First-time Managers Are Holding Back Employees & Performance

Oji Editorial Staff | Jul 26, 2023
First-time Managers Are Holding Back Employees & Performance

We’ve all lost the occasional night of sleep over a major business deal, big presentation, or funding round.

But for some employees, those sleepless nights aren’t so sporadic.

A new study from Oji Life Lab conducted by Harris Research shows that American workers are anxious, losing sleep, and considering jumping ship. The culprit?

Unprepared first-time managers.

On July 18th, the Oji Leadership Poll released a report that examines how the performance of first-time managers impacts their teams. The results, which focus on people who’ve worked for first-time managers, are eye-opening:

  • 4 in 10 respondents felt “stress or anxiety about going to work” due to a first-time manager.
  • Over a third of respondents lacked motivation.
  • 1 in 5 had trouble sleeping.

As you may have guessed, these factors (and others) ultimately resulted in more than a third wanting to leave their companies entirely. Shown in this light, new managers appear to be a major threat to retaining talent.  

There’s no workplace relationship more powerful than the one between people managers and their employees. And as working Americans challenge organizations to manage and lead differently, those that don’t will find themselves left behind.

As Linda Hill, Harvard Business School professor and best-selling author of Being the Boss commented: “In my research, I’ve seen how strong individual contributors are often promoted to management roles with little or no leadership training, with a ‘sink or swim’ philosophy. It’s no surprise that these untrained leaders often struggle in many areas, compromising the productivity and agility of their teams in these very competitive times.”

What’s the Cost of Not Training New Managers?

It’s a lot more than you think.

For one, inadequate or non-existent training leaves managers with significant skill gaps that reduce creativity, collaboration, and output. Oji’s research found that 4 in 10 workers rated their first-time managers as being weak at:

  • Reducing conflict
  • Handling difficult situations
  • Providing quality feedback
  • Running a productive meeting
  • Making decisions

Older employees were especially likely to rate first-time managers negatively. Over half of workers over 55 rated first-time managers as weak in these skills, with older women rating new managers particularly harshly. 62% of women over 55 rated new managers as weak at “handling difficult situations,” and 59% said new managers struggled to “provide feedback.”

But a lack of crucial management skills has even broader implications for the emotional health of your workforce. According to Gallup, managers are the number one reason employees leave their job — and it’s easy to see why.

In our study, we found that 3 in 10 workers of all genders felt working for a first-time manager had a negative impact on their relationships, either at work or at home. Nearly half of all women reported feeling stress or anxiety when working for a first-time manager, making them substantially more likely than men (40% vs. 29%) to want to leave their companies.

And when they leave, it can cost between 10 - 30% of their annual salaries to replace them.

The Case for New Manager Training

It’s clear that the new manager skills gap is already having a substantial effect on the everyday lives of people across an organization.

So, what can companies do to flip the script?

The answer is simple: train their managers.

You wouldn’t ask a surgeon or pilot to learn on the job: that would be ridiculous, and downright terrifying. But that’s what organizations are doing every time they promote someone to be a first-time manager with no training.

Matt Kursh, co-founder and CEO, Oji Life Lab, says, “It’s no surprise that these freshly-minted managers have anxious teams that want to quit; the managers are unskilled at decision-making, cultivating good communications, coaching people to success, and a range of other universal leadership skills. The good news is they can all be mastered, step-by-step.”

The thing is, first-time manager training can’t just be any training. Practically speaking, it has to cover the key skill areas and fit into busy schedules.

More importantly, learning to be a capable leader requires building skills, not just gaining some cursory knowledge. It’s all about building habits that can be applied at the moment to deliver better results. Yes, to start, key ideas must be explained and explored, but from there, it’s key that learners have opportunities to practice, reflect, gain feedback, and experience positive modeling. Learning from coaches and peers is key. And, the learning must occur over time, in a series of episodes that allows the learning to stick

Oji Foundations was specifically designed to deliver just that, helping first-time leaders expand their leadership mastery, one step at a time. The Oji Foundations program combines a sequence of bite-sized learning experiences that promote knowledge retention, coach-led live discussions to encourage knowledge application, and a mobile-first platform to enable learning anywhere. And that’s not all. On the backend, you can track your learners’ progress and measure ROI with our Proof of Impact reporting system.

End the business and human costs of unprepared first-time managers and start developing your future leadership team by requesting an Oji Foundations demo today.

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