Employees leave managers, not companies

Today I found out one of my good friends left their position at a well known technology company that many people would “kill” to work for. I asked him why he left, expecting an answer like “I needed more of a challenge”, or “I outgrew the position and there was no where for me to grow”, but instead he said “I couldn’t work with my boss”.

As he said this I thought about all the people leaving their positions because they simply couldn’t work with their manager. The work was stimulating, the team was great but their manager was unbearable to work with. In these situations, what seems to happen is companies lose good employees on a regular basis and all the managers sit around a conference table trying to address employee attrition, developing strategies for employee retention.

Employee retention is a real problem that all managers face. The key to being able to keep the good employees is not so much the salary you offer them or even the actual work, it is more about how you manage them and how they feel working under you as their manager. Do they feel valued within your team? Do you provide them with timely feedback? Do they feel your support as a manager leading their team or company?

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who was best known for creating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which can be seen below.

Source: Diana Vanbrabant

As a manager we are able to affect three levels of needs within this hierarchy – safety, love & belonging and esteem. These 3 levels represents different elements within the workplace. The first level – safety refers to job security, career progression as well as health benefits and perhaps even gym membership. How do your employees feel about their job? Are they constantly afraid of cuts due to the recession? Do they know that as a manager you care about their wellbeing as well as their work?

The next level is love and belonging. People want to feel as if they are making a difference and are part of something bigger. As a manager how you approach giving out tasks, mentoring employees and interacting with them show how much you value their work. It is your duty as a manager to show employees how their work is making a difference and is part of a much larger plan. The worst thing for an employee is for them to think they are just another cog in a machine.

The last level is esteem. This refers to confidence and respect. It is important to manage your staff in terms of how they feel towards the work and to their peers and managers. Respect within the workplace is extremely important and can be the difference between keeping a good employee or losing them. Training and development when necessary is a good way to boost confidence and equip staff with the right skills. Investing in your staff to help them upskill benefits both the company and the employees. Zig Ziglar once said that there was only one thing worse than training (or growing) your staff and having them leave, and that is not training or developing them and having them stay.

A Florida State University (FSU) professor and two of his doctoral students have conducted a study which highlights the impacts of an abusive or poor manager/boss. They surveyed over 700 people who work in a variety of jobs and asked for their opinions of supervisor treatment on the job.

The study revealed these results:

39%: Their supervisor failed to keep promises
37%: Their supervisor failed to give credit when due
31%: Their supervisor gave them the “silent treatment” in the past year.
27%: Their supervisor made negative comments about them to other employees or managers.
24%: Their supervisor invaded their privacy.
23%: Their supervisor blames others to cover up mistakes or minimize embarrassment

Source: Florida State University

These points act as a good checklist to see how you are managing your staff because at the end of the day employees leave managers and bosses, not companies!


7th Feb 2013 – This article made it to #1 on Hacker News. Here is the thread so you can see the discussion that went on – http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5176140

  • sanjeev

    Good one. I strongly agree with the author’s viewpoint.

  • Melissa

    Couldn’t agree more. I’m dying to leave my current company. My boss blatantly said that she didn’t give a damn about other peoples’ feelings. All she wants is results. Unfortunately, I can’t leave however, until I find work elsewhere.

  • Gigi Abraham

    This is a great write up and very true. Many bosses do not know how to cop-up with their role and they feel threatened by promising and capable subordinates. Hence, these bosses try to keep these subordinates dry, keep away from the action and try to find faults. With the only objective of profit, owners seldom do not look into these long term qualitative aspects in the business, unless they fall falt on the face!

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  • lynda

    for the same reason I left my last job, when I nformed my manager with my decision , she was stunned and shocked, she did her best to keep me, but it was very late, it took me a big effort and long time to set me free,
    but now I feel much better with the actual manager, whatever the, responsibility and the amount of work has doubled three times more

  • boumedjmadjene

    I agree with you Sir , i had a very good salary within Eon Algeria ? PETROLEUM company located in hassi messaoud , i left the company because of my manager , he did not treating me well , always make me a feel that i am not thing , and i was there because he thought that he made me a favour. He was like a devil for me.

  • thatguyknows

    Both a very sad reply and an incredibly naive view of employee attrition.

  • RoBPrO

    I have worked in a very corporate, brand, and pyramid run company. The article is true, but having been in a position were both employees and management count on you for guidance. I found the position to impersonal and creating to much friction between the different levels. Many companies have gone to a military style hierarchy, where the chiefs are not supposed to show any emotions. The facility I worked at was a training facility for their management, so not only did I have to train regular employees, but each level had to train the one immediately above them. (Lead men, supervisors, manager, and so on.) It was nice at first because each group above had to work a few hours a day, learning exactly what the employees under them had to endure, until they learnt all the jobs they supervised. I could soon tell after getting the training position, and what I had to do to get it, that their was no room for friendly banter between levels and soon found out that the consequences for being caught, for doing so, was punished quickly and swiftly. As one person found by, having to come upon a group of golfers, but employees under him, was seen having a drink with them, in the club house bar. The person had to move to another position in the company, and when it happen again, even thou they were no longer their immediate supervisor, they were asked to resign. I’ve also seen a few quit because it was so impersonal that they could not handle it. It was the best paying job I had found, but the company had plan s to change the shifts, and with low seniority, I would have been stuck in a 12 hour 3 day a week job, working Saturday Sunday, and Monday. So I decided to move on.

  • Anshu B

    Good one. I strongly agree with the viewpoint.

  • Anshu B

    Good one. I strongly agree with the viewpoint.

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  • Amuah A

    I absolutely agree with you. However, I am now in a managerial role and because of my previous experience with my boss, I try to develop a good relationship with all my staff but some of them abuse it. My recent challenge has been where to draw the line. It’s easy in theory but in practice, you’ll need to be able to draw the line with each staff. I hope to get there one day.

  • Camifel

    Good articule. Although everybody says that our carecer is made by ourselves, if we do not have a cause and a boss Who we can share the same values and príncipes, for shure it dose not worth work for.

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