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The People in Your Organization Who Are Both the Most Burned Out and the Key to Organizational Outcomes


Let me know if this resonates with you. You wake up tired. It is time to get ready for work. Your intentions are good, but your brain is cloudy. You get to work a few minutes early because “on time is late” and begin the day. You go around and say good morning to each of your employees and put on a smile, or at least attempt to because you have to “set the example.” Deep down you are exhausted and just hoping for no major fires today. In the back of your mind you are thinking, who is going to call off today, how will I juggle the strain? I hope we don’t have any really angry customers who take their frustrations out on me. Turnover is high, you have open positions you need to fill. You don’t want just another warm body, but you are hardly getting any applications. You set the game plan for the day, gather the team around for a morning huddle, and share goals and objectives for the day. The team listens, but they too are often feeling what you are, burned out. You open for business. Guests start walking in, the phone starts to ring. Things are going pretty well so far.


Then an unannounced visitor shows up. Your boss. They weren’t greeted immediately, which is the expectation. Your stress level immediately spikes. It’s time to "put on a show" for the boss. They greet you and you exchange pleasantries and then they begin walking around and talking to the staff and observing. They provide you with feedback and while well intended you are exhausted, and not in a great place to take the feedback. You feel criticized or even worse numb to it. You are doing the best you can with the staff you have and there doesn’t seem to be an appreciation or understanding of what it is like to do this every day. You don't tell your boss that you are struggling and they don't ask. You don't want to lose your job, and they assume that if you don't say anything, everything must be just fine. You just think to yourself, let’s just get through today. The end of the shift can’t come soon enough.


It wasn’t long ago that you were excited for this new opportunity. You were a key contributor to the team and that led to an opportunity to be promoted to lead others. It was an opportunity to make strides in your career and to provide more at home for yourself and your loved ones. Sadly, the spark faded all too quickly as the reality of the job set in. The training you received on how to lead and juggle multiple organizational initiatives was limited or non-existent. So too is any ongoing development. Sink or swim as many like to say. You want to do great work, but you need help to do so.


The day comes to an end, and you finally get to go home. You do so knowing that tomorrow will be the same thing. A grind. Just getting through the day. You often ask yourself, how can I get off this hamster wheel?


In today's rapidly evolving corporate landscape, managers often find themselves caught in a challenging position, aptly described as the "sandwich manager." They serve as the vital link between senior-level leaders and their expectations, the management of frontline employees, addressing customer concerns, and ensuring employee engagement and well-being. These individuals bear a tremendous responsibility, often facing heightened stress and burnout that surpasses the strain felt by their subordinates or supervisors. Burnout rates have surged more sharply for mid-level and upper-midlevel managers than for senior leadership or individual employees, shedding light on a critical issue that demands our attention.


The Squeeze Between the Front Office and the Front Line


To comprehend the predicament of sandwich managers, we must recognize the unique set of challenges they face. On one side, they are entrusted with executing the strategic visions and targets set by senior leaders, which often come with high-pressure demands and expectations. On the other side, they are responsible for overseeing frontline employees, dealing with customer issues, and ensuring the well-being and productivity of their team. This balancing act can feel like an unenviable position, where managers are constantly pulled in different directions, juggling multiple responsibilities and competing priorities.


The Rising Strain and Burnout


Recent studies and reports have highlighted a concerning trend - mid-level and upper-mid-level managers are experiencing burnout at a staggering rate. The burden of trying to meet targets while also managing a team of employees can take a toll on their mental and emotional well-being. The data reveals that these managers are bearing a disproportionate share of the stress, leading to increased burnout rates. This issue is exacerbated by the demands of a hybrid work environment, which adds another layer of complexity to their roles.


Alarming Statistics


A few alarming statistics further underline the need to address the challenges faced by sandwich managers:


Only one in three managers are engaged at work, indicating a widespread lack of enthusiasm and commitment among this crucial group.


Fewer than one in 10 managers or leaders have received training or coaching on how to manage effectively in a hybrid environment. This suggests a significant gap in preparing managers for the unique challenges they now face.


Managers account for 70% of the variance of engagement of employees. And yet, they are the most burned-out group of employees. The people who are tasked with caring for and accountability of the people who interact directly with your customers daily are struggling to get through the day.


Empowering the Sandwich Manager


To succeed in the evolving world of work, organizations must take steps to empower and support their sandwich managers. Here are some key strategies to consider:


Increased Engagement: Senior leadership should actively work to engage and support their managers, recognizing their pivotal role in the organization's success. Regular check-ins, feedback sessions, and transparent communication can go a long way in fostering a sense of value and belonging.


Training and Development: Providing managers with the necessary training and coaching to navigate the challenges of the work environment is essential. Investing in their professional development not only benefits the managers but also contributes to the overall success of the organization.


Skill and Competency Building: Consider establishing a certification program for managers to ensure they possess the essential skills and competencies needed to excel in their roles. This can serve as a benchmark for their performance and growth.


Mental Health and Well-being: Prioritize the well-being of your managers by promoting a culture of work-life balance, offering mental health resources, and providing tools for stress management.


Delegate and Streamline: Help managers by streamlining their responsibilities, setting realistic targets, and providing support in the form of assistants or technology solutions that can ease their workload.


The role of the sandwich manager requires a delicate balance between leadership expectations and frontline management. These individuals are essential to an organization's success, and their well-being should be a top priority. By addressing their unique challenges, investing in their development, and creating a supportive work environment, organizations can ensure that their sandwich managers not only survive but thrive in their crucial roles. The future of your organization depends on it.

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How much do you have? What is inside of you that you want the world to see? What is holding you back from living to your fullest potential, from sharing your unique gifts with the world?


Only 9% of workers have reached the highest level position they wish to achieve. What is holding you back? Fear? Confidence? A chance? A roadmap of how to get there?


I've been there. I've been in those shoes. I still step into them. Most of us do. Feeling stuck, feeling like I might not realize my dreams, like I'm not enough. It can be hard to break free from these thoughts and feelings. But it can be done. Set your goals, and align them with your personal mission. Make them visibly available. Set daily intentions, practice active reflection, and invest in yourself. You are amazingly capable and uniquely created to do what brings you energy. Do yourself and everyone in this world a favor. Become the person you know you can be.

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In today's rapidly evolving business landscape, organizations must constantly adapt to remain competitive and relevant. The best-run organizations recognize that success isn't just about the bottom line; it's about fostering a healthy and vibrant workplace culture. Gallup has uncovered that these organizations excel in several key areas that set them apart from the rest, enabling them to thrive in an ever-changing world. Let's delve into what these organizations do differently.


1. Build Trust in Leadership through Value-Based Decision-Making

Trust in leadership is the bedrock of any successful organization. The best-run organizations prioritize building this trust by consistently making decisions that align with their core values. When leaders make choices that reflect the organization's values, it sends a clear message to employees that they can rely on their leaders to act with integrity and authenticity. Accountability for behavior that is in conflict with these values is imperative. If those with power lead by example it will foster a positive workplace culture, encourage innovation, and inspire commitment.


2. Embrace Flexible Work Environments while Planning for the Future

Flexibility in the workplace is no longer a perk but a necessity. The best-run organizations recognize the importance of flexible work arrangements to accommodate diverse employee needs. The benefits to women in the workforce are already apparent with the shift to increased flexibility. Working mothers of young children are leading a charge that has shrunk the gap in workplace participation between men and women to record low levels. Pay disparity between men and women is also at an all-time low and flexible work arrangments are helping to fuel this shift. Millennials and Gen Z employees actively look for flexibility when searching for jobs. To compete now and in the future, organizations must be thoughtful about how they approach flexible work arrangements and build collaborative teams. To manage this, organizations must evaluate the amount of collaborative work and partner with employees to create a flexible working arrangement that supports the individual, the team, and their customers. This forward-thinking co-created approach ensures that the organization can adapt to changing circumstances and remain resilient.


3. Take Employee Well-being, and Mental Health Seriously

Employee well-being is a cornerstone of success for top-tier organizations. They go beyond just offering health benefits; they actively promote mental health and work-life balance. They provide resources such as counseling services, stress management programs, and wellness initiatives to support their employees' overall well-being. They purposefully build cultures with a focus on the work experience. Sadly only 25% of US employees strongly agree that their organization cares about their well-being. What is the difference for employees who strongly agree that their employer cares about their overall well-being compared to those who don't:

  • 3x more likely to be engaged at work

  • 69% less likely to be actively searching for a new job

  • 71% less likely to report experiencing a lot of burnout

  • 5x more likely to strongly advocate for their company as a place to work

  • 5x more likely to strongly agree that they trust the leadership of their organization

  • 36% more likely to be thriving in their overall lives


4. Use Transparent and Creative Multichannel Communication

Communication is the lifeblood of any organization, and the best-run ones excel in this area. They employ creative and transparent multichannel communication strategies to engage both employees and customers. This can include podcasts, company apps, virtual town halls, YouTube channels, and more. These platforms facilitate open dialogue, keep everyone informed, and create a sense of community within the organization.


5. Upskill Managers to Coach Through Change

Effective leadership is crucial, especially during times of change. The best-run organizations invest in developing their managers into skilled coaches who can guide their teams through transitions and challenges. These managers serve as conduits for progress on all the aforementioned points. They support value-based decision-making, help employees navigate flexible work environments, promote mental health, and facilitate transparent communication.


Reflective questions to ponder:

  • How have my behaviors and decisions today aligned with my organization's core values?

  • If I was on the show "Undercover Boss" what would I discover about the experience of my front-line managers and employees?

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