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The accidental managers

The Great Recession is over, the economic wizards say, and actually ended last summer. With a national unemployment rate still hovering near 10 percent, many people may beg to differ. Even if the economy started growing again in June 2009, there's still plenty of pain to spread around.

But not everyone is experiencing the same kind of recession-prompted pain. For those who've managed to keep a job through the crisis, the economic woes have meant a veritable pile-on of extra work, responsibilities and stress. Some see that as an opportunity. But plenty of others are quietly reeling from their vast new burdens and silently seething over their heavier loads.

Call them the accidental managers. Talent management firm DDI surveyed 2,000 mid-level managers worldwide earlier this year and turned up some surprising results. As the job-cuts axe was swung, decimating the ranks of middle managers, many who remained have been pushed into management roles they never wanted in the first place, DDI reports.

To wit, some 15 percent of middle managers in the survey said they could not refuse promotions they were offered, many of which surely came without additional training or appropriate compensation increases, if they wanted to save their jobs. Another 15 percent of first-level managers weren't at all interested in being a manager before they were promoted. And astoundingly, more than half of the middle managers in DDI's study said they would take a demotion if they could make the same amount of money.

For those in the swelling ranks of the unemployed, the complaints of these accidental managers are surely maddening. Getting a bigger job, even if it's one you don't want, is without question a great problem to have.

But for those who've received these battlefield promotions, the problem is all too real. Employers slashed training budgets at the very moment they were asking people to take on bigger and more demanding roles. They believed a lofty new title would be enough to motivate people, even if they couldn't pay them more or were asking them to do the job of three people. And if these newly promoted managers ask for help--or register a complaint--they risk being seen as ungrateful or not up for the job at a time when everyone is looking over their shoulder.

Besides the downsides of job reductions and training cutbacks, the numbers lay bare an even bigger concern. The fact that more than half of those surveyed would be happy to step down a notch if they could be paid the same amount of cash reveals a worrisome lack of ambition among the broad middle ranks of employers today. Why bother climbing the corporate ladder, their thinking seems to go, if I'm just going to be asked to do more for less, and risk losing my job at any turn?

Job cuts may have been essential at many companies where business slowed amid the Great Recession. And surely, the unemployed masses are feeling the most pain. But leaders are fooling themselves if they don't pay attention to the world of hurt going on among the recession's survivors--the overworked, underpaid and frequently left high-and-dry among their ranks.

By Jena McGregor

 |  September 21, 2010; 11:03 AM ET |  Category:  Corporate leadership , Crisis leadership , Leadership development Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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What a great article. This goes to the heart of the matter that leadership training can never be sacrificed, especially in poor economic times. In fact, that is when it is most valuable.

Posted by: BEFLA | September 22, 2010 3:28 PM

This is happening everywhere. You have the people that are more than happy to take on the additional responsibility- however the employer is unwilling to change the job description to include the new duties- that would include a pay increase. In addition to the added work is the stress to still get it all done in the 8 hours a day. The employers don't want to pay the OT either. Those that are promoted by default are missing out on the training they need to succeed in their new roles- with companies slashing the training budgets. So who loses out in the end? The employee- they are shoved into roles they are not qualified for- given no training- asked to complete the impossible- for no additional income and when they fail- they will be kicked to the curb for failure to perform. Employers need to watch out- as the market improves, those that are in over their heads will be walking.

Posted by: Gina17 | September 21, 2010 4:18 PM

People have to agree to become managers. It really is a legal issue and yes, I realize most people don't stand up to their company for fear of losing their job. This is a consequence of a weak economy where employers wield too much power. This will change though and the tides will turn.

Posted by: GenXer1 | September 21, 2010 3:39 PM

Back when forner President Bush tried to warn America about the housing crisis he saw, no one listened. I would like to know how many Americans who lost their jobs in 2004 and are no longer counted as unemployeed because they do not collect unemployment benefits anymore. The recession have created a new class of the unemployed complete with college degrees. Then there are the over satriration over qualified worker. Someone may say look at the unemployment rate, I say look at whom they are not counting as unemployed. I am not talking about anyone with any kind of self inflecting addiction or disease. I am not forgetting those living homeless or in shelters as a matter of fact because they too are Americans. The government can not support everyone by just printing money. It has been tried it does not work, taxes have to be collected which means people have to work. The right to the pursuit of happiness is one of the things that make America great, which mean we Americans can work on any job that we can get hired on or willing to start.

Posted by: phjesuswarrior7 | September 21, 2010 3:01 PM

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