Talent   //   July 24, 2023

Unprepared new managers keep their teams up at night

Getting a new boss can be stressful, especially if it’s their first time in a supervisory role and they seem unprepared to manage others. 

About a fifth of U.S. workers said they had trouble sleeping when working under a new manager, according to a study from Oji Life Lab and Harris Poll, which includes responses from over 2,000 U.S. workers and was conducted in June. More than a third said they’d considered leaving their companies entirely. 

First-time managers are far worse at making decisions, reducing conflict, running productive meetings and providing quality feedback than experienced managers, making their employees’ jobs even harder, respondents said in the survey. 

The pandemic and remote and hybrid working arrangements also may be worsening this deep-rooted issue, said Matt Kursh, Oji Life Lab CEO. 

“Given that the primary way people were expected to learn how to manage in the past was by watching their manager do it, that doesn’t work very well if you don’t have a manager to watch, if you’re working at home,” Kursh said. 

But there may be more to it than first-time jitters.

Employers often promote people into managerial positions without any people or leadership training, and they’re expected to just sink or swim. “Learning to manage and lead is a separate set of skills, and those skills aren’t acquired magically,” said Kursh.

“These impacts, with real business and human costs, are the result of new managers’ inadequate skills and training,” the report said.

Meanwhile, recent consensus has pointed to another potential contributor that’s even more deep-rooted. Organizations’ legacy promotion structures have meant that the only way up a career ladder is to manage more people, even if not naturally suited to it. For those who have excelled in their field, that’s meant any recognition, aka a promotion, has moved them away from where their core strengths and ambitions are – developing their craft. People management, however, is a wholly different skill.

Some companies have actively addressed this, to ensure they aren’t hiring the wrong people to manage others, but also are moving people up who deserve promotions. One approach is a dual track ladder, which allows employees to still move upward at a company without the expectation they’ll end up in a managerial position. 

“Learning to manage and lead is a separate set of skills, and those skills aren’t acquired magically."
Matt Kursh, CEO, Oji Life Lab.

Dagger, an Atlanta-based creative agency, swapped traditional promotional paths for a dual track approach.  Employees are either put on a client track or a craft track each designed to foster developing those skills. The goal is to boost job satisfaction and make sure employees feel valuable and rewarded while focusing on the skills they’re most passionate about.

Another tactic some have turned to is eliminating traditional hierarchy-based promotion paths entirely. At Jellyfish, a digital services agency with 2,000 global employees, traditional heads of departments and heads of regions don’t even exist. 

Instead it rolled out a promotional path model where everyone is assigned a five-person support network to help support each other’s career paths. Those five coworkers include a people partner, a capability partner, a finance partner who helps develop business acumen, a buddy and a mentor.

Working under an ill-equipped new manager can lead to other consequences for employees, like feeling they’ve lost confidence in themselves and their companies overall, the Oji Life Lab report found.

It also found some demographic differences in sentiments toward new managers, with older employees most likely to rate them negatively.

Women were also much more likely to say a new manager impacted them negatively, and they are far more likely to want to leave their companies than men because of poor new management. 

Ultimately about a third of workers across all genders working for a first-time manager said it had a negative impact on their relationships, at work and at home.