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Most workers don’t want to be a manager: now what?


The majority of employees don’t aspire to leadership roles, according to a recent CareerBuilder survey. In fact, only one-third of the workers surveyed (34 percent) said they want a managerial role.

As a leader and manager at your organization, you may be wondering what to do about the other two-thirds, those who don’t want to be a boss. Do you have a few from that group on your team? If so, how should you manage, develop and retain these non-leadership-seeking employees?

It starts with finding out why employees don’t want to be a manager.

Blockers to becoming a boss

Yes, before you can encourage your employees to climb the corporate ladder, you have to find out why your workers don’t want to be a manager in the first place.

Conversations are a good place to start.

It’s also helpful to benchmark with national data.

From worries about work-life balance and responsibility to just being content in their current positions to generational differences – employees have lots of reasons for not wanting their boss’s job.

CareerBuilder’s survey shows the popularity of these explanations.

Among the reasons respondents cited for not wanting to advance to a more senior post:

  • 52 percent are simply satisfied in their current roles
  • 34 percent don’t want to sacrifice work-life balance
  • 17 percent said they don’t have the necessary education

Further factors

In some cases, an employee’s work history can be a factor as to why they don’t want to be a manager.

If they’ve had a bad past experience as a manager – with tough employees or poor guidance and resources – they may be hesitant to pursue a leadership opportunity in the future.

Ask your employees what it is about their work that they really, really enjoy. Their answers are key to keeping them motivated and engaged.

A little creative problem solving on your end helps, too.

For example, if you manage a computer programmer who simply loves programming, you know she is going to be happiest staying in a position where that’s the primary focus. You can keep her motivated by always explaining how her work is integral to the mission of your company and by involving her in special projects where her skills are an asset.

If you manage employees who don’t want to be a manager due to fear of repeating a negative managerial experience, see if they would enjoy an informal leadership role. They may really enjoy mentoring a junior employee or be willing to offer advice to a peer from time to time. You’ll benefit, too, because sometimes guidance from a colleague can be more effective than direction from a boss.

And if you have employees who aren’t pursuing management because of lack of education, encourage them to take advantage of your educational assistance program, if you have one, or consider sending them to a training program. Knowing you’re invested in their development will help boost their loyalty to your company.

Consider the culture

If you discover that fears of home-life interference have many of your employees backing away from leadership, you may need to work on your company’s work-life culture.

A poor work-life culture can take a toll on the condition of your workforce, affecting employee retention, engagement and performance. It can also make your company less competitive by shrinking your talent pipeline.

While you may allow flex time and offer adequate PTO, if your leaders work around the clock and never take vacations, things may still seem out of balance.

If needed, you could introduce a policy that requires all employees to use a certain number of PTO days consecutively. Or if you really want to make work-life balance a priority, you could even introduce an unlimited vacation policy like Netflix and Virgin have done.

Lead rather than push

The bottom line is if you push unwilling employees who don’t want to be a manager into leadership positions, you’re going to lose them. It’s a motivational issue.

But keeping them where they are is not always a bad thing, either.

For many employees, being accountable for just their own work is plenty of responsibility. And all companies need talented workers with highly specific skills. They can be just as valuable as managers.

On top of that, as organizations become flatter and opportunities for promotion become more limited, it’s advantageous to have loyal employees who are content with their roles.

So when you have good communication with your employees, maintain a healthy work-life culture, and respect their motivations and their choice to pursue leadership opportunities (or not), you’re setting everyone up for optimal productivity and engagement.

Whether the path to success involves sending your employees up the corporate ladder or keeping them right where they are, Insperity Performance Management can help you build a more effective and productive team.