New research suggests that being a manager doesn’t hold wide appeal.
Moreover, of the nearly 1,500 working Americans born between 1946 and 1995 who were surveyed, only one-quarter were interested in becoming more effective managers. Seventeen per cent said they don’t enjoy managing others at all.
This research isn’t the first to find that being a manager is not a universal goal. A 2014 CareerBuilder survey found that just over a third of workers said they aspire to leadership positions, while a mere 7% hope to get promoted into senior or C-level management.
In both surveys, young workers were more likely than older workers to be aiming for promotions, which makes sense given that they are early in their careers and see more opportunity for advancement.
Yet according to Bloomberg, millennials are less interested in being promoted to management roles than past generations of young people were.
So are these findings cause for alarm? A sign of laziness or apathy among the newest generation of workers?
Bloomberg spoke to Steve Wolfe, executive vice president of operations at Addison Group, who said that while millennials seem generally uninterested in people management, they
do want more personal responsibility.
“We’re seeing more millennials who want to be knowledge experts today, rather than in charge of other people,” Wolfe told Bloomberg.
Meanwhile, more than half of respondents in the CareerBuilder survey said they don’t want to be a manager because they’re content with the role they have. (Respondents could choose more than one reason.)
It may be that millennials are more aware of their strengths and more likely to seek personal fulfillment from their careers than generations past. After all, some people are better suited to management roles than others, and just because you’re a high-performer doesn’t mean you’ll be effective at or enjoy managing others.
To retain employees who don’t aspire to management because they like the work they’re currently doing, organisations would be wise to expand their opportunities for advancement as individual contributors. Instead of placing employees in the position where they have to choose between managing a team and staying put, there should be an option to move into a knowledge expert role, without being responsible for other people.
It’s unlikely that companies would wind up in the situation where no one wants to be in charge — there will always be employees who love the idea of being people-managers and are genuinely good at it. Instead, it’s likely that companies would run more efficiently if everyone took on roles that played to their individual strengths.
Of course, the CareerBuilder survey also found that more than one-third of workers shy away from management positions because they don’t want to sacrifice work-life balance, which suggests that organisations may need to address problems with their cultures.
Some companies recognise this idea and have restructured their paths for development accordingly. Scott DeRue, an associate dean at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, told Bloomberg that Google and Oracle offer opportunities to grow without becoming a people-manager.
Yet some companies don’t allow employees to develop this way. In April, for example, someone wrote in to the career advice site Ask A Manager about how to decline a promotion into leadership. The post sparked nearly 100 comments, mostly from readers who sympathized with the person’s dilemma.
The conversation on AAM highlights a key problem with the structure of many modern businesses. Too often, companies encourage high-performers who aren’t fit to be managers (or don’t want to be managers) to seek out those opportunities. In doing so, they may end up undermining their organisation’s progress by not allowing people to do what they do best.
Moreover, pushing high-performers into people-management effectively ignores the fact that there are many different forms of “leadership.”
Plenty of business experts have pointed out that people can lead and inspire at all levels of an organisation. When you think about how you can be more effective and creative in your job, you are being a leader; when you present new ideas to the people you report to, you are also being a leader.
Unfortunately, we haven’t yet reached the point where people who can lead in those ways are praised and financially rewarded in the same way that high-level managers are.
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