The middle experience can be the “tension between groups, demands and expectations. Directing work and performing work that creates a dual nature of roles that is exhausting. Leaving leaders caught between and caught up in significant stress." -tracy brower, phd
Folks in the middle might be managers, supervisors, teachers, nurses, even parents, the middle experience doesn't discriminate and it's occurring in every industry, at every level of leadership.
A dynamic that is creating a growing vulnerability to burnout for leaders is “while taking care of their personal stress and burnout, leaders are also responsible for putting their team members' mental and physical well-being at the forefront of their priorities.”
[reality: most leaders are not taking care of their personal stress and burnout which creates an even greater vulnerability to individual health AND the health of the organization's culture]
If this wasn't enough pressure, the Workforce Institute researched leaders across ten countries and according to 69% of people, their managers had the greatest impact on their mental health, on par with the impact of their spouse or partner.
So, when Gallup reports that “manager burnout is only getting worse” we don't have to look far to see the fallout, specifically on retention and engagement. I've observed firsthand that disengagement can become a survival strategy. I have seen leaders stay until they can't. They can't stay because the chronic middle experiences with little support has compromised their own well-being and personal relationships. We are now focusing on burnout recovery vs prevention and the cost is high.
There are multiple reasons the pressure is mounting but one central factor is we are asking people to lead in ways they have not been equipped to support, in ways that their formal education didn't address, likely not a requirement stated in the job description. And sometimes in our well meaning attempts at “equipping” we simply settle for checking the boxes and missing the mark: a one and done approach that honestly does more damage because people don't have the capacity for one more flavor of the month. They are exhausted.
Research by John Hammond, Phd emerged that team members who DO NOT receive support during periods of exhaustion will begin to give up. This looks like:
1] mental distancing
2] checking out
3] growing cynical
4] becoming bitter
[Sounds like survival strategies right?]
In many organizations we are asking people to show up in ways for others that we aren't showing up for them. A sure recipe for burnout.
You can't give what you don't have. That includes you who are reading this and feeling the middle pressure to support your teams.
Resilience can offer relief, especially in the middle moments.
When people are given opportunity to develop and nurture resilience, they show up differently at work, home and in the communities they live in.
60% less likely to experience burnout
31% more engaged
88% better at stress management -New Life Solutions, 2023
Developing and nurturing resilience in yourself, those you lead, and weaving it into your organization's culture requires intention. A commitment from senior leadership to create on-going opportunities, experiences, and resilience developing resources that offer sustainable transformation from the inside out, for teams and individuals.
Providing relevant strategies that invest in people's mental resilience, the long view, leads to people taking action that benefits the long term and activates the mission.
If you're in the middle, you don't have to stay stuck.
If you are leading others through a middle, you don't have to do it alone.
Designing unique pathways to build resilience offers sustainable change and a sense of RESPAIR [hope after a period of despair].
It starts with curiosity of what could be and a courageous conversation. A conversation to identify the current middle, how we can foster resilience in the middle and leverage that learning to utilize when you and your teams face future challenges.
Let's connect to explore how strategic resilience can change the middle experiences for you and those you influence!
Explore practical resources on building resilience:
“Sandy speaks to the soul. This was so necessary when we were feeling exhausted and, in some areas, discouraged. The strategies invited us to practice and process how we can build resilience into our daily work, leadership and our team relationships.”