New managers can be the stuff of office workers’ nightmares. That’s according to new research by digital learning system Oji Life Lab, which found that one in five employees lost sleep over a newly minted manager with inadequate leadership skills.
More than a third cited anxiety, lack of motivation, sleeplessness and other effects of unprepared rookie managers as a reason for wanting to quit. Many respondents also perceived new managers as weak at reducing conflict, making decisions and providing quality feedback, among other deficiencies.
Oji Life Lab, in collaboration with Harris Research, polled more than 2,000 U.S.-based office workers in June.
“Even if you’re going to turn out to be a good manager, you’re still going to have a bad first year,” said Linda Hill, a Harvard University professor of business administration who has studied management for over four decades. Hill worked with Oji on the recent launch of a program for new managers. Leading requires an entirely different skillset from doing, which new managers that were “rockstars” in their old role are too often assumed to already possess, she said.
Female workers and older employees were more likely to give first-time managers a lower rating. That might be because “most new managers believe that to treat people fairly is to treat them the same way,” said Hill. “But these different groups are thinking, ‘You’re not adapting to what my reality is.'” Forty percent of all women reported feeling anxiety from working for a new manager, making them substantially more likely than men (29 percent) to want to leave their companies.
The task of leading remote and hybrid teams has resulted in a host of challenges that were “not something we ever had to think about” three years ago, said Matt Kursh, founder and chief executive officer of Oji Life Lab. A cultural shift toward operational efficiency means executives expect managers to raise productivity without increasing headcount.
Workers are also reporting doubled workloads and fraying mental health amid jobs cuts and economic uncertainty, according to a survey by project management app Wrike. A little less than half of leaders say they are under too much pressure to reduce feelings of burnout, which was at a pandemic-era high earlier this year.
These results come less than a year after the Surgeon General’s office asked higher-ups to take more accountability for employee wellbeing, indicating a growing awareness of how toxic work environments damage staffers’ health.
Even with growing evidence that new managers are causing tension among workers, companies are reluctant to change. “The idea that people will just learn on the fly with no formal training is really irrational,” said Kursh. He advises that companies offer management skills training, which can take the form of workshops or one-on-one coaching.
“Most new managers think being the boss is about using your formal authority,” said Hill. “But the two imperatives are really managing yourself and also managing your network.”
She recommends a “learn as you do” approach to first-time managing, taking care to reflect on missteps, wield influence rather than authoritative power, and leverage workplace connections for counsel and guidance.
Photo credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images.