Leaving Jobs or leaving Managers?

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Careful selection of employees and managers can have a huge impact on your employee maintenance efforts and employee turnover costs at your organization.

It has been said more than once, and for good reason, that employees leave their bosses and not their jobs. A Florida State University (FSU) study confirms this. The study conducted by FSU professor Wayne Hochwarter and two doctoral students, Paul Harvey and Jason Stoner, shows that 40% of employees work for bad bosses based on survey results.

The reasons why employers score poorly vary from:

  • 39% of workers said their supervisor failed to keep promises
  • 37% indicated their supervisor failed to give credit when due
  • 31% said their supervisor gave them the “silent treatment” during the past year
  • 27% report their supervisor made negative comments about them to other employees or managers
  • 24% indicated their boss invaded their privacy
  • 23% said their supervisor blamed other to cover up personal mistakes or minimize embarrassment

So what does this all boil down to? The effects of having bad bosses in your organization can be devastating. High turnover, poor employee morale, employee theft, diminished customer service, substandard employee performance, lower production, and an organizational culture of fear and mistrust can all be blamed in part on poor bosses and managers. So, how can this be fixed?


If good employees are leaving, look to their immediate supervisor. More than any other single reason, he/she is the reason people stay and thrive in an organization. And that is the reason why they quit, taking their knowledge, experience and contacts with them; often, straight to the competition.

“People leave managers not companies,” writes Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. “So much money has been thrown at the challenge of keeping good people – in the form of better pay, better perks and better training – when, in the end, turnover is mostly manager issue.”

 If you have a turnover problem, look first to your managers. Are they driving people away? Beyond a point, an employee’s primary need has less to do with money, and more to do with how he’s treated and how valued he feels. Much of this depends directly on the immediate manager. And yet, bad bosses seem to happen to good people everywhere.

 A Fortune magazine survey some years ago found that nearly 75 per cent of employees have suffered at the hands of difficult superiors. You can leave one job to find – you guessed it, another. Of all the workplace stressors, a bad boss is possibly the worst, directly impacting the emotional health and productivity of employees. HR experts say that of all the abuses, employees find public humiliation the most intolerable. The first time, an employee may not leave, but a thought has been planted; the second time that thought gets strengthened. The third time, he starts looking for another job. When people cannot retort openly in anger, they do so by passive aggression. By digging their heels in and slowing down. By doing only what they are told to do and no more; by omitting to give the boss crucial information.


What should organizations be doing to improve turnover metrics and increase retention?

It would work for the best if candidates talk to other recent hires to find out what it’s like to work for a particular boss. Firms can also hire people who have worked as temporaries in that same company and hence have accurate expectations as to what the manager is like. Yet another approach is to find a way to let people sample the work by testing the aptitude for the demands of the job and helping candidates realize whether they would be interested or not in this particular job and manager. Managing expectations is mostly about having the courage to have a frank discussion with the applicant about what the job is really about and what the management style is within this particular function.

Another reason people leave is too little coaching and feedback- from their supervisors and that obviously creates a big gap between performance expectation and ‘actual’ on the job performance. That’s just the basic stuff managers need to do, but many managers are just not doing it; 62% of employees said they don’t get enough feedback. Ferdinand Fournies has a terrific book called ‘Coaching for Improved Work Performance.’

Another problem is that employees perceive too few growth opportunities due to lack of manager’s feedback. Often this is because managers don’t know how to be career coaches to their people-so they avoid communication. So firms should provide training on how to be a career coach or do workshops for employees on how to take charge of their careers. Without quality career discussions with their supervisors employees end up leaving and then the manager says, “I wish I’d known because I had plans for you.”

Organizations can also survey employees about their managers. Managers themselves are often not getting feedback and they are not being held accountable for retaining people. It keeps coming back to two things: people skills training and accountability for people results.

Regina Inani

Human Resources Development Specialist

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