Down on Upward Mobility

Many employees just don't want to move up in their companies. Experts attribute it to the pressures and demands placed on current managers as well as a different work/life outlook. Some companies are responding to the issue by beefing up programs to identify and develop high potentials.

Monday, November 7, 2011
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Employees may have plenty of ambitions, but apparently stealing their bosses' jobs away isn't one of them.

A recent survey of 431 workers by OfficeTeam provides further proof that climbing the corporate ladder is of little importance to a growing percentage of the workforce.

When respondents were asked if they would like to have their manager's job, three-quarters (75 percent) responded "no." Twenty-one percent said "yes," while the remainder said they didn't know or didn't answer the question.

While the study didn't explore the reasons behind this lack of interest, Daryl Pigat, a New York-based metro-market manager with Robert Half International's OfficeTeam division, has some theories.

"We talk about born leaders, but there are those who are simply happy where they are and don't want the kinds of issues that are associated with being a manager," he says.

Pigat says the overall findings were in line with what he expected, but adds he was surprised the numbers were virtually unchanged from three years ago, when OfficeTeam last questioned workers on this topic.

Considering the tough economy, he says, "I would have thought the number [of those uninterested in moving up] would have been even higher."

Nearly three in 10 (28 percent) of those surveyed said they could do a better job than their current manager, compared to the same percentage who said they couldn't.

Dave Brookmire, president of Atlanta-based consultancy Corporate Performance Strategies, says he's not surprised many employees have no interest in their manager's job, considering all of the negative press around cutbacks and terminations, especially at higher levels.

The finding in the study that did catch Brookmire's eye was that workers between ages 18 and 34 wanted their manager's position more (35 percent) than other demographic segments.

"My own sense is Gen Y and Gen X aren't necessarily interested in taking their bosses' jobs," he says.

Pigat suggests one reason the percentage for Gen Yers was higher might have something to do with that group's limited experience in the corporate world. "They haven't been around long enough to see the negative that goes along with being a manager," he says. "They're only seeing the money and the titles."

In response to fewer people showing interest in upward mobility, experts say, some companies are beefing up their efforts to identify and develop high-potentials. Others are encouraging managers to have conversations with employees more frequently and earlier in their careers to ensure that they don't only see the negative.

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But despite these efforts, some experts believe there's always going to be a significant portion of the workforce that won't be interested in being a manager.

"Why do many managers go to great lengths to avoid having career conversations with their employees?" asks Beverly Kaye, CEO of Career Systems International in Scranton, Pa., and a respected authority on career issues.

"The No. 1 reason is time," she says. "But the No. 2 reason is because they don't want to open a Pandora's box; they're afraid if they do, the employee's going to ask them about moving up.

"But the truth is they don't want to move up," Kaye continues. "They know it's not the only way."

Kaye believes that this has long been the case, but is especially true today in light of the current economic environment.

"Up has never been what 100 percent of the workforce wants," she says. "Millennials, in particular, want to learn; want to grow, want to be challenged. Work/life balance is far more important to them than moving up."

In light of this, Kaye says, employers should breathe a sigh of relief. "Instead of having certain assumptions ... they should stop and ask their employees questions like, 'What matters to them? What would make them happy? What skills do they have that they're not using?' "

Were employers to ask these questions, she adds, they would have a real "A-ha!"

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