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Written By
Sha-En Yeo

A self-care guide for sandwiched middle managers

A self care guide for sandwiched middle managers
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Table of Content

Table of Contents

In a recent article from the Straits Times, it was reported that middle managers are shouldering more workload amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

The reason for this? They have to answer to their higher-ups, as well as supervise rank-and-file workers.

In fact, out of those polled, 61% reported putting in extra hours at work daily. Furthermore, during the pandemic, many had to engage their junior staff more and look out for their wellbeing than practising self care for themselves. 

With such pressure faced from both ends, middle managers are often described as being “sandwiched”, with common challenges such as being overworked, feeling stagnant in personal growth, and lacking purpose and meaning.  

How can middle managers look out for their mental wellbeing, even as they have to manage and navigate the various challenges associated with their role?

In this article, I suggest some ways that middle managers can take ownership of their own care by practising self care, looking after their mental, emotional, and physical health. 

1. Focus on what you can control

It is easy to feel that things are swirling out of control, especially when pressure is coming from both ends.

To practise this form of self care, write down a list of things that are beyond your control (e.g. who your supervisor is, company policies, external economic conditions) and a list of things that are within your control (e.g. your response, how you manage your energy, your actions).

Turning your attention toward things within your control can help you feel less helpless and more energised. 

2. Identify the key priorities for the week

When there are many things on your plate, it might feel that everything is urgent and important.

Consider the items on your to-do list and identify the key things to focus on for the week.

middle manager self care priorities

Next, you can narrow down the items to what is most important on a day to day basis. Make sure you make space in your schedule for last-minute meetings or attending to urgent requests from senior management. 

3. Manage your emotions when feeling overwhelmed

Self care can start small, by noticing how you are feeling in the moment can help you better manage your emotions, especially when the days feel long and the stress level builds.

To do this, find a quiet space in the office or your desk (if you’re working from home), close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.

Focus on breathing in calm and peace, while breathing out stress. You may also listen to some soothing music at the same time. Practising this daily can be very grounding. 

4. Find a larger purpose

It might seem that the work you’re doing is all mundane, or not heading anywhere. Couple that with the pressures you’re feeling, you might wonder what all the hard work is for.

Consider how the projects you’re leading, or the tasks you are most occupied with are contributing towards the larger purpose.

For example, you might be managing a communications team in a pharmaceutical company, and when the team’s marketing campaign goes smoothly, it means they’ve successfully advocated for a product that could potentially reduce people’s suffering.

Purpose can be a very powerful internal fuel to sustain your motivation.

5. Demarcate clear boundaries

Being in a sandwiched position, it is critical that you set clear boundaries for yourself.

This could be fixed times during the week to hold meetings with your team, or saying “no” to projects when you (or your team) have no bandwidth to do the job well.

On the personal front, this could be setting a clear time to stop work every day, and making sure you take time off regularly to recharge and practice self care.

The busier and more pressured you are, the more you need to take care of yourself. Otherwise, you will likely find yourself on the edge of burnout.

6. Put the fundamentals in place

When you get busy, it is easy to forget what is necessary to keep you feeling good and functioning well. Ensure that you are getting sufficient sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly.

Even during the workday, make sure to practice self care by taking frequent breaks and have proper meals, as that will keep you energised and refreshed throughout the day. 

7. Find mentors or coaches

Having a mentor or coach can be very helpful for self-improvement as you manage this demanding role.

They can support you by being a sounding board, offering advice, or just holding a safe space for you to share your challenges. They can also serve as your cheerleaders and remind you of your strengths and capabilities.

middle manager self care mentor coach

Last of all, they might even help to connect you with a professional network – where you can grow and learn from others.

Remember that thinking you need to solve all problems or attempting to go it alone can feel very pressurising and lonely.

8. Prioritise learning

In your role, there are many new skills you will need to learn in order to be able to thrive. Thus, making learning a key priority by identifying your areas of improvement through some of these key skills, and then signing up for the relevant courses.

If there are related certification courses within the company, it might be useful to sign up for those because you can be part of a peer network that can offer different perspectives and insights.

9. Practice self-compassion

Your inner critic might be working overtime, telling you that “you’re not good enough”, or when things go wrong that “it’s your fault”.

These negative thoughts can affect your confidence and self-concept. In those moments, before buying into these thoughts, take a breath and speak kindly to yourself instead.

Positive self-talk with mantras like, “You’re doing the best you can, given the resources you have”, can be very helpful and reassuring.

Going a step further, you may also challenge the thoughts by finding evidence counter to those negative thoughts. For example: “What evidence is there that you are good at what you do?”

It is unlikely that you got promoted to this position if you were underperforming. Sometimes we need to ask that inner critic to take a back seat and keep the imposter syndrome at bay!

Care for yourself to care for others

Utilising the mental wellbeing strategies above, middle managers can feel more confident and competent in their roles.

Of course, it is important that their supervisors make an effort to ensure they are well supported through training, clear communication and offering recognition when it is due.

After all, middle managers play such an important role—when they are disengaged, exhausted, and burnt out, it is likely that their team will feel similarly.

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