Why gen Zers don’t want to climb the corporate ladder: A deep dive into the middle management problem

By Abby Amoakuh

Updated Jan 5, 2024 at 03:23 PM

Reading time: 3 minutes

Gen Zers are saying “no, no, no” to stressful management positions. As far as we’re concerned, the 9 to 5 is hard enough as it is. According to TikTok user @actuallyitstrena, who posted a viral video on the matter, expanded on this by stating that management positions are nothing more than a sneaky business scam.

“Why would you want to become a manager?” the creator rhetorically asked. “Because I absolutely fell for this. This was like two jobs ago and I still believed in career advancement and wanted to work my way up. So I became a supervisor for a dollar pay bump. I went from doing my own thing to having to manage six people for a dollar extra an hour and I can 100 per cent guarantee you that that wasn’t worth it at all,” Trena continued.

@littlemisstrena

A dollar pay raise was honestly such a joke #managers

♬ original sound - littlemisstrena

The clip, which currently has around 35,000 likes, found widespread resonance across a broad range of gen Zers, many of whom agreed with Trena and were inspired to share their own experiences and their overall dislike about the prospect of rising through the ranks at work.

The viral video comes shortly after a survey conducted by Visier showed that only a meagre 38 per cent of young workers were interested in becoming a manager at their company. The survey also noted that this trend was visible across multiple industries and borders.

The votes are in, folks—gen Z are opting out of climbing the corporate ladder in favour of more free time, less pressure, and less responsibility.

@courageousleadership

Employees value their time and health (as they should!) If companies don’t value those things then why would anyone want to step up and lead them? I think we are asking the wrong questions here. Ask people about making a difference and advancing in their careers and I think you’ll get better answers (and better leaders) #leadership #management #leadershipdevelopment

♬ original sound - Robyn L Garrett

“Double the responsibility, double the daily tasks, no appreciation, lectures when the store didn’t make money, all for a one per cent raise,” one TikTok user shared. Another netizen commented: “I spent so long watching my managers be stressed out and hate their jobs and life. Why would I want that? Not a great incentive.” Anyone who has worked in hospitality before can agree that being a manager can often be a thankless and seriously tough gig.

One user recalled: “I got suckered in with a good pay bump, but it has been nothing but petty high school drama from grown adults the second I started. Not worth it.” “Yeah, it’s a scam. They wrap it up with a pretty little bow to look like something it’s not,” a final netizen concluded.

@kyyahabdul

Stitch with @Robyn L Garrett #kyyahabdul #corporateamerica #climbingtheladder

♬ original sound - Kyyah Abdul

Meg Jay, clinical psychologist and author, explained in her book The Defining Decade that people are usually promoted to management positions due to the amount of time they have spent in their role, or at their respective company.

Whether someone is genuinely interested in leading others or has a high tolerance for stress matters less in these promotions, since the primary goal is to offer them increased job autonomy, control, and, of course, a higher salary. However, people management demands a complex skill set involving mentorship, interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, problem-solving, and decision-making. Unfortunately, many companies fail to provide the necessary training for these skills. Consequently, numerous managers find themselves grappling with pressure and tasks they aren’t fit or adequately prepared for.

A 2021 survey by Digits conducted on over 1,000 employees found that one in four managers had never received official management training. The research also found that managers who got regular training were more satisfied with their roles and more likely to stay with their employers. Those who did not, however, were more likely to leave their jobs and experience burnout.

Next to leaving people dissatisfied with their roles, the lack of manager training is a serious issue that hurts employees too. They are frequently faced with superiors who do not have the patience, knowledge, or the appropriate people skills to support them with their workload, let alone personal and mental health concerns. I mean, the only thing TikTok has more of than stories about not wanting to be a manager is stories about people having nightmare managers…

@erinmcgoff

trigger warning: toxic boss 😅 have you ever had a manager like this? 😭 #careeradvice #careertiktok #conversations #boss #howto #learnontiktok #pto #ooo #vacation #corporate #work

♬ original sound - AdviceWithErin✨

Furthermore, there are also concerns about how much of a bonus management roles actually provide to the resume.

“All of the jobs that I have since applied to have not cared that I was a supervisor. Like I don’t think at any point that was even brought up in interviews. I don’t talk about it with people I work with now,” Trena stated in her video. “It didn’t give me the bump I thought it was going to for all the extra stress.”

According to a global survey by McKinsey, these problems are concentrated in middle management positions. The company reported that middle managers are increasingly underdeveloped and unempowered. Further, they face growing pressure to deliver in flatter, faster, and leaner organisational structures that fail to streamline their workload, reward them appropriately, or give them the opportunities to rise up further.

In an interview with CNBC, marketing executive Jayde Young similarly pointed out a lack of rewards for mid-level management in today’s workplace, a factor that is seriously deterring potential employees.

“Being a manager, it’s ok,” Young explained to the outlet. “But it affords me nothing. I don’t have any real additional perks that my direct reports don’t have. My salary is a little higher, fine, but I have to work a lot longer. Honestly, the title is all fluff at the end of the day.”

These stories highlight a growing mismatch between the expectations and reality of climbing the corporate ladder. We are told stories of higher wages and more job autonomy but find ourselves constrained in a matrix of stress, little pay, and more responsibilities than one person could possibly handle.

It looks like corporations have some serious work to do if they want to tackle this looming problem of succession for middle management roles, especially if they want to attract the sheer power of the gen Z workforce.

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