Man looking at potential barriers

Today’s employees show less interest in career progression

If you’re a talent leader or professional in human resources (HR) or learning and development (L&D), chances are that you spend a significant amount of your work time focused on strategies to stoke healthy pipelines for critical roles and leadership positions. Those vital jobs demand a steady stream of qualified candidates to ensure that organizations are productive now and well positioned to sustain and grow their operations in the years ahead.

Only 38%
of U.S. workers say they want to become managers

But trends over the past decade indicate that fewer people are interested in moving into management jobs. Randstad’s global survey of 27,000 workers found that fewer than half of respondents (47%) aspired to people-manager roles. In the U.S., the percentage was significantly lower at just 38%.

In fact, many of those surveyed were lukewarm on the topic of career progression. Just 32% of U.S. workers said they’d leave a job because it lacked opportunities for advancement. More than half (54%) said they would stay in a job they were happy with, even if no progression was offered. 

Other researchers have reported even lower numbers of employees (34%) interested in advancing to manager roles. When CareerBuilder surveyed 2,800 job seekers about their preferences, the results suggested that white-collar workers with higher levels of education were those most likely to be invested in earning promotions (47%); but even among that group, only 28% said they wanted to become people managers.

Just 32% of U.S. workers said they’d leave a job because it lacked opportunities
for advancement

Managers are the vital links between organizations and their workforces. They fill crucial roles in communicating business strategy, upholding a respectful workplace culture, providing daily work assignments and guidance, and serve as front-line talent developers. Companies that lack strong candidates for advancement into manager roles are at risk for declines in performance, negative effects on morale, lower levels of employee engagement, and a broad spectrum of other potential fallout. 

Atana’s Helping First-Time Managers Master Difficult Conversations post shares numerous stats concerning first time managers, including that:

  • about half of employees who step into first-time manager roles fail during their first year in the position, and
  • by year two, the failure rate is 60%

Those alarming numbers, combined with declining interest in manager jobs, are bright-red flags for HR, L&D, and other business functions.

Why don’t employees want to become managers? 

In addition to the daunting failure rates awaiting workers who advance into manager roles, shifts in overall attitudes in the labor force are a key underlier of individuals’ decreased interest in becoming people leaders.

As already noted, the Randstad research found more than half of employees content to stay in jobs they liked. In fact, only 56% said they felt ambitious about their careers. Further, the post-pandemic world has seen work/life balance rise to the top of employees’ priorities. The survey found that 60% of respondents ranked their personal lives as more important than their work lives. And, when it comes to workers’ priorities, U.S. employees listed work/life balance among the top three factors they value in current and/or prospective jobs:

  1. Compensation (96%)
  2. Work/life balance (94%)
  3. Benefits and job security (88%)

60% of respondents ranked their personal lives as more important than their work lives.

For some, the added responsibilities of people management may be perceived as conflicting with the priority they place on their personal life and achieving work/life balance. 

Other considerations also may affect employees’ willingness to advance into managerial roles, such as: insufficient education or experience, negative past history with managers, perceived lack of preparation for and support in new roles, or lack of soft skill capabilities needed to effectively oversee and motivate others.

Work location expectations can play a role in decreased interest in advancement to management, too. As organizations continue to struggle with onsite-versus-offsite work requirements, many employees value remote options and other forms of flexibility which may be harder to come by as managers—or may complicate the manager role and the skills it demands.

While there can be multiple reasons behind employees’ lack of enthusiasm about becoming managers, the takeaway is that the meaning of career progression is changing. To retain valued talent that is uninterested in advancement and to ensure ongoing business operations, companies must broaden options for employees to make lateral or other moves that support engagement and professional growth.

5 Strategies for stoking your manager pipeline 

For the third or so of workers who remain open to the idea of moving into people management, organizations must take purposeful steps to better communicate the benefits of advancement and to realistically prepare and support those who take on manager roles.

As leaders in organizational talent initiatives and strategic partners in driving workforce development and readiness, HR and L&D are the logical functions to spearhead new approaches designed to stoke organizations’ management talent pipelines. 

L&D, in particular, has a powerful role to play in shaping training opportunities that encourage and communicate the benefits of career growth, accurately present the challenges and plusses of managerial jobs, and help organizations ensure development and availability of qualified manager candidates. Some options for your L&D team to explore:

1. Assess your organization’s existing leadership/management development programming, giving specific attention to:

  1. Timing – is promising talent introduced to the idea of people management early enough in their tenure?
  2. Access – what is your organization’s process for designating potential management talent? Are you certain the process includes those from traditionally marginalized groups? Can interested individuals self-nominate or must managers suggest appropriate candidates?
  3. Content – does your L&D team offer a Management 101 overview that provides a realistic introduction to people leadership and its challenges and rewards? As appropriate for your organization’s work models, does leadership development content prepare managers to lead across onsite, remote, and hybrid environments?
  4. Pathways – does your organization have clearly defined development paths that provide visibility into management career options? Does associated development focus on the skills people managers in your organization really need?
  5. Work/Life Balance Accommodations – can your organization offer sufficient flexibility in work schedules to ensure that people managers can maintain a reasonable work-life balance? Is senior leadership prepared to establish clear boundaries regarding when and how managers can be contacted outside of regular hours or during their paid time off? 

2. Think outside the box to create stronger development opportunities—or orientations to first-time leadership—for employees who express interest in management jobs. Provide options to shadow and observe current managers at work and tap those frontline leaders to facilitate informational meetings or sit on panels to discuss the day-to-day realities and responsibilities of their jobs.

3. Provide ongoing support for new managers. Your L&D and HR teams should partner to implement regular check-ins with new managers throughout their first 24 months on the job. Identifying specific challenges or knowledge deficits and providing targeted training can turn the time period when many new people leaders fail into a foundation for success instead.

4. Teach what really matters to managers. To be truly successful in people management, new leaders need powerful communication skills, the ability to influence others, individual and team leadership capabilities, and the know-how (and courage) to have difficult or sensitive conversations with direct reports. For further insights, see Atana’s 5 Difficult Conversations Managers Avoid. 

5. Choose high-impact behavioral training designed specifically for managers.  You may already know that Atana offers behavior-based courses created just for managers. These courses combine content with embedded behavioral questions and enable you to deliver training that drives measurable change in managers’ behavior and attitudes. The data captured within the Atana Insights Dashboard provides visibility into learner perceptions and intentions, informs action steps, and pinpoints where additional training and support may be needed.

For employers, understanding what motivates employees and their intentions related to leadership and advancement has never been more important. Robust people-manager pipelines depend on strong career pathways supported by relevant training and follow-through that sets up new managers to deliver the peak performance your organization and employees deserve.  

Atana's behavior-based eLearning drives measurable change in employee behaviors and attitudes through engaging content and embedded behavioral questions. 

See how real change is really measured.

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