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Who wants to be in charge?

Reluctance among workers to be promoted could make it harder to fill succession planning pipeline

By Todd Humber

Do you want your boss’s job?

That’s the essential question on the table when it comes to succession planning, a topic I had the chance to explore in-depth while moderating a roundtable discussion in partnership with the Industrial Relations Centre (IRC) at Queen’s University. (Full results of the roundtable will be published in the Jan. 26, 2015, issue of Canadian HR Reporter, along with videos — so watch for that.)

But back to the question: Would you want to fill the shoes of your boss? Some of the panellists on the roundtable offered an interesting perspective: They’re seeing a reluctance, almost an unwillingness, among employees to be promoted — particularly among younger workers.

The thinking can be summed up thusly: Employees can see all the stress that leaders are under, the work-life balance issues that arise and they simply don’t think the extra compensation makes up for it. It’s an “I’d rather do my job, earn a decent living and just go home happy at the end of day” philosophy.

My mom used to always tell me the gen Ys were smarter than gen Xers and baby boomers when it came to what’s important in life, so maybe they’re on to something here.

Anyone who has ever had direct reports knows it can be challenging. It doesn’t matter what sector you’re working in, nor what part of the country you live in — managing people is universally hard.

I’m not a senior leader and I have a great team working with me, so my exposure to the really high-stress stuff is limited. But, on the tougher days, I sometimes think back to the halcyon days of working on the line at the Chrysler building minivans in Windsor, Ont. — something I did as a summer gig during my university years.

All I had to do was show up, attach a few parts to a van as it passed overhead, and collect a generous paycheque. Today, with looming deadlines, changing technologies and a constant flow of people in and out of my office, the drone of the assembly line is a siren call. Oh, to just show up and throw a few parts on a van without much thought — it sounds like heaven.

But the reality is that the work wasn’t very rewarding. When I started my journalism career, one of my professors asked me what my ultimate career goal was — I didn’t hesitate to answer that I would one day be publisher of the Toronto Star.

I didn’t say I wanted to be a reporter or a copy desk editor. I wanted the top job at one of the best newspapers in the country. That’s the answer the 22-year-old version of me gave.

Two decades later, has my answer changed? Not really.

I won’t be the publisher of the Toronto Star — so, John Cruickshank, you can rest easy. My career veered away from the mainstream media years ago, and I love the HR beat.

And while I don’t envy my bosses, and I’m not looking for more responsibility, I always like to be challenged. That’s what the ultimate allure of a promotion is: Not the title nor the paycheque (though that’s nice), it’s the ability to grow and challenge yourself, and not just always be comfortable in your current role.

There’s nothing wrong with a worker who has no interest in being promoted or who just wants to do a day’s work and head home. Organizations need those kinds of workers, and plenty of them.

At the end of the day, it’s one more criteria to evaluate before identifying a worker as a potential successor — does she really want the gig? If not, you can simply move on to the next candidate.

What do you think? Are you finding it hard to fill the talent pipeline? And is there any credence to this theory that younger workers are more reluctant than their older counterparts to take a promotion?

Pausing to remember

It's Remembrance Day this week, and with the recent deaths of Canadian soldiers Nathan Cirillo in Ottawa and Patrice Vincent in Quebec, the pause to remember our veterans takes on increased meaning this year.

As I reflect back, I always think of my grandfather who served in the Second World War… I shared his story last year. I'll be thinking of him, and Cirillo and Vincent and all the other Canadians who served.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. He can be reached at todd.humber@thomsonreuters.com.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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