Leadership   //   February 23, 2023

‘These challenges will only deepen’: Confessions of a senior PR exec on mounting hybrid-working pressures

Numerous studies indicate that middle managers are feeling the squeeze in the post-pandemic rush to move to hybrid- and remote-working models. Further, they are not being adequately supported, financially or otherwise.

At the start of 2023, Gartner identified “managers will be sandwiched by leader and employee expectations” as one of the top nine workplace predictions for chief human resource officers this year. A workplace culture and recognition firm O.C. Tanner’s 2023 Global Culture Report, published last September, found that 41% of U.K. managers felt pressured to choose between what their leaders want and the demands of their direct reports.

For our latest installment of Confessions, where we trade anonymity for candor, a senior PR executive based in London shared how rising pressure to manage expectations from above and below is unsustainable, and she feels unsupported and under-compensated. She’s currently looking for another job.

This interview has been edited for clarity and flow.

To what extent is managing a hybrid team making you more squeezed and why?

Managing a remote team in a distributed environment requires more time to support junior staff members. While some junior team members thrive, others – unaccustomed to keeping up the pace from home – fall behind.

To some extent, it’s understandable. After all, we are individuals who work well in different environments. However, it’s the responsibility of senior leadership to step in and resolve these challenges early within an employee’s onboarding cycle. Unfortunately, this often doesn’t happen, allowing these challenges to deepen and develop over time.

Are you working more hours, and if so, how does this impact other aspects of your life?

I often work an extra two hours per day, if not more, compared to a year ago. This impacts my personal well-being. For example, when I close my laptop, I just want to “switch off” instead of spending time doing something for myself. It’s the same on the weekends; with the pressures of working life increasing, I prefer downtime rather than living my life and benefiting from new experiences.

Are those directly above you or colleagues at your level helping?

Contributing to these challenges outlined above, remote- and hybrid-work models have also meant more seasoned colleagues can “hide in the shadows,” veiling their poor performance while adding to middle managers’ workloads.

For example, I’ve had to counsel a colleague three levels above me on how best to respond to a contentious challenge faced by my client. Yet, despite several reminders on how best to proceed, the individual continues to flag potentially harmful opportunities to our client’s reputation.

Overall, more needs to be done to manage all remote employees’ performance from a senior and junior perspective. Otherwise, it’s the middle managers, who already have their pay squeezed, dealing with performance crises from both up and below. Clearly, this is not good for business growth either.

What steps have you taken to voice your frustrations?

I’ve spoken with most other leaders to broach the subject of senior colleagues not performing at the expected level. While they agreed with my conclusion, the situation persists. One suggestion they had was for me to be more “candid” with the individual about his performance. However, this doesn’t resolve my day-to-day challenges or benefit the wider business. It should be up to their manager to monitor and improve the individual’s performance.

I’ve raised the challenges I face with members of the senior leadership team, who are aware of various employees’ poor performance. Unfortunately, nothing has been done for over a year despite crisis after crisis. These challenges will only deepen as we head into a recession, where performance and productivity will be critical drivers for business success in a challenging macroeconomic environment.

How close have you been to quitting because you feel so squeezed?

I’m actively exploring new opportunities. While the challenges I’ve outlined can be viewed as a “growth opportunity,” eventually I’ll face a glass ceiling. How can I adopt an ethos of continuous learning if I’m counseling the more senior colleagues “hiding in the shadows” of their responsibilities? I can only learn “what not to do” from these colleagues.

How could your employer support you better?

Candidly, I would like a pay rise and a promotion. If I’m counseling more senior colleagues on important challenges facing our business while they are being paid more, something isn’t right. 

To retain talent, employers must stop adopting a “jump-through-hoops” policy to reward employees for their contribution to the business fairly. From my experience, I can’t emphasize enough how off-putting these policies are. Employers: reward your employees fairly. Otherwise, they’ll walk away. It’s that simple.