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Thematics :

In general, becoming a manager is considered a step up the career ladder and step up in responsibility. But some newly appointed managers experience “managerial blues” or disenchantment with their jobs, leading them to want to quit – something that can be extremely costly for companies.

Why do people have differing experiences in new managerial roles? How can organisations better accompany new managers?  

Overall, past research suggests that various individual differences (such as not having managerial skills) or the promotion circumstances (such as involuntarily being placed in a managerial job) may help explain why people experience managerial jobs differently. Yet, we know much less about the lingering effect that people’s past jobs can have on their first-time experience as managers.

Our research (conducted with Michel Anteby) suggests that the expectations that people bring from their past jobs – particularly expectations of what responsibility entails – can shape how fulfilled (or not) they feel as first time managers. Our study’s context is the Paris subway, where we interviewed and observed 58 supervisors, who were recently promoted, from two backgrounds – one in which impact on others’ lives was quite pronounced and the work was done alone (subway drivers) versus one in which this was not the case (station agents).

The majority of former drivers wanted to leave their managerial jobs, and instead be in a job where they felt “like they were making a difference” and “actually doing something important”. Station agents had an opposite experience. The majority were very happy and fulfilled as managers.

What we found led former subway drivers and station agents to experience nearly identical (current) jobs in a very different manner, was their contrasted (past) expectations of what deep personal responsibility felt like.

In the end, we conclude that a deeper understanding of the expectations that people “carry” from their past jobs can help employers better handle managerial transitions and provide suggestions on how they can help those they select to flourish in their new managerial roles.

>For more details, please see our Harvard Business Review article “Becoming a Manager Doesn’t Always Feel Like a Step Up” 

>Research article: “Unpacking the Managerial Blues: How Expectations Formed in the Past Carry into New Jobs”, Nishani Bourmault, Michel Anteby. Published in Organization Science. Online 23 Sep 2020.