Workforce Insights

How engaged managers boost talent outcomes and cultures

3 min read
Oct 11, 2022

Empowered and empathetic managers are difference makers when it comes to employee satisfaction, engagement, and loyalty

Key takeaways:

Organizations with engaged and empowered middle management:

  • Provide ample support and training
  • Promote ongoing dialogue and transparency regarding key issues
  • Embed purpose and DEI principles more deeply into organizational cultures
  • Have more satisfied and loyal employees

Middle managers are often viewed as cogs in the machine or just another layer in the org chart. But, in truth, managers do a lot more than just keep the trains running on time. They are real people, with their own unique needs, and who serve as a vital force in ensuring employers offer employees a compelling value proposition and achieve key talent management goals.

Consider the unique position of middle managers in translating organizational purpose and values into the everyday work environment. And the key role they play in meeting the needs of diverse employees and in creating healthy cultures in line with organizational commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

But despite being frequently overlooked, middle managers are typically overworked, a situation made worse by the addition of new challenges and complexities during the last few years. MetLife’s 2022 Employee Benefits Trends Study 2022 highlights the increased stress levels managers face today. It also demonstrates the value of empowered middle managers and their positive influence on employee satisfaction, talent retention and key cultural outcomes.

The bottom line: organizations must provide robust support if they are to help managers address the challenges of our more complex working world and engage an increasingly heterogeneous employee base.

New challenges and important responsibilities for middle managers
Remote and hybrid working have made culture-building even more difficult and middle managers’ jobs more challenging, as reflected in their higher stress levels

62 %

Employers that believe their work culture is more divided than before the pandemic

43 %

Mid-level managers who report being stressed more than half the time at work 

64 %

Mid-level managers who report balancing work and home life as a source of anxiety

Initially, it felt like you were really a part of a team, part of something that developed pride. Now, at this point, 

Middle managers are essential in building strong cultures and supporting diverse workforces, an important objective given that employers think their cultures are more inclusive than employees do. This suggests that some organizations aren’t fully embedding DEI principles into everyday operations and work environments. Middle managers certainly recognize how difficult a job this is, which helps explain their desire for a greater focus on DEI. 

With more variety in working arrangements (when, where and how people work) and diverging worker needs and preferences, engaged mid-level management is the glue that binds the organization. Managers’ preference for flexibility and caregiver benefits confirms that they are looking for all the support organizations can give.

Middle managers on flexible work schedules

92
%

Are interested in employers providing

54
%

Say they are a “must-have”

Middle managers on care giver benefits

79
%

Are interested in employers providing

32
%

Consider them a “must-have”

Recommended actions: What middle managers need to do their best work

Given that managers already have full plates, employers must offer support in multiple forms, without adding to their workload. Organizations must also ensure that middle management mirrors the workforce and, if not, be transparent about hiring and representation targets. While the following actions are not easy, our research suggests that employees recognize and appreciate when their employers take these steps, as many have done during the last two years.

  • Articulate the vision: Make sure managers understand the organizational purpose and employee value proposition and their role in reinforcing them in the day-to-day work environment
  • Educate and inspire: Provide training and resources on inclusivity, coaching, conflict management and handling diversity-related issues; training should reflect the unique challenges of managing within hybrid working environments
  • Get specific on behaviors: Identify behaviors for managers and employees to embrace (e.g., empathy, listening, openness toward sensitive topics) in support of inclusive cultures; incentives can help these behaviors take hold
  • Emphasize communication: Train and encourage managers to listen for, capture and share employee input on important topics (including purpose, DEI and benefits)
  • Encourage stepping up: Prompt managers to actively participate in hiring processes, sponsor employee groups and mentor current staff because these are high-value activities that also lead to professional growth; adjustments to existing workloads and responsibilities may be necessary
  • Define success: Set expectations around management’s role and connect culture-building efforts (including DEI) to business and performance goals; establish metrics to promote accountability in areas managers can control (e.g., team productivity and collaboration)
  • Embrace benefits: Clarify the link to benefits and make sure middle managers understand how, for instance, benefits designed to promote holistic well-being are inclusive; given employee interest in guidance from their managers, organizations may consider defining specific benefits responsibilities (e.g., communications) for managers, provided they can make it easy for managers to deliver 

Employees who want to learn about or enroll in benefits via discussion with their manager:

  • 47%: all employees
    • Gen Z: 69%
    • Black: 61%
    • LGBTQIA+: 56%
    • Lower-income (under $49,999 annually): 55%
    • Millennials: 53%
    • Hispanic: 52%

32%: employers that use managers as a benefits communication channel 

The value of engaged management
When middle management is engaged and empathetic, organizations benefit from a more loyal and resilient workforce. And employers that train managers to be empathetic and supportive see the biggest benefits in terms of employee satisfaction, engagement and well-being. Organizations that train managers to be empathetic and supportive also report an edge in financial performance.

Visit metlife.com/ebts2022 to learn more about how middle managers can help improve talent management outcomes and build stronger cultures at your organization.