虽然中层管理者的工作量激增，但职位数量却正在缩减。上个世纪90年代中期，许多公司决定削减中层管理者人数。《重新定义管理者》（Manager Redefined ）一书的作者、韬睿惠悦咨询公司（Towers Watson）的顾问汤姆•达文波特和史蒂文•哈丁说，在1994年，经理级员工只占员工总数的8%，但被裁掉的管理职位却占裁员总数的18%。
哈佛商学院（Harvard Business School）教授、《进步定律》（The Progress Principle）的合著者特丽莎•阿玛贝尔说，中层管理者好比“夹心饼干”，他们处于高层管理与普通员工利益博弈的夹缝。
Imagine the plight of the middle manager. She's trying to please her bosses, interpret their messages and convey them to her staff, meet financial targets, give consistently tricky performance reviews, and grapple with ever-changing goals. Talk about being caught in the middle.
As middle managers' workloads have intensified, their ranks have dwindled. In the mid-1990s, many companies decided to lay off their middle managers. According to Manager Redefined by Towers Watson consultants Tom Davenport and Stephen D. Harding, cuts in supervisory positions in 1994 accounted for 18% of layoffs even though managers made up just 8% of the workforce.
Overwhelmed by responsibilities, never having enough time to do the work, the middle manager's job at many companies became too complex for anyone to handle. At the same time, companies often promote their best performers to managerial roles, and there's no guarantee that these workers possessed the right skills to succeed.
In a 2010 Towers Watson study of 20,000 global employees of large firms, 48% of the respondents said their immediate manager didn't have enough time to handle their responsibilities or possess the right skills to improve poor performers.
In response, Davenport and Harding have proposed several changes in how middle managers should operate. Davenport describes the most effective style of leading as "offstage management." Offstage managers focus on "managing the environment, not the people." The old-fashioned manager hovered over the employee, often lapsed into micromanaging, operated autocratically and ruled by fear.
The offstage manager operates more like a theatrical director. "The director creates an environment for everyone to succeed and then steps out of the way,"Davenport says.
Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School and co-author of The Progress Principle, says middle managers are in a "sandwich situation." They're squeezed between the interests of upper managers and employees.
Amabile says the most effective middle managers provide clear goals and explain how individual efforts contribute to a purpose. They also give their staffers the autonomy and support to do their jobs.
In the past, middle managers mainly served as tools for senior executives to pass along information to subordinates. The communications revolution at work over the past two decades has vastly changed that part of a manager's job.
These offstage managers may have more contact with employees than the old-fashioned autocratic managers, but the communication "creates the circumstances for individuals to work with high independence," says Davenport.