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The next Great Resignation challenge: Managing the prematurely promoted

Act now to ensure these new managers don’t crash and burn.

The next Great Resignation challenge: Managing the prematurely promoted
[Vittaya_25 / Adobe Stock]

Our reinvented workplace has been defined by a tight labor market with employees in a power position. That means that in a moment of frustration, your most valued employee may entertain a job change and find their feed overflowing with employers offering to meet their flexibility demands with claims that well-being is high on the list of business imperatives.

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While much has been said about the Great Resignation and its impact on retaining top talent, I believe there is an important next chapter to our COVID-weary workplace story yet to be acknowledged and understood: the challenges that come with a new generation of prematurely promoted managers.

As sought-after employees jockey for better, higher-level positions, younger, inexperienced workers are finding themselves in managerial seats that require new levels of competence, maturity, and focus. Organizations are tapping loyal, less tenured employees for promotions to fill vacated management positions. Many organizations are more willing to take a shot on a new hire with a few good years of impressive get-it-done work history, even if they arrive without prior management experience.

Will these resource-constrained choices accelerate the development of an entire group of underutilized employees, or are we on a fool’s errand that will find us burning out and tainting the next generation of talent?

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New managers have a lot going on in their lives

Many of these newly promoted managers are at that time in life when they are juggling the demands of purchasing their first home, planning a wedding, finding dependable childcare, and/or handling other stressors that take emotional and physical energy outside of work. While conducting research for this article, I talked with several new managers caught up in an intense emotional struggle: feeling torn between making plans to start a family or focusing on their new, exciting, and all-consuming job. This 24/7 battle to meet personal and professional demands, as well as their own success standards, while being constantly reminded by their smartphone of where they are falling short on both, can take a psychological toll.

Left to sort out ways to manage others during an unstable, supply chain-crunched, and ever-changing set of organizational conditions, millennial managers experienced the largest increase in burnout this past year, with 42% reporting high levels of workplace stress.

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Even the most experienced managers report frustration when learning how to successfully lead and motivate in today’s “maybe we are in the office today, maybe we aren’t” workplace. They are adapting on the fly to work-from-home or hybrid jobs, expectations for more inclusive work environments, and demands that they attend to their employees’ personal well-being above their productivity. How can a first-time manager learn the basics of management and leadership while navigating this highly complex environment?

Nurture your next generation of managers before it is too late.

Employees who quit their jobs during the Great Resignation aren’t just leaving for more money or increased flexibility. In a recent Fast Company interview, Gallup’s chief research scientist Jim Harter shared that bosses and organizational culture account for 42% of the reasons behind these quits. A recent study detailed in an MIT Sloan Management Review article pointed to toxic culture being the top driver of attrition during the Great Resignation.

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Not only is it important that you retain your talented yet prematurely promoted managers so you don’t have to go through the recruiting maze again, but also remember that as “bosses,” they are key to building back a healthy culture that will prevent more Great Resignation dominos from falling. I wrote an article in August 2020 that laid out my view that leaders and managers are essential workers. We are now acutely aware of the critical importance and complex challenges of today’s leaders and managers—and how difficult it is to fill these roles.

So how can you help these managers be successful? First, let the new manager know that you believe in them and will support them, but that this role is a big jump, and they need to be humble and embrace the learning curve. Provide clear accountability for decision-making and plan for when they should consult with you and what you are comfortable delegating as they grow into the role.

Set aside time to coach your new manager regularly. Moving from individual contributor to managing others is one of the biggest jumps in an employee’s career. Before they step into a career-ending land mind, get these ambitious employees into a new manager training program. Provide them with best-practice behavior training on a core set of competencies required to lead others effectively. Give them models, tips, tools, and practice opportunities.

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THE UPSIDE

Necessity is the mother of invention. I do hope this is the case as we propagate our next generation of leaders to take the work-life alignment rallying cry to the next level.

The next generation of young managers have much to offer today’s complex and technologically focused organizations. Many are ambitious, technically savvy, diligent, flexible, and eager to make a lasting difference in your organization and in the world. Armed with these positive traits and the accelerated opportunities that have landed in their laps, they are likely to be hungry to master core management skills to assure their continued career progression.

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If you assess for natural talents required for success in a role and look for innate emotional intelligence, vulnerability, critical thinking, follow-through, and interpersonal skills, you will be setting yourself and your organization up for success.

Act now to ensure these new managers don’t crash and burn. Don’t let the choices you make in response to the Great Resignation turn into a second wave of workforce chaos. Manage the prematurely promoted through their learning curve and come out of this labor shortage poised with a management team prepared and excited to lead your organization into the future.


Steve Dion is Founder and CEO of Dion Leadership, a leadership and organization development firm that builds strong leaders and cultures.   

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