8 reasons why middle management is the toughest job in business #4 will rattle your inner chimp

If you are in middle management you have the toughest job in business.  In fact, I’d suggest that pound for pound it’s also the most poorly paid.

Not everyone has what it takes to be the top man, or girl. It takes a different set of skills, mindset and a little ‘je-ne-sais-quoi’ to be able to do the job well. Whatever it is, I don’t have it.

Being top dog also comes with its own set of challenges, perhaps the biggest being a sense of loneliness as described in this article in Management Today.

But that’s enough about them. This article is about you and for you.

Most of us live in middle earth, in the shires or as it can sometimes feel – in no-man’s land caught in the cross fire between two armies.

Below are eight reasons why I think being a middle manager can feel like that and why it is the toughest job in business.


Everyone judges everything, its human nature, it’s how we adapted and thrived. However, as a middle manager (MM) you are judged from the top and the bottom and not to mention your peers in the middle.

Your performance is continually being assessed, often by antiquated performance management systems that my good friend Roger Longdon is on a mission to eradicate. You can read more about his mission on his website There Be Giants

Your team are constantly judging you on the way you lead, behave, your technical ability and confidence. You are the filling in a judgment sandwich as research from Manchester and Liverpool University shows.



The competition for jobs is fierce. In a challenging economy and with the effects of globalisation and technology forever changing the corporate landscape, this won’t change.

The pace of change is relentless and it will only get quicker as get older. If you drop out after the age of 45, getting back in and staying back in at the level you were at could prove a bridge too far.

I know several friends and former colleagues who have found this to be true. It’s one of the reasons why the numbers of self-employed people is on the increase.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world and the reality is there is someone else who thinks they can do your job better than you and wants a crack at proving it. Today’s middle managers need the mental strength of the SAS with the political nous and influencing skills of Barack Obama.


Be strategic AND operational

It’s OK for the big wigs at the top they only need to be strategic.

Middle managers are expected to be both. You are being increasingly expected to think and behave strategically, then interpret it into operational actions.

Performing this mental shift, is tiring and not something everyone can do. It requires mental agility to be able to switch focus from the wide to the narrow and back again.

“We need our managers to be more strategic and commercial”, was a message I heard increasingly in many organisations as budget and manpower resources were cut, post 2008.

This won’t change back leaving middle managers with the challenge to adapt and grow….often without the resources to help them, which brings us on to…


Lack of resources

When the shit hits the fan financially one of the first things to get cut is the training budget, often alongside the marketing budget.

As well as being expected to do more with less you aren’t being supported to develop the skills and knowledge you need either.

The research shows that companies that increase their ad spend in a recession by as little at 10 per cent do better than those that don’t.

What if companies did the same to their training budget? Yet few do, which means you’ll have to find your own ways and means to develop yourself.

“What if we spend money on training and staff leave”, says the CEO. “What if we don’t and they stay?” replies the HR Director

The great dons of personal development, like Brian Tracy, often say you should allocate 10 per cent of your earnings to invest in your own personal development. While I agree, this is a good thing to do, let’s be under no illusion how hard it is when incomes have stagnated and prices have increased in recent years.

The pressures on family budgets means there isn’t often the spare cash to do that. There are thousands of you who are jamming (Just About Managing) at the moment.



This is closely linked to Judgment but is predominantly concerned with ourselves. I’m guessing many of you are like me and are your own biggest critic. There’s pressure to perform consistently at or near to the top of your abilities, day in and day out, both at home and at work. The reality is you can’t afford too many bad days yet we often our own worst enemy too. So many of us under appreciate what we have achieved or how good we are. We engage in negative self-talk which often sabotages our own success. We focus on the failures and not on the successes and we engage in the biggest thief of joy and self-esteem: comparison.

We constantly compare ourselves to others or are compared to others by others, and allow those negative thoughts to erode our confidence.


Limited salary

While boardroom pay has risen exponentially in recent years middle management salaries have not. Yes, I understand why those at the top get the big bucks yet the reality remains that unlike them you can’t retire after a few years on a middle management salary.

You royally cock it up and at best you might get a few months’ salary, while if a CEO cocks it up they often walk away with a kings ransom. That’s just life, but it is another reason why middle management is the hardest job in business. The financial rewards often aren’t commensurate with the risks and challenges.



The pace of technological development in all areas of our lives is both a boon and a burden. New hardware and software is reducing the need for some jobs, cutting workforces globally. The constant need to learn new things and adapt is challenging our resilience and cognitive abilities, leaving us often feeling uncertain and stressed. Middle managers, you, are often then ones that have to implement this technology and live with the consequences of it. There’s also the consequences from the expectations to be ‘online’ and contactable 24/7.

The downside of technology and our wired-world on workplace stress is well documented in articles like this.


And finally family life

If the previous seven reasons weren’t enough, family life also plays a part. Society and the world has changed. Regardless of whether you are man or a woman, the reality is often many middle managers don’t earn enough to ensure one person can stay at home and look after the children.

And what, if like I was for six years, you are a single parent? The cost of childcare will make your eyes water like a scotch bonnet chilli. And it comes with an added time pressure of needing to be home by a certain time.

If you are fortunate to work for a flexible and child-friendly employer great, it’s just that many of you aren’t.

I’d also suggest that many self-employed and SME business owners can be included in this. After all, low pay, long hours, limited resources and support characterise many of them too. I know, I am one having left my middle management career behind.

So there you go, a few of my thoughts of why I think you, middle managers, have the toughest job in business.

However, there are some people that also believe that you, matter more than ever.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree, disagree, what else could I have included? Let me know your thoughts below and feel free to share this with a fellow middle manager.

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Anthony Taylor | Coach, Speaker, Trainer, Writer | Mobile: 07771 892479 | Email: anthony@anthonytaylorltd.com