Accenture: Nearly Half of Middle Managers Seek New Jobs

According to a new survey released by Accenture, nearly half of middle managers in the United States are either looking or plan to look for another job.

According to a new survey released by Accenture, nearly half of middle managers in the United States are either looking or plan to look for another job. What does this mean for your organization? Will this impending turnover affect your learning initiatives? And how can your organization take proactive steps to adapt to this change?


Of more than 500 middle managers surveyed, 38 percent are currently looking for another job, and 10 percent plan to look for work when the economy improves and the job market returns. Of the 38 percent of respondents who are currently looking for new jobs, 64 percent plan to intensify their job searches once the job market strengthens.


Why do so many plan to seek new work? More than half of respondents (56 percent) said that the need for better pay or benefits was driving them to look elsewhere. Other reasons given included better conditions or job prospects (12 percent), better training and development opportunities (8 percent), lack of prospects or advancement at the current job (8 percent) and dislike of current job (7 percent) or of the boss (6 percent).


Edward Jensen, a partner in Accenture’s Human Performance service line, said that it is surprising that the overwhelming reason for leaving was money. Historically, he said, this is not the case, especially at the middle manager level. “Generally, they leave because they don’t like their boss, or they don’t see career advancement opportunities, or they’ve got some other issues that they’re trying to deal with.”


Jensen added that a couple of things have led middle managers to feel that better pay and benefits can be found elsewhere. First, during the dot-com era and the war for talent, bonuses and stock options that are typically seen only at the executive level began to trickle down to middle managers, but over the past couple of years, those benefits have not paid out. “Bonuses have not been paid, options, if they’ve been granted, may be underwater,” said Jensen. In addition, he said that salaries have been tightening for middle managers. “They haven’t been reduced, but they certainly haven’t kept up with the cost of living.”


All of this is leading middle managers to realize that they have more responsibilities, but they’re receiving lower compensation. “There’s a lot of pent-up frustration,” said Jensen. “Middle managers have been at the focal point of the tough economy because they’re close to the front lines. They’re the ones that are having to implement the cost-cutting and the downsizing decisions that have been made up above.”


This potential increase in turnover will put multiple pressures on the organizations losing their talent, according to Jensen. Middle managers have knowledge and experience of the organization’s culture and way of getting work done, and they facilitate the work getting done. “That’s walking out the door,” said Jensen, “and when you replace that, there’s time before a manager can understand all of that, internalize it and start to function effectively. So there is a cost and an adverse impact on whatever that realm of the manager had been and the effectiveness, productivity and performance of that unit to some degree or another during that transitional period.”


One way to avoid some of those problems, Jensen said, is by promoting from within. But promoting from within leads to a need for learning initiatives to develop those new managers. “There’s an issue around knowing whether the bench strength is there, and then there’s an issue around, ‘How do I equip those people to be prepared and be ready to step in?’” said Jensen. “It’s the backup quarterback who needs to get out on the field and play because the starter’s been injured. How do I make sure that the backup quarterback is ready to step in?”


Obviously, corporate learning plays a big role in this. “It’s about leadership and management skills, and it’s also about awareness of what the roles and responsibilities of a manager are,” said Jensen. “If you’re talking about growing somebody from a supervisory position into a management position, what’s required for success there?”


By institutionalizing managers’ knowledge, Jensen said organizations will ensure their new middle managers will get up to speed more quickly on the company-specific knowledge that might not be covered in general training and development programs for management. “A lot of times, formal training doesn’t get at it. It tends to be a little more generic in terms of management skills and leadership skills, but doesn’t often get at what it really takes to be successful as a manager in our organization—understanding our politics, our culture and our processes,” said Jensen. “So how do you pick the brains of the successful managers and institutionalize that and roll it back out in the form of knowledge management or expert advisors or training programs?”


Aside from learning and development initiatives, there are other steps organizations can take to ameliorate the effects of increased turnover in the ranks of middle managers. First, Jensen said, companies should look at ways to retain their top talent. Companies must figure out who their top performers are, and then work proactively to address their needs. “Just throwing them more money or rolling out some program may be water under the dam, but with a little more personalized approach, there may be an opportunity to focus on retaining the top people,” said Jensen.


Second, Jensen said organizations should revisit their strategy from a workforce perspective. Companies should ask themselves whether it is time to think about other ways to get the work done. This might include focusing on outsourcing or hiring temporary or contract labor instead of permanent employees, said Jensen. “This is a good time to revisit that strategy and have a thought as to how to do this so that you’re not just reacting to each opening as it comes up,” he explained.


Finally, Jensen said organizations need to recognize the positive side. “The glass-is-half-full side of this is that there’s a lot of talent available in the marketplace,” he said, adding that for many organizations that have shut down their recruitment processes, now might be a good time to rev up the recruitment engine again.


For more information on the Accenture survey, visit


Emily Hollis is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer Magazine. She can be reached at


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