Supporting Managers in a Tug-of-War: Balancing Leader and Employee Expectations

Jul 18, 2023 6 Min Read

Photo by Natalie Pedigo @ unsplash

While employee well-being and happiness are generally a core focus of workplaces seeking to improve efficiency, there’s often a forgotten casualty.

Middle management. 

Those filling middle management roles end up taking on extra work to ease the load on lower-rung employees. They then get sandwiched between pressure from executives and expectations for employees, creating a push-pull scenario. This tug-of-war is the result of a bottleneck in communication. They become the proverbial messenger that gets the bullet. 

stack rock on seashore

This may interest you: A Lesson in Leadership from the HR Perspective

But with the right support, this game doesn't have to define your business.

Let’s explore how to support your management, deal with conflict, and what to do when your management is in the wrong. But first, let’s take a closer look at communication in the workplace.

Communication Up and Down the Chain of Command 

Communication up and down the chain of command plays a pivotal role in the functioning and success of any organisation. It serves as the lifeblood that ensures the smooth flow of information, instructions, and feedback between executives, middle management, and lower-rung employees. However, all too often, this crucial aspect of workplace communication gets hindered. This results in a breakdown of efficiency and strained relationships.

At the top of the chain, executives often face the challenge of effectively conveying their strategic vision and goals to middle management. Without clear, concise communication, middle managers may struggle to fully grasp the expectations and objectives set by the higher-ups. As a result, they find themselves caught between the pressure from executives and the need to effectively communicate and delegate tasks to their subordinates.

black smartphone near person

Conversely, communication from lower-rung employees to middle management is equally vital for maintaining a healthy work environment. When employees feel heard and understood, they’re more likely to be engaged and motivated. This leads to increased productivity and job satisfaction. However, if there’s a bottleneck in communication where the concerns, ideas, and feedback from employees are not effectively reaching the management level, it can lead to frustration, disengagement, and a lack of trust within the organisation.

5 Methods of Supporting Managers in Management/Employee Conflict 

1. Clear Communication Channels

Establishing transparent and open lines of communication is essential. Organisations should encourage regular meetings and discussions between managers and employees. They need to create a safe space for expressing concerns, providing feedback, and addressing any conflicts. By fostering a culture of open communication, managers can gain a deeper understanding of employee perspectives and actively work towards resolving conflicts.

2. Conflict Resolution Training

Providing managers with comprehensive conflict resolution training equips them with the necessary skills to handle challenging situations effectively. This training should focus on active listening, mediation techniques, and problem-solving strategies. By empowering managers with the tools to address conflicts in a fair and objective manner, organisations can promote a more harmonious work environment.

Listen to this podcast: Raise Your Game: Leadership And Conflict Management

white and black chess piece

3. Mediation and Facilitation

In cases where conflicts become more complex or escalate, organisations can enlist the help of professional mediators or facilitators. These neutral third parties can assist in facilitating constructive dialogue between managers and employees. In doing so, they can help them find common ground and reach mutually beneficial solutions. Mediation and facilitation can be particularly useful when emotions are running high, allowing for a more objective and impartial resolution process.

4. Empathy and Emotional Support 

Managers who feel supported by their superiors are better equipped to handle conflicts with empathy and emotional intelligence. Organisations should provide resources for managers to seek guidance or vent their frustrations in a confidential and supportive setting. By acknowledging the challenges that managers face and offering emotional support, organisations can bolster their resilience and ability to navigate conflicts effectively.

Read more: Supporting Those Who Support You

5. Performance Evaluation and Recognition

Recognising and rewarding effective conflict management skills can incentivise managers to approach conflicts proactively and constructively. Performance evaluations should include criteria that assess managers' ability to resolve conflicts, maintain positive employee relations, and create a supportive work environment. By highlighting the importance of conflict resolution skills and providing recognition for successful outcomes, organisations can encourage managers to prioritise conflict resolution in their managerial roles.

person holding pencil near laptop computer

This may interest you: How to Give Effective Feedback

By implementing these methods, organisations can create a supportive framework.  This framework empowers managers to effectively address and resolve conflicts between management and lower-down employees. In doing so, they can foster a harmonious work environment where communication thrives, productivity flourishes, and employee satisfaction soars.

When Management is in the Wrong

Unfortunately, there are cases in which management is the problem. It’s important to know when to acknowledge these mistakes and when it’s inappropriate to call out behaviour, as this can cause discontent among the management. 

Supplementary reading: Deconstructing Leaders: What Makes A Good vs Bad Boss

In instances where management makes mistakes or behaves inappropriately, it’s crucial for organisations to have a plan in place to address these situations promptly and effectively. Failure to do so can create a toxic work environment where employees don’t feel supported, and resentment grows. 

Organisations should establish a clear whistleblower policy. This policy must encourage employees to report any instances of managerial misconduct or inappropriate behaviour. This policy should provide protection against retaliation and outline a confidential reporting process. By creating a safe avenue for employees to voice their concerns, organisations can ensure that instances of wrongdoing get addressed in a timely manner.

Explore: Why ‘One Size Fits All’ Management Is A Thing Of The Past

When allegations are made against management, it’s essential to conduct thorough and impartial investigations. Organisations should assign the responsibility to an unbiased party, such as a human resources professional or an external investigator. This ensures objectivity. Investigations should be prompt, fair, and transparent, respecting the rights and privacy of all involved parties. The findings should be communicated to the affected employees. Thereafter, appropriate actions, such as disciplinary measures or corrective actions, can be taken if appropriate.

Organisations must prioritise accountability and create a culture where no one, regardless of their position, is above scrutiny. By taking swift and decisive action when management is in the wrong, organisations can demonstrate their commitment to integrity and fairness. Ultimately, this results in fostering a workplace environment built on trust and respect.

Moving Forward

Hopefully, you’ve learnt what pressures and difficulties management faces and how to alleviate some of this burden. It’s important to note that you need to work with your own data when you’re handling any situation. This is why impartial investigation is often a first step when deciding on policy changes.

Not all workspaces call for the same communication styles and approaches to conflict. But understanding the basics definitely helps, especially when there’s a need for balance between leaders and employees.

Be sure to check out the video below: is an advertisement-free website. Your continuous support and trust in us allow us to curate, deliver and upkeep the maintenance of our website. When you support us, you enable millions to continue reading for free on our website. Will you give it today? Click here to support us

Share This


Angelica Hoover combines her interests in holistic medicine, taking care of her nieces and nephews, and journalism as a freelance writer and editor for health and family publications. She likes pour-over coffee, walking in nature, and keeping up with the trends.

You May Also Like

Shawn Callahan at Global Leadership Summit 2023

Leading In A Disruptive World: Key Takeaways from the Global Leadership Summit 2023 (Part 2)

By Kiran Tuljaram and Meow Ee Chew. Explore the profound insights from the Global Leadership Summit 2023, where experts like Anita Elberse and Erin Meyer shared pivotal lessons in high-performance team leadership, fostering a culture of reinvention, and mastering storytelling in the workplace.

Dec 12, 2023 10 Min Read


Raise Your Game: Getting The Best Out Of Internships

As an intern, how can you contribute and add value to the organisation? Rupa Sivanoli and Harry Chew explain how companies can maximise internship stints for both employees and interns.

Mar 21, 2016 26 Min Podcast


Datuk Sheila Majid Says Glamour Is Only Skin Deep

Dato' Sheila Majid is one of the gems of the Malaysian music industry. From a teenage girl who loved to sing at friends' parties, she has become one of Malaysia's most successful singers

Nov 19, 2014 29 Min Video

Be a Leader's Digest Reader