Middle Management Great Resignation Phenomenon

By now, we all have probably heard about Middle Management’s great resignation phenomenon. It’s expected that as many as 40% of employees globally have either already made a move or are looking to quit their job. Managers are twice as likely to quit their jobs as individual contributors. According to a survey by HBR, high turnover rates are on the rise, especially among employees between 30 and 45 years. The average increase is more than 20% between 2020 and 2021. Even though this resignation trend was previously tightly connected to younger employees (between 20 and 25 years), things have changed over the last year. The great resignation is now being led by middle management.

According to a report by Development Dimensions International (DDI) in 2018: organizations will experience a middle management Exodus where:
17% of middle managers are satisfied with their performance.
27% of middle managers find their jobs less meaningful since the Great Recession.
52% of middle managers say they have more responsibility without a new title.
64% of middle managers aren’t likely to work with their current employers 2 years from now.
and 70% of middle managers feel increased stress in their current roles.

What Is Causing Middle Management to Resign?

In 2020, 71% of the middle management sector experienced burnout at least once, in 2021 that number jumped to nearly 90%.

What are the reasons or factors that push mid-level managers to quit? Is the system blamed? Here are the factors

Middle Management Unmanageable Workload = the Burnout Crisis

Burnout is the number one reason pushing middle management employees for resigning. Even though stress and demanding assignments inherently accompany managerial positions, the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated these issues. Humu’s 2022 State of the Manager report found that managers’ jobs are 10 times harder than they were before COVID. As pressure grows, more managers are thinking of quitting their job; exhaustion and daily struggles result in 2X higher attrition risk among managers than individual contributors.

Middle managers who are millennials are more likely to be feeling the squeeze. According to the 2021 Gallup report, millennial managers (born 1981-1996) faced the highest burnout in the past two years. Their time in the workforce has coincided with the rise of a “hustle culture”: the idea that the more time and energy a person spends at work, the more deserving they are of success. Millennials have also seen the rise of a technology-driven culture where “work follows us everywhere at all times”, as well as “the absolute collapse of boundaries between work and life”.

Lack of Work-Life Balance

The pandemic has introduced the concept of work flexibility and many employees have started to perceive it as a greater factor than a hike in compensation. Working remotely and having work-life flexibility has proven to boost productivity. Employees feel that returning to the office will have a positive impact on their work-life balance while the age group of 34-54 feel less positive about being able to balance work.

Failing to invest in a more fulfilling employee experience and failing to meet new demands for autonomy and flexibility at work, some employees, including middle managers, are deliberately choosing to withdraw entirely from traditional forms of full-time employment. Having more “location agnostic” positions to choose from could prompt middle managers to start second-guessing their commitment to the companies where they now work.

Middle Management Lack of Opportunities for Advancement

A lot of middle management employees are starting to realize that their current work arrangement doesn’t fulfill their personal and professional aspirations. This whole pandemic has forced a lot of managers into asking the question, “Does my job make good use of my skills?”, ‘What do I want to be doing? Some managers thrive on a vertical career ladder, but their needs and priorities evolve in different directions over time. That’s why they are now looking for companies offering both vertical and lateral movement opportunities backed by professional development, training, and upskilling opportunities.

Lack of Acknowledgement

Demanding performance without acknowledgment and reward is a recipe for failure. The pressure to meet unreasonable requirements and pressing deadlines while not having achievements acknowledged are common sources of stress for mid-level management. Middle management may have lacked vital support from senior leadership as their companies are sheltering toxic leaders; leaders who don’t motivate and inspire their teams and lead with compassion.

Lack of Empowerment and Training

Too often, middle management employees have responsibility but no authority or they are lost in a matrix organization with unclear roles and responsibilities. Middle managers need to have the confidence and authority to test, experiment, and influence strategy. By bringing top management and middle managers together, a company is actually recognizing the value of middle managers and helping to create ambassadors who will communicate its vision and values broadly and deeply.

What Is the Cost of Middle Management Turnover? Are There Any Hidden Costs?

Mid-level management’s high turnover can affect other employees’ turnover. Middle management has a direct impact on a team’s morale and retention rate. According to the Work Institute’s 2019 Retention Report, the top 3 reasons people cited for quitting their jobs are lack of career development, nonexistent work-life balance, and manager behavior. Keeping middle managers satisfied is the key to retaining the staff-level employees they manage and avoiding expensive turnover costs.

75% of executives mentioned that the great resignation impacted their financial stability. The average cost of a single resignation is now approximately $11,372 per employee. According to the vice dean of Wharton Executive Education, “one large partnership facing a 20% turnover rate did a calculation in which it concluded that for each 1% it could reduce turnover, it would increase partner earnings by $80,000”. Also, losing good managers affects company performance.