Middle Managers Are the Most DisengagedEmployee engagement is a critical issue for many organizations. And for good reason. Highly engaged employees are more productive, less likely to leave, have lower absenteeism, create happier customers, contribute to safer workplaces, increase revenues, and decrease costs.

A new research study from Zenger Folkman shows that many organizations are overlooking their most disengaged people: middle managers. And the ripple effect of disengaged managers is very destructive down through the organization.

Zenger Folkman reviewed data from 320,000 employees across a broad number of organizations. ZF then identified the bottom 5% who were the least engaged and committed. These 15,729 of the most unhappy people turned out to be mostly managers “stuck in the middle of everything” with 5 – 10 years of tenure who had been given good (not terrible or great) performance ratings.

In ascending order of importance here are the main causes of middle managers dissatisfaction:

9. Their distinctiveness is not valued or appreciated.

8. They see the organization as inefficient and ineffective.

7. They’re overworked.

6. They don’t believe that if they raise an issue it will be addressed.

5. They don’t feel valued or appreciated.

4.  They feel they are treated unfairly compared with others.

 3. Their work lacks meaning and purpose.

 2. They see no career or promotion opportunities.

 1. Poor leadership.

Poor leadership emerged as the number one cause of middle management unhappiness and disengagement. What often compounds this problem is the leaders of these managers don’t realize the profoundly negative impact and ripple effect of their leadership. These leaders need a healthy dose of feedback through a strengths-based 360 assessment that includes engagement ratings from their direct reports.

You can read more about this study in Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman’s Harvard Business Review blog “Why Middle Managers are So Unhappy“. You can also read more about Feedback Power and Problems and 360 Assessments.

Too often engagement is what the top orders the middle to do for the bottom. Senior leaders need to strengthen their own leadership to better engage managers who will then create positive engagement ripples to everyone else.