Let’s talk about middle managers!

08 August 2017 Alex McDonald


Being a middle manager in aged care means performing multiple roles covering administration, clinical and managerial responsibilities. Some of these include:  managing budgets, projects and general administrative activities, leading and caring for a vulnerable group of clients, managing staff and making complex decisions after weighing up budget constraints with client needs. According to Dr Ellie Meissner “middle managers play a critical role in change management and typically work up to14 hours a day.” But how important are middle managers?

Well, in short, very! Without the right manager, employees can become dissatisfied and less productive, and their intentions to leave increase. Oh, and that change you have been working so diligently on implementing, well that’s not going to be implemented anytime soon without the right manager! In fact, the right manager can work with you to make sure your workforce is emotionally and physically prepared for the change which will improve your change success rates.  However, often our middle managers are devalued in statements such as “oh they’re just a facility manager.” When in actual fact, without the right facility manager, your organisational culture, clinical outcomes, preparedness for audits, organisational reputation and relationships with the community, are all in jeopardy.

What we do know is that the middle managers want to learn more, particularly about the management side of their role. This is important to address as less than 33.2% of care managers and 13.2% of care leaders had a qualification in management according to the recent workforce census. Yet the impact they have on the workforce can be significant! Thus, continuing to invest in the development of the right manager is often one of the most important things you can do for your workforce.

This is even more important because Dr Meissner’s research has found that the pathway into middle management is often varied – ranging from those managers who sought out the role to those managers who ‘fell into’ the role as a result of staff shortages. She states that “the way we respond to each of these managers needs to be different if we want to keep them in their roles and keep them happy. For example, if an employee has sought out the role they may be more interested in career opportunities and climbing the career ladder quickly, however if they have fell into the role then they may be more interested in obtaining support and mentoring opportunities at that level, and may not always be interested in climbing the ladder higher.” While she acknowledges these are generalised findings, no research has continued to explore the career outcomes of managers in aged care and she is keen to further pursue these ideas in the future.

This adds a complexity to the aged care workforce mix as it seems that the career pathway into middle management varies and, as such, this impacts the recruitment of middle managers as it means the talent pool varies. That is, when hiring middle managers, the question remains, is it more important to hire for personality and train for skill? Or, is it more important for them to have ‘experience’ before being hired? Regardless of the answer, given the severe shortage of quality middle managers ensuring you invest in quality managers is critical for your ongoing success as a company. However, it is also important to understand the career progression of middle managers within your organisation and the future career intentions of your workforce to plan for future growth and needs.

*Dr Ellie Meissner research interests focus on middle management, change management and career development. She completed her PhD at University of Queensland titled “Becoming and being a middle manager in the Australian Aged Care Sector – Let’s talk about change” and is now a lecturer for the FOM University of Applied Sciences for Economics and Management in Germany. She continues her research passion and is keen to pursue research interests in this area in Australia.  For copies of her thesis or if you would like to talk to her further about this subject, please email her at: e.meissner@griffith.edu.au