Why middle managers feel the most stressed during COVID

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Many teams have switched to remote work since March. Now, enough time has passed that many are starting to wonder: job?

This was the subject of a recent virtual panel presented by Fortune and the Slack Future Forum titled “Reimagine Work: New Ways to Lead”.

Brian Elliott, who heads the Future Forum, said his company’s research shows a clear divide in how different groups of employees experience and adapt to remote work. When it comes to stress at work and tackling social isolation, “middle managers stood out,” he said. According to his company’s survey of 9,000 knowledge workers around the world, middle managers were 91% more likely to say they had difficulty working remotely compared to individuals and senior managers. And while the youngest and most senior team members largely believed they were more productive working remotely, middle managers were 36% lower than individual contributors on this scale, with just 60% rating that they could handle their workload.

Blame? While many middle managers do not have the extensive networks of their senior counterparts, they may also have less control over their own schedules, leading to “meeting exhaustion.” Because of their age, these mid-career executives are often working parents trying to balance the caregiving responsibilities that have bled into the workday. Overall, they “feel the pressure even more in this remote working environment,” Elliott said.

Raj Choudhury, professor at Harvard Business School who just wrote a HBR remote work cover story, argued that companies have a responsibility to help mitigate the challenges and opportunities associated with “working from anywhere,” and doing so successfully involved rethinking productivity, communication and even socialization. He argued that virtually socializing can in fact be more effective than relying on the “watercooler”, as it allows you to extend your network far beyond the people you typically see in the office. The key, he believes, are the “planned random interactions” whereby a business brings a group together for short periods of time, crossing hierarchy and geography.

This matches what Jenny Johnson, chairman and CEO of global investment firm Franklin Templeton, also found. She says giving individual team leaders the freedom to set their own priorities and processes when it comes to the WFH has been essential. She told her CIOs to “take this time to push the boundaries of how you can work flexibly so that you are the one who debauchery talent.” They also tried to encourage networking within the company with specific requests. For example, they’ll say, “We want you to contact almost five people you don’t know before your next meeting.”

Finally, all of the panelists agreed with the idea that when you can’t physically work together, you have to work harder to let everyone know what people are working on. sure. Darren Murph, whose job title is Head of Remote Control at GitLab, says that kind of transparency is radically important right now. “Without an office, people recognize the gaps and silos. If you can’t see what people are working on, you feel less out of place, ”he says. Seeing the goals, progress and status of other teams “makes us feel like part of a team.”

Slack’s Elliott added that, especially when dealing with these overworked middle managers, “don’t be afraid to be super tactical.” He said that in his company, they had “created opportunities for middle managers to come together” to discuss and compare obstacles and solutions. “Private conversations about your workload and public conversations about your priorities really help with stress levels, ”he says.

More to read absolutely financial cover of Fortune:

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