Leaders have a huge impact on the employee experience. They are drivers of culture and are critical in developing the right work environment. Our own research is showing that they are critical influencers of employee well-being. But, what about leaders themselves? How are they doing? New research explores leader well-being, specifically looking at differences for various leader levels and gender. Unfortunately, mid-level leaders and women seem to be struggling with well-being.
Mid-Level Leaders Are Unique
The research in this area looked at three different levels of leadership – non-leaders, mid-level leaders, and high-level leaders. Non-leaders are exactly what you would expect. These are folks that do not have any employees reporting into them. They are the individual contributors on the team. Mid-level leaders are those that manage non-leaders but have layers of senior leaders above them. Think managers and some directors depending on the organization size. High-level leaders are those senior leaders that drive functions. Think VPs and the C-Suite.
Mid-level leaders face unique challenges. These roles are a bit in-between doing and leading. They often have a lot of work tasks to complete but are also managing and directing teams. Additionally, they tend to have less control over their jobs than those more senior to them. They are still being directed by their leaders and often just have to deliver that message and direction to their teams. While their workloads are higher as they move into this middle level, their control over their day to day tends to go down.
Unfortunately, the research shows that these workload changes impacts the leaders in a negative way. Specifically, middle managers report more negative health conditions than non-leaders and high-level leaders. While there are some benefits to this level, with folks experiencing higher positive emotions at the end of the day than non-leaders, physical symptoms are nothing to ignore and are a problem that needs to be addressed.
Gender Differences Exist
The issues with mid-level leaders doesn’t end there. Unfortunately, as the researchers dug into the data further, they found that this challenge with physical health is much more pronounced for women in mid-level roles. In addition, women reported higher workloads, higher job demands, and less control of their work at that level than men. While men at all leadership levels enjoy more psychological well-being than non-leaders, this is not true for women. Women only experienced higher psychological well-being in high-level leadership roles, not at the middle level. This is particularly troubling since women often do not occupy those highest level roles and representation continues to be low at the executive ranks.
What Can Organizations Do?
High-level leaders need to take note of these findings and support their middle managers, especially women. They need to evaluate why women in that level are experiencing higher workloads than men. Are expectations different? And, are they expected to put in more effort and time before they are fully trusted and given control of their day to day? Why do women experience less control with their high workloads? Organizations need to address biases and possible differential treatment at it’s root to help women thrive in these mid-level leadership roles.
Additionally, we know that family demands are often places on women at a disproportional rate. Plus, reaching mid-level leadership often lands close to mid-life, a common time period where people are experiencing a lot of caregiving in their family lives. Organizations can support mid-level managers, particularly women, by providing better access to childcare, flexible work arrangements, and benefits to support caregiving.
If we do not fix the problems that women mid-level leaders face, we will continue to struggle seeing women make it to the executive levels. It is on organizations and high-level leaders to make a difference and support their teams to thrive!