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ATD Blog

The Prematurely Promoted Problem

Friday, May 13, 2022

In today’s reinvented workplace driven by a tight labor market, employees have been provided with opportunities to stretch in ways they couldn’t have thought possible. The where, what, and when aspects of jobs at all levels have transformed during the last two years.

Many organizations are focusing on improving the ways flexibility, care, and well-being are demonstrated in the workplace, but employees still are leaving organizations at staggering rates. With an average of 3.98 million people who quit their jobs every month in 2021 (according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics), reports of hospital wings emptied due to a lack of nurses or restaurants closed from wait staff shortages have grown into white noise in our news feeds.

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

As sought-after employees play musical chairs, younger, inexperienced workers are landing in managerial seats that require increasing levels of skill and seasoning. Organizations are tapping less tenured but loyal employees for internal promotions and vacated management positions. Hiring managers are more willing to take a shot on a new hire with a resume that lacks prior management experience but at least shows some good career progression.

Left to sort out their own management approach during an unstable and ever-changing set of organizational conditions, millennial managers experienced the largest increase in burnout this past year, with 42 percent reporting high levels of workplace stress.

Many of these new managers are in a phase in their life where they are juggling the demands of purchasing their first home, planning a wedding, finding dependable childcare, and other stressors that take emotional and physical energy outside of work. They likely are experiencing an emotional inner struggle, feeling torn between planning to start a family or focusing on their all-consuming job. This 24/7 battle of personal and professional demands against constant reminders about where they are falling short can be maddening.

Even the most experienced managers are fraught about learning how to lead in today’s workplace. They are adapting on the fly to work-from-home or hybrid jobs, demands for a more inclusive work environment, and expectations that they attend to their employees’ personal well-being as much as their productivity. How will a first-time manager learn the basics of management and leadership while navigating this highly complex environment?


Consider these five recommendations:

1) Separate confidence from competence in the hiring process. Assess for natural talents required for success in the role. If the manager has been given a large span of control and will need to spend their day connecting with employees, assess their innate emotional intelligence, assertiveness, and ability to multitask.

2) State the obvious. Let the new manager know that you believe in them but that this role is a big jump. Provide clear accountability for decision making and discuss when they should consult with you and what you are comfortable delegating as they grow into the role.

3) Provide daily support. Ensure their leader sets aside time to meet with the new manager regularly. The leader should be prepared to help the new manager accurately assess their skills and abilities and coach them when faced with new, uncharted situations.


4) Provide training. Before they step into a career-ending land mind, get these ambitious people into a new manager training program. Provide them with self-assessments to ensure they know their personal drivers and help them to understand that others’ thoughts, behaviors, motivations, and drivers may be different than theirs. 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.

5) Pay attention to their work-life balance. The adage of putting on your own oxygen mask first before you attend to another is relevant here. Set agreeable work-life boundaries and a job that is doable. Don’t ask them to run a marathon at a sprinters pace.

Why Nurturing Your Next Generation of Managers Is Critical

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

While it is important to retain your talented yet prematurely promoted managers, remember that as “bosses,” they are key to building back a healthy culture that will prevent more Great Resignation dominos from falling. An August 2020 article states that leaders and managers are essential workers. Toxic cultures are leaving these critical seats vacant. The importance and complex challenges of being a leader and a manager—and how difficult it is to fill these roles—are present now more than ever.

The next generation of young managers have much to offer today’s organizations. Many are technically savvy, ambitious, hardworking, flexible, and eager to make a 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. Act now to ensure these new managers are successful. Otherwise, the Great Resignation may turn into the Revolving Door of Management Resignations.

About the Author

Steve Dion is founder and CEO of Dion Leadership, a leadership and organization development consulting firm based in Michigan. Steve has dedicated his career to understanding and improving organizational cultures through the creation and deployment of innovative leadership development programs, executive coaching, team effectiveness programs, and talent assessment.

Steve is an executive board member at Fast Company. He is a regular contributor to CEO World, Chief Executive, Training Industry, and HRCI’s HR Leads Business Blog. Always innovating, Steve and his Dion Leadership colleagues recently launched a new research-based training product that supports work-life alignment.

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