What Comes Next When Your Manager Leaves

when your manager leaves

By Yvonne Milosevic

We’re often so obsessed with our own career progression we forget that the boss can move on, too. Suddenly, you’re stressing over how your team will continue to function once the linchpin is no longer there. But it’s not just dealing with the angst and uncertainty—their exit might also cost you materially. When your manager leaves, it could impact your future pay and promotions, says Wharton professor Matthew Bidwell. He and co-authors JR Keller of Cornell and Wharton doctoral candidate Minseo Baek have published a paper exploring how managerial mobility affects the staff left behind.

They decided to focus on managers, says Bidwell, “because I think for most people, they’re the single most consequential person in their career.” In a Knowledge at Wharton podcast interview, he explains the main takeaways from the study, which looked at eight years of data gleaned from a major healthcare company.

Without a doubt, the most distressing finding was that when a manager leaves, their staffer subsequently receives smaller pay raises and bonuses—and lower performance evaluations—than they would otherwise. These adverse effects were also worse for people who had worked with the same manager over many years. (They found little to no such effect on employees who had spent only a short time with a new boss.)

Bidewell says the reason for this reaction is simple. “The longer I work with a manager, the better I get to know him or her. I understand what they need and how to supply it; they understand what I need and how to supply it. We work well together.”

But “when we sever that connection, when the manager leaves, I have to go back to starting to build a new relationship with a new manager. That takes time, and I lose some of those benefits of the relationship when that’s happening.”

The Inertia Snaps When Your Manager Leaves

While potentially stressful, this turn of events can make you reevaluate your own career trajectory. A supervisor’s departure can shake us out of our complacency. You don’t want to mess up a good thing when you’re vibing so well with your manager. Because you’re coasting comfortably, you’re not motivated to seek new challenges and opportunities. But when a new person steps into the picture, it’s an ideal time to reassess your future.

A manager’s departure was also associated with people getting promoted into other groups within the organization, Bidwell notes.

“When I get this kind of push — my manager is leaving and I don’t know this new person so well — then I’m more likely to think about new opportunities, and some of those could actually be things that are better for me,” he added.

Your Next Steps

Do you enjoy your job and want to continue with the organization when your manager leaves? Then consider stepping up your game. Now’s the time to stretch and get out of your comfort zone. Ask for feedback about your job performance from your outbound boss (or their direct report). Offer to take some tasks off their plate while they tie up loose ends. Whether you’re angling for a promotion or just want to show the new manager you’re a team player, these savvy moves will ensure you get noticed.