Middle Managers Are America's Economic Bedrock


The plight of the unpaid intern. The scandals of the corporate executive. 

We often hear about the front lines and the C-Suite life in corporate culture, but very little about the less glamorous but vital layer of middle men and women. Last week, however, the Wall Street Journal took a closer look at the lives of Americans working in management jobs.

With almost 10.8 million middle managers working in the United States in 2012, there is no denying the fact that they are an important part of any organization and, on a larger scale, an essential part of the economy. 

"Middle management has never been a very well-respected part of an organization. There’s the TV show The Office, the comic strip Dilbert, and they're paper pushers and all of that, but they serve a very vital purpose in management," says WSJ reporter Melissa Korn. "They translate the executive vision to actual actionable items to the front lines of the company so that's very stressful. They have to answer the people above and below and please a little bit of every one and work across teams and it's not necessarily gotten harder over the last few years but it’s definitely not gotten easier."

Whether they are seen as an implementer of the company's strategy or simply glorified babysitters, the challenges, responsibilities, and demands faced by middle management are getting more intense as companies become leaner. In the long run, however, they earn a good living and have been relatively secure during the recession as well as during the economic recovery. 

Here are some figures concerning this often-overlooked section of the corporate hierarchy:

1. They Have a Lower Unemployment Rate

Managers have an unemployment rate of 3.7% as opposed to the 8.1% overall unemployment rate in 2012.

2. They Earn Over Double the National Median Wage

They also earn a decent living, with a median pay of around $85,000 compared to a median wage of $34,750 across the labor force. 

3. They're Still Mostly Men

Although almost 38% have been with their employer for more than 10 years, women do lag behind their male counterparts in management positions. 

4. They're Increasingly Diverse

Minorities, on the other hand, make up a small but growing section of this group.

Although the numbers are relatively promising, studies have shown that people working in middle management are increasingly dealing with work-life balance issues, higher stress levels, panic attacks, and insomnia, making it a difficult and stressful position to be in. 

According to a study of Barbary macaques published in General and Comparative Endocrinology, animals in the middle levels of a social hierarchy often suffer the highest levels of stress, which could apply to humans in the workplace as well. 

Katie Edwards from Liverpool's Institute of Integrative Biology, who spent nearly 600 hours studying female Barbary macaques, said that "People working in middle management might have higher levels of stress hormones compared to their boss at the top or the workers they manage. These ambitious mid-ranking people may want to access the higher-ranking lifestyle which could mean facing more challenges, whilst also having to maintain their authority over lower-ranking workers."

Although often perceived as a rat on a wheel, "working hard but not really advancing," many in management positions do not believe they've reached their professional peak and are still optimistic, striving for that C-suite position.

"I've heard of people in the middle who are happy, who want to stay there," says 36-year-old analytics director Michelle Davis. "That's not me. I always strive for more."