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Due to a reorganization in my department I was offered a promotion from a software developer to a team leadership role last summer. I accepted.

As things were ramping up, I felt the pains of the reorg. and the demands of my new role were eating into my mental health before Christmas break.

Now I am back from holidays vacation and I feel like I can't take it anymore. I feel like going back to being an individual contributor would reduce my stress levels.

Any advice on how to or if I should request a return to being an individual contributor?

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    Thanks for your question. It would help if the "demands of the new role" could be unpacked in more detail and possibly ordered from most to least problematic for you. This would help focus the answers on particular pain points and thus make recommendations more relevant and focused. Is it the overhead admin duties, people and performance management stuff, project management, expectations from superiors, time in meetings, communication challenges, lack of support? What causes most stress? Categorizing and ranking issues should help you get a clearer picture and chart a path to solving this.
    – A.S
    Commented Jan 23 at 18:33
  • Where are you located. It depends on quite a bit on the country, how much legal protection you get in a case of burnout.
    – Helena
    Commented Jan 27 at 20:41
  • A lot of team lead and management position is far less about delivering everything asked but the management of expectation. Don't just say "yes" to everything that is being asked for, because those above you expect you to say "no" when appropriate. When you do not have output, you say "Our team can't handle that." If they say it is a priority, then make suggestions for what to put in the backburner. You don't just OT until the end of time just because someone asked.
    – Nelson
    Commented Jan 31 at 9:09

4 Answers 4

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Sorry to hear you're struggling.

Stepping back slightly, is there anything you think the company could realistically do to help your mental health while remaining in the leadership role? If so, start asking about that.

If there's not, "how" is relatively easy, depending slightly on your relationship with your manager/employer - you walk into your manager's office1 and say "Hey boss, I'm struggling in this leadership role. Could we start thinking about a way for me to transition back to being an individual contributor?" Hopefully that produces a helpful conversation, which either results in the company finding a way to improve the leadership role, or in your moving back to the individual contributor role. Depending on your relationship and jursidiction, there is a chance that they are difficult.

We can't answer if you should.

1. Yes, I know that's an old school turn of phrase in this new remote working era. The point is that you to it in person, not via e-mail or similar if at all possible.

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    I like that the start of this question focuses on retaining the promotion and seeing what the employer can do for the employee
    – Harrison
    Commented Jan 23 at 15:16
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    Before discussing the notion of moving away from the promotion, maybe the conversation with the manger should look at ways the role itself could be improved... either with training courses or time dedicated to learning from people who have been promoted or hired into related roles (obviously that would be dependant on the size of the company)
    – Harrison
    Commented Jan 23 at 15:16
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    If the company hasn't already provided some sort of training, you should definitely ask them now (unless you are completely set on returning to an IC role). Team leadership and management are new skills that need to be learnt, not a natural progression for an IC. Commented Jan 23 at 17:10
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I'd recommend two books to help you reduce your stress. Both are easy and short reads but will give you some new tools to manage your situation.

Tiny Habits - BJ Fogg

Fogg teaches us how to decompose our goals (reducing stress) into tiny repeatable habits that allow us to move towards positive action. This book changed my life and is worth 10x the price. I read the whole book in a week and immediately started flossing, a habit I had avoided for decades.

Feel Good Productivity - Ali Abdaal

Abdaal demonstrates several techniques for changing our daily work into more positive and meaningful feelings. As an emergency room doctor, he experienced some of the highest professional stress environments and still managed to reduce his negative feelings.

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I've been in this situation before, multiple times. Let me offer a couple narratives, maybe one will fit what you are experiencing.

  1. The organization isn't equipped to support this role. It's very common that the link between a lead IC and manager is very nebulously defined, and this means a manager gives you their runoff they can't handle on top of your actual responsibilities. There's not necessarily any blame here (locally, at least), you are just in the shit with your manager. Welcome to the party! Frequent and informal communication is really key here to identify and address what you aren't able or supposed to take over for. Your manager will appreciate it; they specifically rely on you to bubble up your own problems.

  2. You are naturally overwhelmed in a big jump in responsibility. It's a different, personal issue but the solution is similar. Part of the stress of a manager is developing your reports, especially those you need to trust most. If you are needing help, tell your manager as soon as possible. The difference here is that you may not have been aware of the full extent of your new responsibilities. I'd recommend writing down your daily/weekly responsibilities and confirming that your manager expects all of these from you. If it's truly time to consider taking a step back, both of you will (hopefully) agree in a way that feels right.

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Any advice on how to or if I should request a return to being an individual contributor?

If you want a demotion back to individual contributor, discuss it with your boss. Not everyone can handle the stress of leadership. It happens.

As to if you should request a demotion, I'd advise thinking long and hard about it first. Within a company, this would almost certainly be a one way move. You would be unlikely to get promoted in the future.

If you are willing to have your career stagnate indefinitely, the ask for the demotion. If you think you might want a promotion in the future, look to some other company.

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