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Managers in the Middle: How to Balance Their Burden Amid Quiet & Loud Quitting Trends 

Providing effective leadership and employee satisfaction in today’s workplace is no easy task, especially for middle managers who bear the brunt of the burden. Balancing their team members’ needs, their own supervisor’s assignments, plus the demands of the business can be overwhelming. The recent rise of quiet – and now loud – quitting makes it clear that managers are facing difficulties. How can we help minimize the squeeze? 

What is the difference between quiet and loud quitting? 

Last year, a new trend emerged in the workplace – quiet quitting. Employees began setting more boundaries and prioritizing their wellbeing while still holding onto their jobs. Now, we have a new approach to exiting a job – loud quitting. Loud quitting is when an employee actively disengages and makes a dramatic exit from a job. (Think: “I’m outta here!”) This sudden decision to make your dissatisfaction known is often fueled by unhappiness in the push to return to the office and no longer feeling autonomy over work-life balance. 

According to a recent analysis by Gallup, around one in five workers are overtly pushing back and loud quitting. In their study it states the reason as, “at some point along the way, the trust between employee and employer was severely broken. Or the employee has been woefully mismatched to a role, causing constant crises.”  

Why middle managers matter 

The role of middle managers is uniquely challenging and important, as they wield significant control over various aspects of their employees’ lives, including work hours, location, tasks, and growth opportunities – all contributing factors to employee trends of loud and quiet quitting. 

Navigating this power dynamic requires a particular skill set and the ability to balance the needs of diverse stakeholders deftly. However, this can only be achieved successfully when managers are on top of their game, and today more than 50% of managers feel burned out, according to Microsoft’s most recent Work Trend Index. And not only are they feeling burned out, a survey from the Workforce Institute at UKG revealed that nearly half of the managers surveyed are contemplating quitting within the next year. Exhaustion, burnout, stress, mental health, pay, and struggling to cope with workloads are all factors in this decision. 

During a recent Managers in the Middle webinar hosted by Virgin Pulse and meQuilibrium, Alana Fink, a resilience expert and board-certified health coach, emphasized the importance of manager wellbeing. “We simply cannot pour from an empty cup. It’s not possible,” she stated. 

So, with employees wanting more from their managers and managers already at the brink of burnout, what can HR and Learning & Development leaders do to better support middle managers? Here’s where to begin, now: 

  1. Foster a culture of engagement by making it clear you value middle managers 

Belonging. Understanding. Agency. These are the core desires of every human being in the workplace. And when it comes to shaping your company culture, middle managers hold the key. 

A groundbreaking study from the University of Kansas reveals that middle managers often feel like pawns in a chess game, lacking the influence they crave. They yearn for the chance to contribute their expertise but instead find themselves relegated to mere executors of orders. 

But here’s the game-changer: Employee engagement is directly linked to business profitability. That means it’s in your leadership team’s best interest to empower middle managers – to make them feel seen, valued, and heard. 

Don’t let this opportunity slip away. Show your middle managers the respect they deserve. Seek their input, amplify their ideas, and let them know their voices matter. Together, senior leaders and managers can create a workplace where everyone thrives and your organization prospers. 

2. Realize that managers can’t do it all 

Unlocking the potential of middle managers begins with a thoughtful organizational structure and well-defined roles. Many managers inadvertently add stress and strain to their lives by shouldering the toughest and extra work themselves. A striking 42% of leaders in a Workforce Institute study revealed that their workload is a significant source of stress.  

To truly inspire and lead strategically, managers need the space to step back and think big, free from the constant demands and juggling act that often consumes their time. Once the right foundation is in place, with a clear structure and defined roles, opportunities for growth, enhanced experiences, and increased accountability can all be pursued.  

As discussed during The Wellbeing Imperative webinar with Deloitte, empowering managers to shape and refine role development is crucial in promoting their wellbeing. By supporting ideas such as work automation, reducing unnecessary meetings, and eliminating burdensome administrative tasks, managers can create an environment that prioritizes personal and professional growth, ultimately fostering a sense of safety and development for all. 

3. Facilitate organizational-wide training and development programs to help managers navigate challenges effectively 

Managers don’t automatically know how to be great leaders. They need continuous learning and development but can’t do it alone. 

You can count Virgin Pulse’s Learning &Development team among the growing number of organizations that deliver co-created and collaborative learning and development opportunities for managers. Leadership Essentials, a program designed to reskill and upskill new managers, is based on a leadership success profile that aligns with our purpose, values, and behaviors of successful leaders at Virgin Pulse. 

“Our goal is to provide all people managers with a 5-Module journey in leadership development,” said Annamarie Balch, leadership and learning development manager at Virgin Pulse. “Whether new or experienced, this program allows them to learn something new or refresh their skills to be successful leaders at Virgin Pulse.” Each module offers a variety of resources, including books, articles, podcasts, and our LinkedIn Learning content tool, to support continuous self-development. 

As a new program, Balch explained that the team is constantly improving the delivery of its content and adjusting based on user feedback to improve the entire user experience. The learning and development team collects data and responses using integrated polls and feedback forms to identify areas of focus for leadership development. For example, participants emphasized the importance of empathy as a skill for leaders. The learning and development team held in-depth discussions on empathy and plans to create a dedicated session for those who want to delve deeper. 

4. Provide support to enhance health, wellbeing, and resilience 

In today’s rapidly evolving workplace, managers must adapt to new challenges. The concept of a hybrid workplace and constant accessibility has emerged, but not all aspects are beneficial. In the Manager in the Middle webinar, Fink emphasizes the importance of managers recognizing signs of stress and burnout in their teams and themselves before reaching quiet or loud quitting levels. 

Resilience expert Fink reveals businesses can see remarkable results by prioritizing employee health and wellbeing. Developing unshakeable healthy habits, establishing routines, and fostering a sense of purpose and positivity is crucial for managers. Additionally, employers can play a vital role by offering daily-use health and wellbeing programs, workplace challenges, mental health support, coaching, and tools for navigating benefits and care

Investing in middle management pays off – literally 

Organizations can no longer afford to overlook their middle managers, who are key contributors to both organizational health and financial performance. Leaders take note: top performers will not only be better equipped to nurture the talent that is the foundation of a healthy workplace, but with employee engagement and performance intertwined, managers help back that investment by directly adding to the bottom line. The trends of quiet and loud quitting aside, managers need support to manage themselves and their direct reports. 

With employee engagement and performance so intertwined, achieving one without the other is difficult. Luckily, there is a solution. When organizations double down on their engagement strategies, they can shore up the employee experience, improve health and wellbeing, curb quiet and loud quitting, and even turn employees into advocates for the company and its mission. This will boost retention, attract top talent, and help build a growth-focused organization in the future. 

For more ideas on how to build manager resilience, watch on demand replay of Manager in the Middle: Minimize Risk and Build Workplace Resilience. To discover how Virgin Pulse can help your organization reach your entire population and create a culture of health and wellbeing, click here to request a demo.