How do middle-level managers in bureaucracies deal with their relatively low chances of moving up to the top of the pyramid structure? What are some of the lower level employees' responses to their...

How do middle-level managers in bureaucracies deal with their relatively low chances of moving up to the top of the pyramid structure? What are some of the lower level employees' responses to their boredom and lack of control? Why are these fundamentally sociological questions?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are two primary reasons for why middle-level managers are stalled and have low chances of moving up the managerial pyramid structure. How middle-level managers deal with their low chances depends upon which of the two primary reasons (there may be secondary reasons or a combination of both) they encounter.

Middle-Level Management Obstacles

The first reason for lack of upward movement for mid-level managers comes from a lack of background, expertise and education allowing for fulfillment of top-level management job descriptions and responsibilities. The solution for this problem is relatively simple in terms of what to do but requires a great commitment in terms of time, money and health. Simply put, in order to deal with this reason for limited upward managerial mobility, the middle-level manager must gain additional background, expertise and education.

The last two are simpler than the first to accomplish. There are many university courses that offer certificates in areas of management expertise as well as post-graduate courses that result in master and doctoral degrees. By re-enrolling in university certificate or degree programs, the mid-level manager expands their education and expertise thus eliminating this barrier to moving up the top management pyramid structure.

It may be more difficult for a mid-level manager to expand their background in using areas of education and expertise because some organizations have a strict formal organizational structure rather than a fluid one. In either case, the mid-level manager would take the initiative to gain more background in exercising areas of expertise by requesting an expansion of duties and responsibilities. To do this, the mid-level manager must be thoroughly prepared to document and demonstrate education and expertise and must be clear on what is being requested, for example, requesting the opportunity to submit a proposal on marketing strategy or corporate communication reorganization. Eventually, a situation may arise in which the corporation would be glad to consider a new proposal relevant to some aspect of business operation or organization and the mid-level manager's request for an opportunity to prove themselves would be welcomed.

Top-Level Management Obstacles

The second reason for lack of upward movement for mid-level managers comes from entrenched protectiveness of top managers against any encroachment on the power and privilege that comes with positions in top management.

[M]anagers in the upper echelons tend to resist change because they have personal fiefdoms that they protect jealously. Further, they have big personalities because of which the possibilities of ego clashes among the top management are very real. ("The Role of Senior Managers as Barriers to Change," MSG)

Dealing with this reason for middle-level managers' relatively low chances of moving up to the top of the pyramid structure is more difficult because, unlike the first reason, it is within interactions between mid- and top-level management that the solution lies: Whenever individuals external to the initiator of action can affect the outcome of attempted change, there is no guarantee of outcome.

One positive action mid-level managers can take to overcome the resistance of top-level managers to mid-level manager advancement is to make themselves noticed for the excellence of their work and for the quality of their success. Another positive action overlaps with efforts to expand background in areas of expertise as mentioned above. With clear-cut documentation of education and expertise and with clear-cut requests for opportunities to prove themselves, relationships might be built between mid- and top-level management, which might help break down resistance to the advancement of middle-level management up the managerial pyramid structure.

Reactions to Boredom and Lack of Control

One common reaction to restraints on lower-level employee productivity is frustration and ire. This results in inadequate productivity, in risks to safety and in the loss of workforce. A second reaction, which tends to have similar results, is apathy in a workforce that doesn't care, doesn't have a personal stake in operations and that doesn't make more than minimal effort. Both of these reactions result in poor product and breaches of safety protocol. A third reaction may be the organization of an effort to elicit positive changes from the managerial team. Though this too may lead to failures in product quality and safety procedure application, the agitation may also result in communication between low-level employees and management, which opens the possibility of resolution and an improved business model and structure.

Fundamentally Sociological Questions

Sociological questions pertain to groups of individuals (not separate individuals) and to how interactions occur (1) between groups and (2) within groups. Applied to these managerial questions, the sociological question looks at how the mid-level management group and the top-management group interact with each other; at how low-level employees react to the structure imposed by upper management; and at how low-level employees, mid-level and top-level managers interact with each other within their own groups.   

Sociologists want to understand:
(a) What goes on in and between groups of people.
(b) What are the social differences we observe.
(c) What is happening in social institutions. ("Questions on Sociological Approach," Sociology Guide)