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

  • akinkurtulan

    even it is correct across countries

  • Nogungho

    After reading your take on management responsibility vs employee responsibility in the workplace I couldn’t disagree more. The management of any company is responsible for creating the working environment employees spend most of their week in. If you are suggesting employees should manage managers, why is there the need for management at all?
    A manager is appointed to a position to do just that “Manage” and that responsibility includes managing his staff and their welfare in the workplace. In my experience most poor performance issues have been as a result of bad management, bad top down communication and creating a stifling work environment which deters employees from wanting to perform better. I have had many situations where company performance was low, company morale was low and staff attrition high – all because of bad management approaches. All it takes to get the best out of employees is to create an environment which promotes development, communication and team work – company results follow automatically.
    Finally an employees ability to govern their development and take responsibility of their career is always in the hands of the manager within the company they are employed, its the managers responsibility to identify good employees for development or retention against bad.
    I have never heard of an employee firing themselves – they resign!

  • I feel your pain.

  • all anyone ever wants is some mutual respect, and to feel a sense that you belong somewhere, which after all, you’ll probably spend more time than with your own family.

    When that evaporates, it’s time to move on…

  • Who knows who of the two were at fault? Are we all primed to jump to the conclusion? it takes two to tango.

  • That’s a difficult one 🙂

  • I think you have a problem with your keyboard. A quick analysis indicates a problem with the ? key

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  • Wan T

    Seagull Management – very true lol.

  • So they did a study, but you have strong opinions? I look to a manager in part to get things out off the way so I can get done what he/she wants done. Managing the manager too often means trying to get your manager out of the way to get done what they want done. And if any prospective manager ever tells you, “I’m too busy to micromanage”, my experience is they’re so busy because they’re micromanaging.

  • neel

    I absolutely agree with this post . Most managers does not even know what is the real meaning to lead the team.

  • Anon

    This is awesome. I find my boss does something like this as well. Just not to the effect that yours did. I like the fact that before I joined my current start up they had nothing. Kinda like riding a bike to work. I gave them an Audi A8. But yet my boss still has to bitch and make changes that he has no idea about. Move that left a little bit, let’s change the company tagline to this blumbering mess of English. Etc.. At least he pays good.

  • I disagree, I must be one of the few! I plan on leaving my company – a huge multinational – but on the basis of how the company operates. It’s like trying to work with one arm tied behind my back all the time, and I know there I’ll never make an impact or reach my full potential. The two managers I’ve had while I’ve been there have been excellent, so much so that I know I will feel bad leaving as I would hate to let them down they’ve done so much for me! If it was just a case of manager I could switch teams, but I know I’ll have the same problems, and there’s nothing any manager in there can do. Just wanted to point out that there at least some good managers in the world!

  • Jefke

    In some cases the proposition may be valid but it is definitely not always the reason to quit. I have had fantastic bosses during my career and I just moved on because I saw better opportunities elsewhere. You have to find your own way to contribute to the wider organisation. Your boss is largely irrelevant.

  • Gokhan KARAGOZ

    You can not name such kind of “un-management” as a HARD BUSINESS…
    The key of MANAGEMENT is this, that’s why they are managers..Otherwise we can find easily many hitlers to manage companies.
    As world has many crisis, and expected many in near future, people should know “everythig can change in a minute and you can be out of the game”…
    I’m totally against that never treat my staff such a mean way and never humiliate people.
    Management not means cruelty.

  • joe

    great post !!

    when you are forced to leave and they tell you it’s your fault you start asking what’s wrong with you (they said I did a good job)
    and then you realize that:
    15 employees did the same before
    the company is solid and also well known for this kind of approach
    after you another one got fired (not forced to leave) because caught by police selling illegal substances

    well I guess it wasn’t me after all !! and I was a good tango dancer too 🙂

  • Caty

    I fully agree with you, Jefke. I know many people that even felt sorry leaving their excellent boss behind. Sometimes employees have to look in the mirror first before blaming the manager.

  • Carol Kappes

    Yes, very true!

  • Parvesh V. Merchant

    I agree 100%. Most CEO’s forget- business is about the people that make the numbers happen, not about the numbers only.

  • Parvesh V. Merchant

    I thought the job of the employee was ” to do their very best and a bit more”. I always thought that managers managed and DIDN’T need to be managed????

  • Parvesh V. Merchant

    My condolences 🙂

  • Amanda

    What if the entire sales team has left or been forced to leave in the last year due to bad management of it people. All have been top performers, but the performace has dropped under this new Manager. What then?
    You are only as good as you boss will allow.

  • boece

    My current manager is very hands-off, which is good and bad. He’s a very low-key, mellow kind of person who doesn’t engage a whole lot unless you actively engage with him. He personally is a homebody who doesn’t appear to be very extroverted or outgoing, eats his lunch out of the vending machine daily, and it probably wouldn’t occur to him to have team-building exercises, even if it was just taking us out to lunch as a group once a quarter. I’ve had managers at the opposite extreme who wanted face-to-face meetings with the entire group 2-3 times a week – and this was in a company that had about 100 employees total and only 4 people in our group total, including the manager. He was a very smart guy, a bit older gentlemen, and I liked him very much but he was a bit of a control freak on the micro-management scale somewhere. Regardless, I don’t think any of them would necessarily have driven me out of the job. I would definitely leave if I had an oppressive, mean-spirited manager. I just don’t see the need to put up with that kind of thing and my skills are in enough demand where I wouldn’t have to.

  • Ahmad Usman Khawaja

    I totally agree with this post as in my 10+ years of experience, I have seen many managers who were very much difficult to handle. Some of the reasons were due to cultural differences, language differences etc. I strongly believe with my HR experience that you cannot be called a Manger if you don’t act and behave like a Manager.

  • Joe

    Great article! It’s amazing how such a simple concept is commonly avoided or ignored by so many organizations.

  • Great post. When organisations start focusing more on PEOPLE they will achieve greater profit as well as providing greater fulfilment and meaning for the work they do and the reason why the company exists in the first place. Unhappiness is not a good recipe for engagement and excellence.

  • Marcus

    Agree 100% I worked for almost six years as a happy, pro active and positive member of staff, after the six years a new production director was introduced and he was to be polite and complete and utter waste of time. I lasted two painfull years and after the 100th conversation about my problems with him (to him) i constructed my own downfall and left for pastures new without even a job to go to.

  • Matt

    “There are no bad soldiers, only bad officers.” Napoleon Bonaparte

  • IHateMyBoss

    This pretty sums up a certain IT manager working for PEC. Lets just say there are a lot of unhappy developers there.

  • Here’s the link to the article for everyone to check out – http://www.news24.com/MyNews24/Step-Up-Boss-Why-Employees-Leave-20120813

  • Ahmed

    Agree %100 the fact is this how you can run successful business

  • Jovita

    @Melaine yes, indeed. You are right. It is very difficult for the Contemporary Managers to appreciate and Recognise their Co-workers and it is a Shame! Just wondering, how they become Managers, when they don’t have “People Management Skills” Where it went wrong? Is that the Company Hired the Wrong persons for the role or once he became the Manager, his “Attitude Changed”!

  • Margarita Krasteva

    Sad,but very true! The worst combination is when you really love your job but there is no way that you could become something more in the company and you have some problems with the manager. Problems that are actually more of a human kind not really work related!

  • steve

    Check out the book “Progress Principle” for an even better breakdown of the factors that make people content/discontent in their jobs.

  • banu

    I have seen many many bosses who have the same problems. At the end i come to a conclusion that the people is leaving the company which have the bosses who has low qualified than the people who are managed by him/her. Respect is important between the boss and employee relations. This respect is not only coming from the employee and also should come from the boss to the employee. Be sure that when this respect relation is lost, the company suffers not the bosses and not the employees.

  • Giuliano

    I faced this kind of situation in my last job and I left the company as well, besides the internal politicking exhausting and disgusting, most of the company managers were unprepared in people management, my manager was even young though antiquated, archaic, outdated and totally demotivating. I left this company which was the number one in market share in its segment and where those unfamiliar with the internal issues, would kill to work for…

  • Anon

    Agreed, my last boss did all of that and more. Plus she would gossip and bad mouth other people in the office to each other trying to cause friction in the team. All I can say is people don’t last with managers like that. Am now working in a new company and they are great.

  • Anon

    I disagree with this. I tried very hard to work things out with my manager. Sat down for meetings, came up with improvement plans for both sides and she would smile, nod and then as soon as we walked out of the meeting was bitching about me to the other people in the office. Half the time the manager’s are bad and they don’t want to admit it. Unfortunately, situations like this rarely improve and the best course of action can be to move on.

  • TJ

    Absolutely! It happened all those things on the list to me before and yes, this was the exact reason why I left my job in more than 1 occasion! Really sad that some managers just don’t know how to actually manage people!

  • Julie Riedel

    I’ve always maintained that people leave people, not companies or jobs. No matter how stressful the job or how chaotic the company, a strong partnership with one’s manager makes it all bearable. Once that partnership is gone (see FSU list above), it’s just a matter of time.

  • Julie Riedel

    Seagull management. Classic. 😀

  • George Papadopoulos

    That is so true…But, there is another crucial factor playing its role: employees need to work to make a living, which makes them depend on their managers and bosses. What happens if you have a lousy boss, but at the same time you are in serious need and you have no other alternatives?

  • SC

    I literally handed in my notice yesterday morning as my manager is giving causing me high level of stress and anxiety attacks. I am going to send this article to the head of my department as my exit interview.

  • André

    It’s very sad that people leave their job because of their manager. If they can’t deal with their manager, it is their problem. I’ve seen blooted managers, people managers, etc. I never ever had any problems with my Manager. Simply, because if I can’t deal with my manager I bypass him or leave him out of the business. A leader is born and not made… and most managers are made ‘leaders’, but they aren’t. It’s not about soft skills or hard skills, a true leader knows how to deal with their personnel. And it’s far way to easy to leave a good company just for the so called manager… I manage my own stuff, work, etc, my manager only has to do his stuff and work.

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  • Joe

    While I get some of this… really, who hasn’t had a bad boss, the idea that it is just a bad manager is a really simplistic. No manager works in isolation and if you tried to address the issue and had to leave anyway, it’s probably fair to say that your manager’s boss was fully aware of what was going on. I’ve sat in more than one meeting and heard a CEO or senior manager brush off bad behavior by a manager because he “got results” or because he knew how to get it done and was willing to do the dirty work.

    I think this concept is a divisive one and doesn’t advance the conversation one bit. It seems to to say that if you got rid of the “bad manager”, then things would be okay. Would they really be okay? You have to look at the company as a whole to really understand why it has become dysfunctional. My question is, why does the company allow the manager to behave this way? Do they know what he/she is doing? Do the company officers know this? Do they care? What messages are being sent to the manager that have led him to believe that he can behave inappropriately? Is there a space here for an employee to examine their own behavior?

    Separating the behavior of managers and the companies they work for makes no sense. And many of the comments talk about “managers” as if they were some kind of species of human separate from the rest of us. Would it be better if there were no managers? At the end of the day, the manager is an employee also and has to answer to someone.

    Common sense will tell you that if you are being treated badly by a manager and complain and nothing is done, then you’d probably best move on as the problem is probably bigger than you think. I’ve had my share of bad experiences with managers that were abusive, disrespectful and inconsiderate and it’s brutal, I know. This usually told me more about the company as a whole than just about the manager. I’ve also had great managers that have taught me lessons that I have carried my entire career and while they were hard-learned, I am better for having known these people.

    Many of these comments sound like grousing and I’ll be honest, some are outright childish. I know some of you will probably take offense but the fact is that no job, company or manager is responsible for making you feel loved or complete or for fulfilling Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for you. Hard work, professionalism, respect and good manners (sorely missing in today’s workplace) should be the bar we set and then we can move from there to some of these richer concepts like safety, love & belonging and esteem.

  • Derek

    Ultimately, one needs to look a bit farther to see where an issue lies.

    If one employee has an issue with a manager and leaves, blaming the manager, you are probably right. However, when the entire work unit (or vast majority) has an issue with the manager, then there is most likely an issue with the manager.

    I recently fired my manager and, while I am presently struggling to replace the income due to a variety of circumstances, am so much better for it. The stress levels and general grumpiness are gone. Of course, I was a piece of the issue, but a lot of what others have noted – poor communication skills, incomplete / inappropriate expectations, boorish behaviour, and so forth – definitely played a part.

    Before joining the ranks of working for myself, I had a variety of managers. The thing is, when I look back, all the managers I would call “good” had leadership skills. It didn’t really matter how good they were as managers, but if they exhibited leadership, people loved working for them.

    In far too many instances, a manager isn’t so much hired, as being handed the reins to their group (at least at the first line management ranks). They may not entirely have wanted it (except perhaps additional money), and almost everyone seems to see themselves as better than they are.

    From my experience, there are simply too many managers out there who have the position, but not the best skill set, to be managers.

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  • Sadly but true, a negative impact from one manager can demotivate an entire workforce, therefore leadership training and management of leadership is top of mind and in fact crucial for a companys ability to survive. A high percentage of managers are hired because of their knowledge skills or because of positive impact on superior; social and emotional intelligence are highly important skills if not the most important skills in todays leadership. This is why recruitment companies are important in the process of talent management; outsourcing talent management will evoke higher objective and rate of success in hiring the best manager for the right position, and not just making the easiest (most obvious) choice when hiring a leader or manager.

  • fenton

    One of the biggest problems I see in the Consulting space is that managers also have to be 100% chargable, therefore have little/no time to really dedicate themselves to managing their staff. Have little time for creating a true team. Many feel isolated moving from one project to another, often feeling they may as well be contractors.