Thursday, May 06, 2021
Wednesday, 11 March 2015 20:00

Transition Planning: From Manager to Individual Contributor

Written by Dr. Diane Berry

Emp Sat

Organizations that retain their workforce talent achieve a competitive advantage in the knowledge economy. Could your organization be throwing away workforce talent when an employee decides to withdraw from a management role? Why do managers opt out of management and leave their organization? What could be done to retain them?

HR should consider an evaluation plan to identify valuable employees and provide options before the ex-manager makes the decision to leave the organization. HR professionals recognize that leaders continue to be leaders with or without an official management title. The exit interview is too late to salvage talent, knowledge, and training.

Succession planning is common for organizations to ensure adequate leadership for the future. Reverse succession planning is not as common. Organizations could be well served by creating transition programs that may retain the employee instead of losing a valuable asset to a competitor. (HR professionals report turnover costs as much as 200% of an employee’s salary.)

Success used to be defined as holding a sequence of jobs that progressively offered greater responsibility and authority within a single occupation, thereby climbing the corporate ladder. The assumption that career paths should be linear is no longer a given. Family and life-style considerations can significantly impact work-life decisions. Rather than looking for promotions, workers may prefer to promote themselves through different job experiences. The key is to provide valuable, talented employees with options to remain with the organization rather than train them and lose them to competitors.

Let’s explore the factors influencing the decision to move out of a management role and recommendations for retaining these valuable employees.

Why Managers Step Down

According to a 2012 qualitative study entitled Climbing Down the Corporate Ladder, the most common reasons to step out of the manager role were poor job-fit, inadequate organizational support, unmet work-life balance needs, and internal politics.

1. Poor Job-Fit

Accepting a manager role when increased income was the major motivator lead to disillusionment. Organizations often promote people who are successful as individual contributors because they are driven and goal-oriented. When a manager first steps into the role, he or she may be enamored with the deferential treatment and privileges that come with the job. Managers can experience fading job satisfaction as a result of increased responsibility, hours, and stress. When faced with this job disillusionment, the memory of being a successful individual contributor with more control over personal achievement triggered the manager’s desire to return to non-management.

2. Inadequate organizational support

Fifty percent of the study participants were first time managers who learned the job by trial and error. Lack of leadership support from above resulted in stress, lower self-esteem, and negative feelings whether participants were new or experienced managers. Lack of support was demonstrated through undermined authority, exclusion from strategy planning, and absence of mentorship. New managers often felt disconnected with inadequate guidance and support.

3. Unmet Work-Life Balance Needs

Participants in the study discussed the issue of work-life imbalance in the manager experience. Descriptions of lack of work-life balance emerged through stories of undue stress, extensive work hours, lack of family time, and health issues. The findings were consistent with current literature regarding family and life-style considerations that significantly impact work-life decisions.

Organizations are not obligated to provide work-life balance. Former General Electric CEO, Jack Welch, spoke at the 2009 Society for Human Resource Managers annual conference in New Orleans. In his presentation, Mr. Welch expressed his opinion stating, “There is no such thing as work-life balance. There are worklife choices, and you make them, and they have consequences” (Silverman, 2009, para 3). The U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, affirmed “the law does not mandate work-life balance” (EEOC v. Bloomberg, 2010, p. 61). Consequently both organizationfit and job-fit need to be considered in employee retention.

4. Internal Politics

Political jockeying was the fourth most common reason cited by study participants for stepping out of the manager role. Descriptions included examples of cronyism, negative social networking, favoritism, preferential treatment, bias, and workplace conflict. Lack of political allies diminished motivation and job satisfaction.

The Transition Experience

The study participants’ transition experience from manager to nonmanager revealed themes related to emotional impact, work-life balance, and effect on income. Participants described feelings of relief, yet some participants felt they were still in a recovery stage and described hard and stressful transition experiences. The theme of improved work-life balance emerged with descriptions of greater satisfaction due to more time available for family and personal endeavors. The third theme, effect on income, was conveyed by 11 of the 12 participants. Three people experienced no change in income, five people received an increase in salary within months of the transition, and three people accepted a decrease in salary to step out of the manager role.


Talent management includes recruiting, training, engaging, rewarding, and retaining employees at all levels of the organization. Organizations may need to be clear about job expectations during the manager recruitment phase. Individuals may be the right fit for the job originally, but organizations neglect to recognize distress signals or the individual fails to communicate the disjoint to avoid the manager derailment.

Both the individual employee and the organization have responsibilities in entering the role, performing the role, and leaving the role. Individuals need to assess their personality and job requirements to determine if they fit into the corporate culture (organizational fit) as well as the manager role (job fit). People need to be realistic about the advantages and disadvantages of being a manager and be motivated to enter the manager role for appropriate reasons. The desire for more money and prestige are not enough for managers to remain in the role. The ability to make more money was a primary theme for entering the manager role, but not a satisfier when the participant experienced negative drawbacks.

The organization has the responsibility to hire the right person, not only because the individual can do the technical job, but because they have leadership ability. Organizations should not assume that technical skills or seniority make a good manager. Managers need to possess talent, personality, and ability to adapt to the manager role. Managers who are unable or unwilling to personally comply and engage with the organizational mission, vision, culture, and values are ineffective and can be a troublesome cost to the organization. When an individual enters the manager role, organizations need to provide support and mentorship. If a manager chooses to step out of the role, the organization would benefit by evaluating the individual’s potential and transitioning that person into a more suitable position.

Fifty percent of the study participants were first time managers who learned the job by trial and error. Lack of leadership support from above resulted in stress, lower selfesteem, and negative feelings whether participants were new or experienced managers.

Divergent experiences in stepping out of the manager role were reported during the study. Participants who remained with their organizations and transitioned smoothly described experiences of feeling more valuable to the organization and themselves in their non-management role. Transition can be stressful if new management views the transitioned employee as a threat rather than as a valuable resource. Valued managers who choose to step out of the role need effective options and a transition strategy plan.


Does your organization have a process in place for both retention and transition of managers? Are employees aware of lateral career pathways available within your organization?

• HR professionals may divert the exodus of their managers by being aware of changed motivation factors and proactively managing their workforce talent.

• Periodic evaluation of stressors such as job-fit satisfaction, organizational support, worklife balance needs, and harmful internal politics is important for retaining valuable employees and maintaining a healthy corporate culture.

• Organizations and employees have a joint responsibility to achieve congruence with culture, values, and job expectations. A process is needed to evaluate talents and needs to meet personal and organizational goals.

• Continuous manager training and mentoring will build a valuable management team. A career transition program will safeguard the loss of topperforming employees.


Berry, D. (2012). Climbing Down the Corporate Ladder. University of Phoenix dissertation.

Silverman, R.E. (2009, July 13). Jack Welch: “No Such Thing as Work-Life Balance” [Blog]. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http:// such-thing-as-work-life-balance/?blog_ id=13&post_id=4687

Dr. Diane Berry is passionate about adult learning. She returned to college in her mid-thirties and graduated from University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science/Pre-Law. In her mid-forties, Berry completed her MBA in Healthcare Management. A decade later and years younger, she became Dr. Berry by earning the Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership degree from University of Phoenix School of Advanced Studies.