Managers report feeling isolated

27 April, 2010

As the economy recovers with its corresponding effect on workloads, a Deakin University academic has urged companies to make sure their middle managers have time for their friends.

Dr Melissa Parris, an expert on management and the day to day experiences of middle managers, said a lot of attention had been given to the impact of work on family roles.

"Less attention has been given to employees' relationships beyond their families, such as with friends and the wider community," she said.

"Yet these relationships provide people with much needed emotional and practical support and we need to pay attention to these as well."

Dr Parris' past research, has looked at the experiences of middle managers and the impact of work on their personal lives, particularly their friendships.

"Our research has shown friendships are very important to middle managers," Dr Parris said.

"Yet in dealing with the numerous demands on their time and energy it is their interaction with friends which often is the first part of their lives to be affected."

Dr Parris said friendships allowed middle managers to talk through some of their concerns, be it managing people in the workplace or projects they were working on. Such exchanges help to relieve the pressure they were feeling.

"Women especially, spoke about the emotional aspects of their lives and the benefits they gained from talking through these issues," she said.

"Men on the other hand spoke about the practical support they received from their friends as well as the security it gave them to try out ideas or approaches to problems."

Dr Parris said middle managers also reported a sense of loneliness in their organisation, lacking someone with whom they could discuss certain issues. As a result they particularly valued their friends who understood the middle management experience.

"However when these managers dealt with the various demands on their attention, eg work and family, time with their friends was being sacrificed," she said.

"Middle managers in the study were particularly frustrated at the lack of control over their work time – for example, cancelling meeting with friends at short notice to deal with a last minute workplace situation."

Dr Parris said while friendships for both men and women could be 'kept going' at a superficial level with coffee catch ups, meaningful interactions suffered.

"Close friendships develop over time and need contact to build closeness and familiarity," she said.

"The middle managers we spoke to were questioning whether the time and energy devoted to their career progression was worth the reduced depth of friendship."

Dr Parris said the findings had implications for businesses and the community.

"Middle managers in the study were able to meet the demands placed on them at work, while their lives outside work carried the strain," she said.

"However the impact on their personal lives will eventually impact their workplace performance."

Dr Parris said one solution may be for businesses to provide managers with a true ability to engage in activities and friendships which will aid them as they continued to work.

"Yet there are challenges in this," she said. "The nature of the workplace setting, with often competing loyalties to different people and groups, may inhibit the development of voluntary and reciprocal friendships.

"The strain that work demands place on middle managers' friendships also has implications for the wider community as it reduces the person's support networks.

"If individuals have smaller groups of friends, they may have limited ability to seek advice and receive support relying instead on more formal community groups and organisations to fill the void."

Source: Deakin University