Second lockdown putting extra pressure onto middle management

Additional stresses and responsibilities outside of managers’ day-to-day roles has made middle management more challenging in the UK’s second lockdown.

According to electronics company Ricoh’s new Conscious Workplace report, pressures have mounted on managers as the latest national lockdown has created more concern over employee mental health and productivity.

Over half (50%) of managers reported struggling with employee wellbeing and mental health, with 45% saying keeping staff motivated, happy and productive has been their greatest challenge.

Over a quarter (26%) of employees and almost two-fifths (36%) of managers have found it difficult to communicate with their colleagues and teams while working in new environments with changing dynamics.

The report suggested that the middle management layer in particular is feeling the pressure more acutely than others.

Rebekah Wallis, director of people and corporate responsibility at Ricoh UK told HR magazine: “As management is often the bridge between HR and employees, HR leaders need to approach middle management with added empathy, understanding that they are walking a precarious tightrope – it’s about carefully and consciously managing expectation and reality.

“Managers are dealing with potentially traumatised and resistant employees who find this new working environment unmotivating, so any assistance HR teams can offer in how best to motivate employees can and will be a lifesaver.”

Wallis suggested HR introduce extra tools and workshops to teach managers how to provide the best support, and encouraged people teams to lend a hand where they can to unburden some of the immense pressure this group is feeling.

The report also highlighted both management and employee issues surrounding technology.

Whether working from home or in an office environment, both managers (39% at home and 45% in the office) and employees (31% at home and 13% in the office) reported feeling unhappy and unproductive largely due to technology issues, confusion over and time spent on new processes, and because of the pressures around a changing work environment.

Managers said they tend to struggle with the technology demands of a work from home setup, as 41% reported concerns compared with just 26% who went back to the office.

Employees appear to be slightly less daunted, as 46% reported having no issues at all from home.

Writing in the report, behavioural psychologist Emma Kenny said that employees' existing relationships with the office have “challenged on each and every level.”

She added: “Understandably this period has diminished confidence, whilst simultaneously offering staff a ‘safer’ and more ‘controlled’ solution through remote work from home.”

Wallis concluded: “The report reveals that there is a lot left to do for businesses to effectively support their employees during and after lockdown, especially if they want to avoid burnout before the end of the year.”

Ricoh’s Conscious Workplace report is based on a survey of 1,001 employees and 304 managers.

Further reading:

HR urged to prepare for winter slump as workers flag potential burnout

Alastair Campbell: the importance of mental health during the coronavirus pandemic

Technology increasing stress at work