When General Motors GM +0.67% this week named Mary Barra, 51, its next CEO, it cracked a century-old glass ceiling. Perhaps more surprising, however: Most workers of Barra’s generation claim they don’t want to be boss, a new survey finds.
Just 32% of men ages 49 to 67 and 21% of women in that age group say they want to eventually occupy the corner office versus, according to a new workplace survey of 2,000 adults by the Pew Research Center. By comparison, 70% of millennial men and 61% of millennial women — defined by the study as ages 18 to 32 — say they’d like to be boss. The members of Generation X — ages 33 to 48 — were somewhat more evenly split, with 58% of men and 41% of women saying they wanted the top job, the survey of more than 2,000 people found. “Boomers have been in the workforce long enough to see the downsides of being in charge,” says Steve Langerud, a workplace consultant and director of professional opportunities at DePauw University.
Indeed, boomers may know something that millennials don’t. “Younger people think they know what it’s like to be the boss, so they want to do it, but more experienced workers know the reality,” says Tim Sackett, president of Human Resources Unlimited Technical Resources, an information technology and engineering staffing firm in Lansing, Mich. His theory: They’re put off by the longer hours and stress that comes with being solely responsible for company performance, strategic decisions and both hiring and firing, he says. Indeed, a 2010 survey for the book “The Secret of CEOs” — which interviewed 150 global heads of business — found that two-thirds often feel frustrated and overwhelmed.
But age, lifestyle and the years left to attain that goal also play a role in employees’ dreams of having the top job, according to the researchers at the Pew Research Center. “These attitudes are shaped in part by where people are in the life cycle,” the report states. “Young adults are more likely than middle-aged and older adults to say they’d like to be the boss someday, possibly because they have more time ahead of them to reach that goal.” Members of Generation X are among the most likely to have children under the age of 18, it adds, which may also be a factor in views about how much additional responsibility they would want to take on at work.
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