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US workers report anxiety and stress over unprepared first-time managers

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About 40% of U.S. workers feel “stress or anxiety about going to work” because they have a first-time manager who seems unprepared to take on the leadership role, according to a July 18 report by Oji Life Lab, a leadership learning solutions company.

As a result, 36% of workers said they lack motivation at work and 21% had trouble sleeping at night. Ultimately, more than a third said they wanted to leave their company entirely.

For the most part, their concerns were linked to the new manager’s lack of leadership skills and training. Workers rated their first-time managers as being weak at reducing conflict, handling difficult situations, providing quality feedback, running a productive meeting and making decisions.

“We wouldn’t ask a surgeon or a pilot to learn on the job, but that’s what we do every time we promote someone to be a first-time manager with no training,” Matt Kursh, co-founder and CEO of Oji Life Lab, said in a statement.

In a survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, the best managers were rated twice as favorably as new managers for skills such as reducing conflict, running productive meetings and making decisions. More than 80% of workers rated their best managers as strong in these categories.

In contrast, under new managers, workers were more likely to report a loss of confidence — both in themselves and in the company as a whole — as well as a negative impact on their career and relationships at work and at home.

Workers over age 55 were most likely to rate first-time managers negatively, with more than half of older workers saying their new managers were weak in areas such as conflict resolution and decision-making. Women over 55, in particular, were most likely to say new managers were poor at handling difficult situations and providing feedback.

Among women of all ages, first-time managers had a greater negative impact. Nearly half of all women reported feelings of stress or anxiety when working with a first-time manager, which made them more likely than men to want to leave their companies (40% versus 29%). 

“It’s no surprise that these freshly-minted managers have anxious teams that want to quit,” Kursh said. “The managers are unskilled at decision-making, cultivating good communications, coaching people to success and a range of other universal leadership skills.”

Effective new manager training prioritizes trainee-centric instruction, according to a recent report, which focuses on essential leadership habits and their practical application — rather than organizational policies or new ideas. Conflict resolution and effective decision-making, for instance, should be at the top of the list.

Coaching has become more popular as an individualized, targeted method to train workers for management roles, particularly new front-line managers who don’t yet know how to lead a team. 

For those who wish to manage or lead, though, these types of training opportunities may not be available. More than half of workers don’t have access to learning or training that would allow them to reach for a promotion, especially in certain industries such as retail.

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