Consider this scenario: a management position opens up at your company, and as a reward for your hard work, the higher-ups ask if you’re interested.
Now you’re asking yourself, “Should I become a manager?” You haven’t considered it before, so you decide to network with people on LinkedIn who are in similar roles and examine your current career path.
But you quickly discover that you don’t like the lack of work-life balance, and you have no desire for increased responsibility.
Both of these reasons for not wanting a promotion are valid, but they can leave you in conflict about what to do next. You don’t want to appear ungrateful or miss an opportunity for a higher salary. You also don’t want to sacrifice your well-being to help out your team.
The same might be true if you’re already in a higher position. You wouldn’t be the first to ask yourself, “Should I step down from management?” Nearly 5% of all managers wanted to quit their jobs in 2022, up from 3.8% the year before. They cited work stress as one of their main reasons.
Maybe you’re not cut out for management, and that’s okay. You can find other ways to climb the career ladder. You just have to be self-aware and look for other kinds of career development opportunities.
Here’s what to do if you don’t want to be a manager.
Reasons not to become a manager
Management is fulfilling work. It’s a chance to be the head coach of a team, positively influence your organization, and collaborate with talented people across your company. Instead of focusing on your own work, you’re responsible for supporting a whole team in theirs.
But that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. Like most things in life, accepting a management role means certain trade-offs. Here are some common shortcomings of this kind of job:
- Not everyone will like your decisions. As a leader, it’s impossible to please everyone. You have to be okay with making tough calls, even if the right choice isn’t the popular one. For example, you may need to push a project in a direction your team doesn’t agree with or schedule people to work on holidays.
- You have to confront underperformers. One of your team members may be having a hard time in their personal life. But even though they’re trying their best, important details are slipping through the cracks. This means you’ll have to confront them through one-on-one meetings or with a poor performance review — even if you can empathize with their situation.
- You’ll have to fire people or execute company-wide layoffs. When times are tough, like, during a recession, you may have to tell someone they don’t have a job anymore. If you can’t make peace with that, management may not be for you.
- The buck stops with you. At the end of the day, you’re responsible for your team’s work. You have to catch small mistakes before they become big ones and maintain a high level of quality control. Otherwise, you’re to blame.
- Friendships with coworkers are more difficult. Once you become a manager, a professional boundary exists between you and your direct reports. You can be a friendly boss, but this new power dynamic will limit your ability to build deep personal relationships.
- You’ll be under the microscope. Because you’re in a position of power, everything you do has added weight. You’ll need strong emotional regulation skills to prevent your mood from affecting how you treat team members or behave in meetings.
- You’ll have to work within constraints you don’t like. A good manager advocates for their team at leadership meetings, but corporate budgeting often forces compromises. Recognize that it’s out of your control and use your leadership skills to make it work — even if you don’t agree with their decision.
Some of these reasons will resonate more than others — you might accept the scrutiny of being a boss but can’t bear the thought of firing people. Only you know what your deal breakers are, and it’s important to identify them before proceeding with a career move.
Is it just fear talking?
Before you rule out a managerial position, understand your motivations. Examine the good parts of management with the bad to give you a more balanced view of whether you’d like this kind of job.
For example, it could give a higher salary, job security, and improved benefits like more paid time off and other company perks. You may decide these are worth taking on the extra challenges of managing a team.
You should also be careful you’re not holding yourself back due to limiting beliefs, fear of failure, or fear of success. These psychological phenomena can go against your best interests if you let them. A career coach or mental health professional can help you work through these insecurities if you need extra support.
But at the end of the day, more money might not be worth the stress of moving up the ladder.
I don’t want to be a manager. Now what?
Not wanting to be a manager doesn’t necessarily mean you’re saying, “I don’t want to advance in my career.” You can grow plenty of other ways that aren’t climbing the corporate ladder. Once you understand what’s missing from your current role, you can try to fill those gaps through other career advancement opportunities.
Here are some alternate career moves for you to consider.
1. Become a specialist
Managerial roles come with a certain level of status within an organization. If this sounds appealing, you can achieve similar results by becoming the “go-to” person for your specialized technical skills. A computer programmer who can harvest and interpret large swaths of data would be indispensable for an organization that’s not tech-savvy.
2. Consider consulting
You can choose to be your own boss without traditional people management responsibilities. Consulting, contracting, and freelancing give you control over your work without the scrutiny of employees or people in senior leadership roles. This works particularly well for jobs that don’t require much teamwork to begin with, like copywriting or graphic design.
3. Start a job search
Instead of a promotion, a lateral move to a more prestigious or larger organization looks great on your CV. They might have more advancement opportunities that don’t require leading a team. And as you learn this new company culture, you may decide this is somewhere you’d be comfortable becoming a manager further down the road.
4. Expand your current position
You don’t need a new job title to develop new skills. Instead, work with your boss to bring interesting challenges to your current role. A social media manager who wants to produce videos can suggest filming more content for the company’s online platforms.
Both skills fit under the umbrella of digital content marketing, offer the company something new, and change up the role’s day-to-day.
5. Stay where you are
If you don’t want to be a manager, you may not be done with your current role. It’s normal to plateau within a couple years in a position, but if your current job remains challenging and fulfilling, you likely just aren’t ready to become a manager. You can worry about becoming a manager when you’re bored with your current role or feel more confident in your management skills.
It’s okay to say no
Often, companies use promotions as rewards for employees’ good work. This can be awkward when manager roles aren’t something the employee wants. But saying no means declining a reward, which feels unnatural. If that sounds familiar, you may not want to seem ungrateful or be labeled as a job-clinger.
But you won’t be much help to upper management if you’re miserable in a position you took because you were simply afraid to say no. Here’s how to politely decline a promotion:
- Express gratitude. This is meant to be a reward, so make sure you say thank you. Your boss and higher management noticed all your hard work and want to make you an integral part of the organization. Acknowledge this during your refusal.
- Explain what success means for you. “Leadership” might come naturally to you, but “management” might not fit within your career goals — not yet, at least. Explain what you hope to accomplish as an individual contributor and why staying there is the best option for you.
- Don’t answer right away. When your boss offers a promotion, it’s tempting to say yes right away. These opportunities may not come around often, and you don’t want to miss your shot. It’s okay to ask for time to think about it. This will show professionalism and thoughtfulness while giving you space to prepare for a polite rejection.
- Build a business case. Your employer may think you’re more valuable to them in a management role than in your current one. In this case, you’ll have to explain why it’s better for them to keep you where you are. Try naming long-term projects that you’d like to see through and skills you’d like to master before becoming a manager.
Carve your own path
When presented with a management opportunity, it’s too easy to make a decision out of fear. You might be worried this chance will never come around again, you’re not good enough for the job, or you’ll earn a bad reputation for refusing.
But management isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. You can politely decline or accept a demotion if you feel it’s best for you.
Become a consultant, choose to specialize in your field, or find an exciting opportunity at a different company. These are all examples of what to do if you don’t want to be a manager. Whether you want to maintain your current better work-life balance or pursue other goals, make the decision that better suits your personality and ambitions.