Most People Don't Want to Be Managers
Most American workers aren't interested in becoming managers. At least, that's what a new CareerBuilder survey seems to suggest.
Of the thousands surveyed, only about one-third of workers (34%) said they aspire to leadership positions – and just 7% strive for C-level management (the rest said they aspire to middle-management or department-head roles). Broken down further, the results show that more men (40%) hope to have a leadership role than women (29%), and that African Americans (39%) and LGBT workers (44%) are more likely to want to climb the corporate ladder than the national average.
The online survey polled a nationwide sample of 3,625 full-time workers in government and the private sector, across salary levels, industries, and company sizes. It's the first time CareerBuilder has asked about leadership aspirations in a worker survey (they now plan to track it semi-annually or annually), so we don't know if these numbers signal an increase in people who don't want to be leaders. But past research shows this sentiment is nothing new. Many people don't want their boss's job – for reasons that range from generational differences to being happy in their current positions to concerns about responsibility and work-life balance.
And even without these issues, leading others is – and has always been – just really, really hard. Managers have the inherently alienating task of balancing conflicting interests of the worker and the corporation, as a young Warren Bennis summed up in 1961. So it's no wonder there are more people who dislike being in charge than people who like it.
When survey respondents were asked why they weren't eyeing managerial roles, the majority (52%) said they were satisfied in their current roles, and a third (34%) said they didn't want to sacrifice work-life balance. About one-fifth said they didn't have the necessary degree or skills. (People were able to choose more than one.)
This is hardly a comprehensive list, but companies should pay close attention to how many people back away from leadership due to fears of forfeited work-life balance. An inadequate work-life culture not only affects your competitiveness, performance, and employee retention and engagement, it can also shrink your talent pipeline.
This "long hours" problem is one key reason why the percentage of women in senior positions remains stalled. As Joan Williams wrote for HBR, "We can't expect progress when the fast track that leads to top jobs requires a time commitment that excludes most mothers – and by extension, most women."
And, perhaps surprisingly, the survey showed a dead even share of women and men selecting this roadblock. There's a real sense that women, and now men, can't advance their careers and also have families. For instance, recent research by Stew Friedman at Wharton shows today's MBAs are increasingly choosing not to have kids.
On top of that, the CareerBuilder survey found that one in five workers felt that his or her organization had a glass ceiling barring women and minorities from advancing. And when only looking at those who do want those top jobs one day, it became nearly one in four – and the percentage was even higher among women (33%), Hispanics (34%), African Americans (50%), and workers with disabilities (59%).
So while most Americans might not want to give up precious family time to cross over to management, many of those who would feel that they won't be able to – regardless of their willingness, skills, or education. (Not all groups perceive a glass ceiling, it is worth mentioning. Only 9% of white men said such bias was holding women and minorities back at their companies.)
Organizations can do a better job of making sure everyone has access to the same development opportunities – but they may also want to focus on steering young professionals toward leadership. The survey results show that younger generations are far more interested in becoming leaders later in their careers – a sign that should further quash the lurching "Millennials Are Lazy!" debate. Interest drastically wanes with age:
Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder offers an explanation for the drop-off: "Upon entering the prime of their careers, workers who haven't yet ascended to a leadership role often decide, for a variety of reasons, that their career is fine right where it is. And that's okay, because every organization needs skilled workers who excel at specific functions just as much as they need leaders to guide them."
So yes, we might wish that more people were driven to rise through the ranks and lead, but the results don't necessarily reflect a lack of ambition. Today's workers don't have to be a manager to be successful – they don't even need to take up a traditional "career." Which is a good thing, since for many people the corporate ladder doesn't even exist anymore, as organizations have become flatter and options for moving up more limited.
Still, let's be honest: there are lots of reasons why it's great to be the boss.
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