The role of a mid-level manager is pivotal but can be highly stressful, making the mid-level manager particularly susceptible to burnout.
A mid-level manager occupies a critical, and in some ways vulnerable, position within an organization. They are responsible for implementing strategic directives from higher levels of management while ensuring that day-to-day operations run smoothly. This role often involves direct supervision of a team, managing resources, and contributing to policy and decision-making processes. However, they typically do not have the same level of influence or access to strategic planning as upper management. The combination of high expectations, limited strategic influence, and the need to constantly adapt and learn new skills creates a challenging environment that can lead to mental and physical exhaustion. In this post we will explore why mid-level managers are so vulnerable to burnout, what the signs of impending burnout are and what you can do about it as a mid-level manager.
Employee burnout, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), https://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2023/10/25/burnout-training/ is a state where individuals feel exhausted and cynical about their work due to the distressing environment they operate in. This condition strains a person’s physical, emotional, and psychological well-being, leading to an increased risk of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Burnout can cause employees to disengage from their work and may lead them to leave their jobs. The CDC also describes burnout as developing from a chronic imbalance between demands and the resources needed to effectively respond to those demands. The Mayo Clinic defines burnout as a type of work-related stress that manifests as physical or emotional exhaustion, feelings of ineffectiveness, and detachment from work (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/burnout/art-20046642). Does any of this sound familiar? If so, keep reading.
Vulnerability of Mid-Level Management:
Mid-level managers are particularly vulnerable to burnout for several reasons:
- Pressure from All Sides: They often face intense pressure from both upper management and their subordinates. They need to ensure their team’s performance meets the company’s expectations while also addressing their team members’ concerns and needs.
- Caught in the Middle: Middle managers are in a unique, often awkward position within an organization. They are responsible for executing the work but are not senior enough to be involved in strategic decision-making. This lack of context can lead to a feeling of psychological insecurity and contribute to anxiety, a significant factor in burnout.
- Unreasonable Expectations: Middle managers often find themselves trying to meet high, and even unreasonable, expectations from senior managers or CEOs while keeping their teams motivated and on track. This balancing act can be particularly challenging, leading to increased stress and potential burnout.
- Feeling Stuck and Unfulfilled: Many middle managers feel stuck in their roles, with limited opportunities for career advancement. This lack of fulfillment and career progression can contribute to feelings of dissatisfaction and burnout.
- Constantly Acquiring New Skills: The role requires continuous learning and adaptation, adding to the stress and demands placed on middle managers. The responsibility of supporting upper management’s strategies and their direct reports requires emotional competence and can be overwhelming.
Recognizing Signs of Impending Burnout:
As a mid-level manager, recognizing and addressing burnout in yourself is crucial for both personal well-being and effective leadership. Some signs of impending burnout include:
- Questioning the Value of Your Work: Doubting the significance or impact of your contributions.
- Physical and Emotional Fatigue: Feeling constantly drained and lacking the energy to fulfill your responsibilities.
- Difficulty Starting and Focusing on Work: Struggling to initiate tasks and maintain concentration.
- Loss of Patience with Colleagues or Clients: Experiencing increased frustration and irritability in interpersonal interactions at work, which may also spill over into personal life.
- Decreased Satisfaction and Increased Cynicism: Feeling disconnected and disillusioned with your job.
- Sleep Disturbances and Physical Symptoms: Changes in sleep patterns, headaches, and gastrointestinal issues without a clear medical cause.
Strategies to Prevent or Lessen Burnout:
As a manager, you have the capacity to not only manage your risk of burnout, but also to set an example for your team. Here are strategies to consider to help to prevent burnout:
- Workload Management: Balance your tasks by planning, delegating, setting boundaries, and letting go of perfectionism.
- Regain Control: Establish clear boundaries for work availability and resource requirements.
- Foster Community: Build and strengthen supportive relationships at work.
- Ensure Fairness: Advocate for recognition and value your contributions and those of your team.
- Align Personal and Organizational Values: Ensure your work aligns with your personal values.
- Task Balancing: Alternate between high and low-demand tasks to prevent cognitive or emotional overload.
- Mental Breaks: Incorporate activities like reading, music, or breathing exercises into your routine.
- Physical Breaks: Recognize and respond to physical signs of stress with activities like walking or mindfulness exercises.
If you’re already experiencing burnout, it’s important to act sooner rather than later: (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/burnout/art-20046642)
- Communicate with Your Superior: Openly discussing your concerns with your superior can be highly effective. This communication fosters transparency and can lead to collaborative problem-solving. By voicing your struggles, you invite the possibility of workload adjustments, resource allocation, or even changes in team dynamics. This approach not only helps to address your immediate stressors but also contributes to a healthier work environment. Superiors informed about their team’s challenges are better equipped to make organizational changes that benefit everyone – and therefore the organization.
- Seek Support: Reaching out to friends, family, or professional services is crucial in managing burnout. Social support plays a significant role in emotional well-being. Talking with loved ones or a professional can provide relief, new perspectives, and coping strategies. Professional services, like counseling or coaching, offer structured guidance and tools to manage stress. This external support network acts as a buffer against the negative effects of burnout, promoting resilience and providing a sense of belonging and understanding.
- Relaxation and Exercise: Engaging in relaxation techniques and regular exercise is a proven strategy to combat burnout. Activities like yoga, meditation, or even simple breathing exercises can significantly reduce stress levels, leading to improved mental clarity and emotional stability. Regular physical activity, whether it’s a brisk walk, a gym session, or a sport, helps in releasing endorphins, the body’s natural mood lifters. This combination of relaxation and exercise enhances your ability to handle stress, improves sleep quality, and boosts overall physical and mental health.
- Sleep and Mindfulness: Prioritizing restorative sleep and practicing mindfulness are key in managing work stress and preventing burnout. Good sleep hygiene ensures that you are well-rested, which is crucial for cognitive function and emotional regulation. Mindfulness practices, like meditation or mindful breathing, help in centering your thoughts and reducing anxiety. They encourage a focus on the present moment, reducing the tendency to ruminate on past or future stressors. Regular mindfulness practice is linked to reduced levels of stress and improved emotional well-being, making it an effective tool in your burnout prevention strategy.
- Taking Time Off: Allocating time for a break or vacation is essential in combating burnout, especially when signs of stress and exhaustion become evident. Taking time off allows for mental and emotional detachment from work-related stressors, providing an opportunity to rejuvenate and regain perspective. This pause from the daily grind can lead to increased productivity and creativity upon return, as a rested mind is often more efficient and innovative. Moreover, time away from work can improve personal relationships and overall quality of life, which in turn positively impacts professional performance. Employers often recognize the benefits of well-rested employees, leading to a supportive environment for taking necessary breaks.
As a mid-level manager, recognizing the signs of burnout in yourself and taking proactive measures to prevent it are essential for maintaining personal health, staying productively engaged in your position, and fostering a positive work environment. Employing strategies like workload management, seeking support, and maintaining a work-life balance can help you stay productive and fulfilled in your role. You can set an example for your subordinates (and even for the upper-level management) of how to take care of yourself so that you can decrease your risk of burnout and remain positively engaged in your job and your life.