· 3 min read · Features

Line Management: Piggy in the middle

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Middle managers feel they take a big share of the pressure for very little recognition, research from Roffey Park reveals. And they blame HR. Peter Crush looks at some damning statistics.

The Great British line management population has spoken - and it is highly critical of HR. This may be the unsurprising result of Roffey Park's Management Agenda 2009, but it is the level of indignation expressed that the writers of this year's report see as cause for concern, the results of which are being exclusively launched here in HR magazine. The full report was published last week, but we asked Roffey Park to specifically look at the relationship between line managers and the HR department and the general picture is not good.

According to the research (which had nearly 800 respondents, 33% of whom were middle managers), less than a quarter (24%) of middle managers believed HR added value to their organisation. While this was not dissimilar to junior, senior and director-level manager views, when asked more specific questions, it was the middle management population that was most critical. It was middle managers who were most likely (45% compared with an average of 36%) to say HR "lacked credibility" and they were more likely than directors and senior managers (24% compared with 10% and 21% respectively), to believe HR was "out of touch".

According to Roffey Park's director of research, Jo Hennessy, the results - which also show 58% of middle managers feel under pressure at work - point to a population that is increasingly frustrated with their lot. "Middle managers are not only less optimistic about their roles, they feel they share all the pressure but with little of the reward or authority," she says. On this latter point, it was middle managers who reported having substantially less control than senior managers and directors over the way they are allowed to manage their teams, for example. If 1 is little influence and 5 is a great deal, middle managers report 2.7 (against 3.3 and 3.9 for senior and director-level staff). These findings correlate with middle managers' sense of engagement. If 1 is as disengaged as possible, and 4 is totally engaged, middle managers rated themselves at just 3.04, compared with 3.12 for senior managers and 3.35 for directors - even though these latter two groups reported feeling more stressed.

It is at HR's door that many middle managers lay the blame. And, according to our cut of results, an interesting dichotomy exists. Middle managers were most likely to regard HR as too powerful (10% compared with an average of 7%).Yet they don't believe this translates into meaningful influence; rather they resent HR meddling in what little power they themselves have.

"Particular areas where middle managers felt they lacked influence was setting bonuses (noted by 68% of middle managers); determining salaries (65%); discretionary rewards (51%) and promotions (42%)," says Hennessy. "I'm not sure these people always had this power anyway," she concedes "but it is middle managers who take the flak when these issues arise, and they will do so more in the current climate. They just want to be asked, to feel involved, but are not, which makes them feel worse, and think HR is running a dictatorship."

It is no surprise that the pressure and lack of voice middle managers say they experience has a direct relationship with their sense of wellbeing. They rate their wellbeing at work as less than junior managers and at 43% much lower than senior managers and directors.

HR departments that feel they are proactive and doing all the right things to engage their management should be shocked by what the survey shows in this respect. More middle management brand HR as reactive (55.9%) compared with board directors (43.9%) and junior managers (53.6%). Statistically speaking, this was one of the least likely results to have happened by chance. Again, HR is the target of line managers' ire for being least customer-focused. Just 7.5% of line managers thought HR was customer-focused compared with an average of 11.3% among all groups and a high of 20.7% among board directors. The prognosis gets worse still. Line managers rate HR less than the average in terms of producing timely and relevant information, but the killer, dynamite statistic is this: when asked to agree or disagree with the statement 'HR was not influential', 30.1% of middle managers agreed compared with just 17.1% of directors, 26.9% of senior management and 25% of junior management.

HR clearly has its work cut out in aligning line managers to their cause. "Maybe self-service is causing line managers to believe HR is out of touch, perhaps that is leading to the view they have a lack of credibility," says Hennessy. "Whether line managers are part of the problem or the solution is hard to tell, but shake-up is definitely needed in relations between these two groups."

% OF RESPONDENTS WHO AGREE HR IS LACKING IN CREDIBILITY

Board director 19.5%

Other director, senior manager, partner 36.9%

Middle manager 44.6%

Junior manager 32.1%

% OF RESPONDENTS WHO AGREE HR ADDS VALUE TO THE BUSINESS

Board director 39%

Other director, senior manager, partner 22.1%

Middle manager 23.7%

Junior manager 14.3%

% OF RESPONDENTS WHO AGREE HR IS NOT INFLUENTIAL

Board director 17.1%

Other director, senior manager, partner 26.9%

Middle manager 30.1%

Junior manager 25%

% OF RESPONDENTS WHO RATE THEIR WELLBEING AT WORK AS GOOD OR VERY GOOD

Board director 74%

Other director, senior manager, partner 54%

Middle manager 43%

Junior manager 47%

WHERE 1 IS MOST DISENGAGED AND 4 IS MOST ENGAGED HOW DO YOU RATE YOURSELF?

Board director 3.35

Other director, senior manager, partner 3.12

Middle manager 3.04

Junior manager 3.01