Lessons Learned from the Experiences of Middle Managers in Higher Education: An Aotearoa New Zealand Case Study

Doctorate other than PhD

Halstead, Paulette. 2022. Lessons Learned from the Experiences of Middle Managers in Higher Education: An Aotearoa New Zealand Case Study. Doctorate other than PhD Doctor of Education. University of Southern Queensland. https://doi.org/10.26192/q7q57

Lessons Learned from the Experiences of Middle Managers in Higher Education: An Aotearoa New Zealand Case Study

TypeDoctorate other than PhD
AuthorHalstead, Paulette
1. FirstMarian Lewis
2. SecondProf Dorothy Andrews
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Education
Number of Pages370
PublisherUniversity of Southern Queensland
Place of PublicationAustralia
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.26192/q7q57

The middle manager role is seen as central to the effectiveness of higher education organisations. In a managerialist environment of increased accountability for student achievement and financial performance, middle managers carry responsibility for maintaining academic quality. Positioned between senior management and their departments, the middle manager has a complex, multi-faceted, and multi-directional role that requires a wide range of capabilities to perform. The literature indicates that while some aspects of this role may be satisfying, it is a position fraught with ambiguity, conflict, and overload due to high job demands in a resource-constrained environment. Shortfalls in professional development and training for middle managers are also evident.

Although previous studies have informed training recommendations, it is argued that professional development for middle managers should align with the needs of those in the role within their specific organisational context. Of the studies undertaken, very few are based in the Aotearoa New Zealand polytechnic context, a gap in the literature that this study aimed to address.

The aim of this study was to explore the lessons that can be learned from the experiences of middle managers in the context of an Aotearoa New Zealand higher education institution in order to gain insight, from their voices, into what they understand could enhance their performance in the role. Bounded by the voices of the participating middle managers, this case study used qualitative data collection and analysis, presented in two phases. Phase one involved conducting and analysing semi-structured one-on-one interviews with middle managers in the case organisation to identify the factors they consider to define optimal functioning in their role and the factors that enable and inhibit their ability to function optimally. Phase two further explored the phase one findings with the use of a qualitative questionnaire, the results of which also identified similarities and differences in their experiences in the role.

Key findings reveal that middle managers in the case organisation are faced with high job demands in a resource-constrained environment and that they show resilience by cognitively and physically adapting their understanding and enactment of the role to better align job demands with resource availability through the process of job crafting. Although job crafting is understood to improve the experiences of individuals in the working environment, the findings reveal that these middle managers are unable to craft their jobs to the extent required to overcome the negative impact of adverse workplace and role characteristics on their sense of well-being. As well as being a health and safety concern for the organisation and the middle managers themselves, their negative sense of well-being can have follow-on issues that have a detrimental effect on their performance, the well-being and performance of their team members, and the performance of the organisation. The findings of this study have highlighted well-being as an area of concern in need of addressing in the case organisation.

By viewing these findings through the lens of self-determination theory and drawing from concepts within job-demands resources theory and role theory, the thesis concludes with ten recommendations aimed at improving the experiences and wellbeing of higher education middle managers. All recommendations offer strategies to increase opportunities for the middle managers to satisfy their intrinsic needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness, and to consequently function optimally in the role.

KeywordsHigher Education Middle Management, Organisational Theory, Well-Being, Job Demands-Resources
Contains Sensitive ContentDoes not contain sensitive content
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020350710. Organisational behaviour
390303. Higher education
390307. Teacher education and professional development of educators
350709. Organisation and management theory
350507. Workplace wellbeing and quality of working life
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Byline AffiliationsSchool of Education
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