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Houston HR expert: Mitigating the manager squeeze

Of all employees, managers have faced some of the most significant changes, and their engagement levels paint a sobering picture. Photo via Getty Images

Middle managers are in a precarious position in today’s workplace as they are caught in the crossfire of conflicting demands from leadership and their teams, also known as the “manager squeeze.”

Of all employees, managers have faced some of the most significant changes, and their engagement levels paint a sobering picture. With only 31 percent of managers engaged, 55 percent looking for new jobs and barely one in five stating their organization cares about their wellbeing (Gallup), employers need to look more closely at their management teams and take action.

A strategic approach and effective communication can help mitigate the manager squeeze and provide a more pleasant work environment.

Provide clear expectations

Even though managers need to meet the expectations of their own supervisors, they should also set clear expectations. By proactively establishing clear and realistic expectations with leadership and their own team members, managers can ensure everyone is aligned from the start so there are not conflicting demands. Expectations can include setting achievable goals, agreeing to schedules and timelines, and communicating any potential changes that may occur.

Set priorities

Managers tend to juggle their most productive hours with people management responsibilities. Knowing the importance of people management, managers should prioritize their own tasks and delegate as appropriate. The act of delegation can lighten the manager’s workload and also empower team members to take on and learn new skills that contribute to the project’s success.

Encourage open communication

Open, transparent communication is a benchmark for many organizations. Encouraging managers to keep communication channels open, going both up and down, is imperative. Managers who can express concerns or challenges, and their team members who can do the same, allow teams to more quickly identify potential challenges and allay misunderstandings.

Offer learning and development opportunities

Not everyone is an innate manager and those who do it well put effort into it. Learning and development (L&D) opportunities are crucial for this group as they need to stay up to date with industry trends, but also it offers time for them to fine tune their leadership techniques and communication skills. Investing in L&D provides valuable returns in the form of a revived manager base, a more engaged workforce and increased productivity overall.

Create a network

Support is an important tool to avoid the manager squeeze. Superiors or mentors can provide guidance when there are issues or conflicting demands, while peer groups can help provide valuable insights into managerial styles and offer constructive feedback. In all situations, creating a network of leaders to lean on and trust can become a crucial element for manager success.

The manager squeeze is bound to happen when there are conflicting priorities. However, when a workplace establishes a culture based on open communication, managers can address the challenges early. Keeping the channels of communication open from top to bottom allows all parties to set expectations, collaborate and provide solutions. When managers are given the leeway to communicate freely and are given the instruction and tools to do so effectively, it lessens burnout, the manager squeeze and establishes a more positive work environment for all.


Jill Chapman is a director of early talent programs with Insperity, a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions.

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