said they find it impossible to give all of their direct reports the one-on-one time they need. And 49% said they have more responsibilities than they can reasonably handle as a manager. 

Some middle managers may not receive adequate support or resources from senior leadership to effectively fulfil their role. This may be especially true for employees who were promoted internally and don't have experience in management. A lack of support, whether in the form of training, mentoring, or managerial assistance, can exacerbate feelings of burnout or stress. And if an employee feels this way then they may decide to look for a job elsewhere.

Tip #1: Recognise when an individual experiences burnout

If middle managers are consistently missing deadlines, making errors or showing higher rates of absenteeism, it could be a sign of burnout. Senior leaders should encourage open communication and schedule regular one-on-one check-ins to discuss workload, progress on projects and any concerns individuals may have. Project management tools enable seniors to oversee project progress and redistribute tasks to alleviate the workload of burnt-out managers.

Nearly one-third of middle managers are looking for a new job

Career advancement is important for talent retention, skill development, and overall organisational success, and middle managers, whether hired externally or promoted internally, are the heart of the company. According to research conducted by SEEK, over two-thirds of Australian workers are looking to move jobs within the next six months, citing career progression, burnout and lack of work-life balance as the main reasons to change companies. 

Capterra’s survey found that 74% of middle managers are promoted to manager as opposed to being hired externally. An employee progressing to middle management or higher within their company signifies their potential to take on more responsibility and authority, but it has to be the right decision, as leadership can make or break the employee experience.

We also found that workers are more likely to be promoted based on their potential as people managers (57%) than on their performance as individual contributors (43%). Whilst individuals with strong people management skills can motivate team members and positively impact the team's performance, they may lack the technical expertise required for the role.

Therefore, businesses must carefully assess an individual's readiness for handling challenges in a senior role, as inexperienced managers are likely to make mistakes that impact the entire team. However, we also found that 16% of middle managers are looking for a management job at another company, whilst 14% are searching for a non-management position elsewhere. Whilst this could be due to various factors, promoting someone too early may contribute to them feeling overwhelmed enough by their managerial responsibilities to want to leave the company.

Tip #2: Develop a succession planning strategy
Identify high-potential employees and prepare them for future leadership roles, including middle management positions, by creating individual development plans and providing targeted experiences. HR software typically includes modules for employee data management, allowing HR professionals to track workers' skills, performance, and career aspirations. This helps identify high-performing employees who are ready for career advancement and avoid promoting someone not quite ready to move up the ladder.

Middle managers want to prioritise training in areas such as conflict resolution skills

Training middle managers is essential for many reasons, but it’s especially important to equip individuals with the right skills for the job, which plays a role in reducing their stress levels and even employee turnover rates. Managers need to know how to support their teams and maintain employee morale during periods of change, preventing productivity from declining. 

According to our survey results, however, only 30% of middle managers received managerial training when hired or promoted, and 80% say they “rarely” or “never” received ongoing managerial training afterwards. Workshops and seminars led by experts, online courses, and virtual training programs can help train middle managers in different aspects of their roles. Conflict resolution (43%) is the subject area in which respondents would most like their employers to prioritise when it comes to managerial training. 

Areas where middle managers would like to prioritise receiving more training

Alongside training, pairing middle managers with senior leaders or experienced mentors also provides guidance, feedback, and support as individuals navigate their responsibilities. However, 55% of survey takers said they had not been mentored by another manager or leader at their current job, even though mentorship programs are opportunities to learn from experienced leaders and role models. 

When asked how often their employer asks for feedback regarding what is working and what isn't in order to improve their managerial experience, 29% said "rarely" and 10% said "never". Asking middle managers for feedback on their role is crucial, as it can highlight areas where additional training, development, or support is actually needed.

Tip #3: Implement regular training and mentorship programs

Regularly training middle managers is critical for their skills enhancement, professional development, and organisational effectiveness.Learning management systems provide a centralised repository of training materials, courses, and resources, including e-books, quizzes, and interactive modules. Mentorship programs also foster a positive organisational culture. Mentoring software facilitates mentor-mentee matching, goal setting, progress tracking, and feedback collection.

77% of middle managers have a positive attitude towards AI helping their roles 

Receiving more managerial training remains at the forefront of middle managers' minds, as survey takers said it’s the most impactful way for their employers to help them become better managers (22%). This was followed by their company providing better tools and technology (20%), which could be useful in automating some of their particular tasks. 

On average, middle managers only spend 22% of their workweek doing direct people management either with the team or department (10%) or with individuals (12%). Middle managers seem to otherwise spend their time contributing to staff-level tasks (11%) and administrative tasks (10%), including handling budgets, tracking expenses and creating employee schedules. 

A further 70% said their company's software makes it easier to do their job, but perhaps they need to reassess how such software could be useful in alleviating certain tasks. 

New technology such as generative artificial intelligence (AI) has grown in popularity over the last couple of years due to its ability to automate many routine tasks. The overall attitude towards AI solutions is very positive from survey takers, as 77% believe AI has the potential to help them become better managers. In fact, 50% of respondents with a positive attitude towards AI said automating administrative tasks is the top area in which it could help them. 

Areas where AI may help users to be better middle managers

However, regardless of how useful AI solutions can be in alleviating some of the repetitive tasks that managers have to do, it’s also important to combine human judgement and unique skills with the power of technology. This ensures the best business decisions are being made based on a combination of human input and AI, efficiently solving complex problems and implementing useful initiatives.

Tip #4: Leverage generative AI to automate time-consuming tasks

Generative AI tools can automate reports based on data inputs, templates, and specific requirements, saving managers significant time in compiling reports manually. AI-driven scheduling tools can analyse managers' calendars, prioritise tasks and automate follow-up communications. Such solutions can also analyse task lists and prioritise items based on deadlines, importance, and dependencies. This helps managers focus their attention on high-priority tasks and delegate or postpone less critical activities.

In conclusion

To keep middle managers engaged and content in their current role, senior leaders must recognise where individuals may be experiencing stress and burnout and feeling overlooked and underappreciated. Prioritising feedback and training, organising mentorship programs and automating repetitive tasks contribute to employees feeling valued and, therefore, committed to the company for the long term. 

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Capterra’s 2024 Manager Sentiment Survey was conducted online in December 2023 among 86 respondents in Australia to learn more about the experiences and challenges managers face in their current roles. Respondents were screened for employment at the management level with at least one direct report.