Dealing with a promotion is as stressful as divorce

Jan 25 2007 by Nic Paton Print This Article

First the good news. Gaining a major promotion is unlikely to be the most challenging life experience you will ever go through. The bad news it it's not far off.

According to a new study, getting that long sought-for promotion is second only to dealing with a divorce in terms of challenging experiences Ė and many companies do not do enough to help workers and managers make it the greasy pole.

The research by HR consultancy DDI found nearly six out of 10 managers rated the challenges associated with securing a career transition as second only to dealing with divorce.

The more senior you are, the more the challenge intensifies, they added.

More than three quarters of the leaders polled said understanding that the new role required a different way of thinking would have helped them to be more successful, with nine out of 10 strongly agreeing.

Yet one in three leaders said their company provided little or very poor support in this regard.

The more senior leaders became, the more strongly they voiced the desire for support with this.

Steve Newhall, managing director of DDI, said: "It's a familiar story. You work really hard to get that promotion and you're excited about your new role.

"Then suddenly reality hits home: you are on your own, unsure of what is really expected of you, missing aspects of your previous role that you had finally mastered, without your trusted network of colleagues and politics rife amongst your new peer group whom you struggle to engage with.

"Yet, despite the familiarity of this story the scale of personal change required is rarely acknowledged, let alone adequately supported, leading to 'transition anxiety'," he added.

Part of the problem was that, while organisations typically focused on developing leaders "hard" skills, it was the "softer" skills that leaders found most challenging and needed most support with as they progressed.

These softer skills were more about using emotional intelligence and thinking differently, in order to build new networks and work together, rather than technical skills, said DDI

One manager told the survey: "Dealing with peers and even bosses envy is extremely difficult, we have to re-build our notion that people are there to help. Sometimes they are there to make you fail."

Office politics played a big part in the transition anxiety cocktail. It was ranked top by first and mid-level leadership, with almost half of first level leaders and one-third at level two saying that they had been unable to address this challenge effectively.

While senior level leaders rated politics as the fourth most difficult challenge it remained most often cited as the toughest to overcome effectively.

Managers also complained of facing major challenges in establishing a new network appropriate to their level, with senior leaders rating this as their primary challenge and one third of first and mid-level leaders reporting that they have not been able to overcome this effectively.

All leaders rated the ability to adjust to getting work done through others as being in their top three most difficult challenges, and a fifth of first levels and senior leaders claimed they struggled to master this.

"People are very vulnerable at the point at which they make the move up the career ladder from one level to another," said Newhall.

"The fear experienced during a transition phase creates increased receptivity for learning but it is also a huge risk; because the individual is suddenly in completely new territory both in terms of what they are expected to accomplish and who they accomplish it with and through," he added.

"If organisations do not address this phase and provide adequate support during it people can get locked into the transition mode forever with one foot on the last rung and one on the next and nobody doing what they are supposed to be doing on the right rung of the ladder," he concluded.