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The Sandwich Manager: The Life of the Overlooked Employee Group

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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