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Dismantling the middle (II/II)

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By Jef Teugels

· 4 min read

This article is part two of a two-part series on the role and impact of middle management in organizations. You can find part one here.

Middle management impact on employee engagement: reducing employee control over their work 

Middle management's most egregious act of tyranny in modern workplaces occurs under its oppressive authority. Under the pretense of "supervision" and "direction," individual autonomy (i.e., the right to self-govern, create, and innovate) is breached in violation of an individual's freedom. A bureaucratic system's middle management serves not to liberate its members but to subjugate them. 

Once revered as an essential enabler of creativity and innovation, autonomy is subsumed into middle management's stranglehold. Gone is employee independence, replaced by micromanagement, overbearing superiors' scrutiny, and the need for approval at every turn - creating an atmosphere where autonomy is not celebrated but suppressed and neutered. 

Studies by Gallup and others have repeatedly and emphatically highlighted the significance of autonomy to employee engagement. Engaged employees - who drive organizational success - long for more independence to steer their paths, make decisions, and take risks; yet in many traditional hierarchies, they encounter only restrictions, permissions issues, meddling managers, and structures that smother rather than support their creativity and sparks of enthusiasm. 

Middle management's intrusion into individual autonomy is more than an oversight; it's an outrage. Middle managers' interference in this realm has created an atmosphere in which workers feel disengaged, disillusioned, and disempowered; they view their tasks not as opportunities but as obligations rather than passions but as prisons. The fallout of such interference? A workforce that feels powerless over its destiny. 

Proponents of middle management often promote it under the misapprehension that its supervision ensures alignment, quality, and consistency - yet at what cost? Consider what innovation may have been lost, enthusiasm dampened, and energy zapped away. Or watching once-enthusiastic employees become mere cogs in a machine with unique talents crushed under bureaucracy's inhuman hand. 

Losing autonomy under middle management's relentless oppression is more than a trend; it's an outrage. And organizations must acknowledge this crisis against employee engagement by standing up, accepting, and fighting back. Middle management's desecration of autonomy by creating intermediary positions should serve as an alarm bell: It calls for reform, dignity, and individual empowerment in an age of mind-numbing management mayhem. 

How middle managers isolate from top and frontline staff 

The business world can be treacherous, filled with complicated organizational charts and lines of authority that often go unseen by middle managers who seem abandoned by both top management and frontline employees - leaving them lost and bewildered in a barren wasteland that provides little meaning or clarity for their position in life. 

Supervisors, intended to serve as intermediaries between managers and workers, often create an unintended divide. Their location puts them in an awkward limbo - far removed from the front lines but unable to sense passion, passion fatigue, or pressing worries from the ground troops due to being too far removed from management - like lost people groups in an uncertain business landscape navigating its maze of goals and priorities. 

McKinsey & Company studies have clearly illustrated the devastating consequences of disconnected leadership on an organization's efficiency. The poor middle manager is at its center - caught between two worlds and feeling trapped by both. 

Like cancer, miscommunication is more than simply irritating: its reach goes far beyond any mere gap or void. Changes, watering down, and derailments to plan implementation become far more than mere inconveniences; they pose an existential threat to an organization. When frontline workers need guidance, they are instead met with confusion due to conflicting signals, shifting priorities, and unclear orders. 

However, placing all the blame on mid-level managers would be inaccurate and unfair. Instead, these mid-level managers are often caught up in an impenetrable and dysfunctional organizational architecture; they are put into an impossible situation and expected to complete impossible tasks while being punished when they inevitably fail. 

This essay serves as an accusation, rather than simply an analysis, against the dominant management model that keeps middle managers in precarious positions. It's an indictment against an oppressive system that fosters feelings of isolation while expecting people to form connections organically. 

Because the disconnection between upper-level management and frontline workers is tragic rather than amusing or inconvenient, it should be dealt with immediately to avoid paralyzing dilemmas that serve neither party equally well. 

Middle management's tragic disconnection with its leadership and employees clearly warns of our outdated power structures. It serves as a timely reminder that without reform, we risk perpetuating an old way of communicating, which stifles unity, clarity, and cooperation within an organization.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Jef Teugels designs planet- and people-first solutions and is a post-graduate researcher. He explores the energy created by the friction between customer behavior, organizational readiness, and exponential technologies. Born at 319.62 ppm, he’s a father and a grandfather trying to develop some intergenerational value.

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