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

  • Excellent article. I plan to provide a link in a future blog.

    We agree but believe the root cause is poor senior leadership who either don’t understand or don’t want a culture of coherent teaming where everyone wins by focusing on aligning to the business, culture, and value system to win in the marketplace. What employees see are the implications at their dysfunctional manager level. We created a new solution paradigm for companies called “Human Investment Leadership(TM) to address the issue at all levels but if senior leadership doesn’t want to change we can’t help and usually the best individuals are the ones leaving first.

  • So very true – issues are def. exacerbated when the large Fortune 500 companies do nothing to encourage transfers to other functional groups or projects in which the individual is qualified and/or experienced say after he/she is in current role for 2-3 yrs. The rest of observations noted above are also valid, again with more so with the larger Fortune 500 companies.

  • bklm

    The reason I left my last position was that someone in another department was constantly disparaging to me & my manager did not stick up for me. It’s sad, because I really loved that job.

  • I completely agree with you.

  • Muhammad Zohaib

    Mam, from where i can get your article “Step Up Boss – Why Employees Leave”. Can u email this to me please

  • sandra morgan

    I am surprised that the survey revealed only 39% of managers failed to keep their promises. I totally understand that being a manager is a full time committment, but integrity and getting down & dirty is sadly lacking at this level.
    Good blog, and oh so relevant.

  • cissouma

    it’s very intersting to know because this subject is ths most important thing in the company evolution

  • nursebre29


  • Gary Green

    I have left some really good jobs and companies and people have asked me why did you leave and what is wrong with that job and i reply the job was good and the company looks after it”s people well,but the job is only as good as the boss and as you get older and more confident and secure in your life you decide why should i be unhappy to go to work every day,job satisfaction plays an important part of happiness at work,not everyone realises it at first but it is in everyones subconscious mind,part of the managers duty is to be in contact with the employees needs and it is not always pay rate.The mager can always do the job but the people are the biggest challenge by far.

  • KS1893

    Great article and very timely. I came across this on LinkedIn and found it very odd that very few people had commented on it – maybe because managers are on people’s contact lists (You might want to write something on the truths that aren’t shared on LinkedIn!)

    I left my employer last week and it had a lot to do with my manager, but to be honest, as I reflected on it in my final few days. My employer had provisions for me to skip a level and voice my concerns. I didn’t do this effectively. So I’ll just accept part of the blame and chalk up my lessons learnt.

  • Chrissi Bucklan-Jones

    For me this post sparks an interesting debate around personal responsibility and self-leadership. Relationships – whether with your family, friends, partners or bosses are about development – they are a mirror through which to develop our own awareness of ourselves and if we accept the learning opportunity, grow as individuals. So when I read that employees are leaving jobs because they can’t work with their bosses – I wonder what they are not facing up to or taking responsibility for in this relationship? When others that we are in a ‘relationship’ with generate strong emotional reactions – such as the desire to leave one’s job – there is something being reflected back to us, which is in ourselves. It is commonplace for individuals to say ‘the problem is out there’ instead of facing the truth, with humility and compassion, and learning and growing from the situation.

    So for those people surveyed who said – “Their supervisor failed to keep promises” I would ask, ‘what promises have you failed to keep?’. For those that say, ‘their supervisor failed to give credit when due’, I ask what have they failed to give credit for?… and so on for all the complaints. That’s not to say that Managers or employers don’t get it wrong – but employees have a responsibility too. However it seems to have become quite common for employees to abdicate their responsibility Mangers, leaders or companies who often readily pick this up. Managers’ readiness to accept this responsibility is endemic in leadership; by default, leaders or managers have an in-built desire to take responsibility or to be in control and this is supported by much of today’s accepted management theory – as was described in the article.

    I have worked in the realms of employee engagement for some time now – but reflecting on recent experiences, I am left asking the question “at what point does the employee have to take responsibility for their decision to engage with their work / employers?”. I have listened to senior people in organisations repeatedly ask the question ‘what are you going to do to engage us?’. My response is ‘we can give all the information, communication and reasons to that we can think of – but at some point, you have to decide on whether to engage, or not – and bear the consequences of that decision.’

    The final thought I wanted to share was on ‘respect’. I wholeheartedly agree that respect is essential – for all those we deal with. However it does start with the self – only when we respect ourselves and set appropriate boundaries, will others reflect that respect back to us.

  • alazar Ahmed

    Wow, That is so true with me. I have left them all because the managers were so poor in giving job security, long term vision, a sense of ownership and a time to listen to my heart beat

  • Arturo Arriaga

    I definately Agree you.

  • Amber

    I wholeheartedly agree. People develop relationships with people not organizations. Those in positions of leadership must remember that you will lose good people if you don’t treat people with respect and dignity.

  • Excellent article!! In addition I would add that smart people can make the worst managers and they can be smart enough to fool senior and/or executive management. It seems that corporations today do not value, respect or care about the vast majority of their employees. The mind set seems to be “There are so many people looking for work that if an employee want to leave, let them.” A manager can be the root cause but the problem will only get worse until the corporation starts carrying about their resources. Individual bad managers are like an infected sore, they will continue to fester and spread their infectious nature until corrective measures are taken to eliminate the infection and let the wound heal. One possibility is that a bad manager can grow to be an excellent manager through mentoring, training, etc..

    The first hurdle is identifying that a specific manager has negative attributes that need to be corrected. Trends can be identified when a manager repeatedly reports that one or more specific resources have performance issues. The fact that a manager has a repeated issue with a resource or group should be a red flag for their upper management. The first response should to ask the manager why they didn’t correct the issue the first time it surfaced. An issue that is repeated is an issue that was not resolved the first time. This should be an obvious signal that the manager is lacking needed skills in at least one area. A bad manager will typically lacks the ability/desire to measure their resources equally across the board for like performance. The more subjectively a manager can rate resources, the worse they can treat the resources within their group. If HR and upper management would be more willing to move resources from one organization to another within the company they would see a reduction in employee attrition. This is a fact. I have seen cases where a resource can not find success within an organization yet shines when transferred to another organization. Whether it’s one resource or many suffering under a bad manager, employee retention cost less than the cost of replacing a resource. In my humble opinion HR through the leadership and guidance of senior and executive management can constructively correct the issues of bad managers and at the same time retain the good resources once see the problem and choose to correct it. In my humble opinion dealing with the bad apple(s) is far more cost effective than throwing the entire bushel of good apples out.

  • The bane of every workaholic’s existence is a bad boss.

    A good worker cannot stay at a good company if the good company has the good worker working under the guidance of a bad boss.

    The bad boss may think they’re hurting just the employee when they use their insensitive paws on the good worker but, there’s no way to hurt a dedicated employee without ultimately hurting the company which retains the bad boss|consultant…

    Thus, the challenge to every good company is to reduce the number of bad bosses to whom they trust their good employees.

  • keerthi rajapakse


    Very interesting and end less comments.Keep on commenting on the issue or situation.Keep on reading others opinions very openly. why dont you think differently and change your mind? How you came to your final opinion so fast? You may be having your own experiences and feelings. That may be true for many but faults for many too. No researcher will find a lasting solution for this question until he realize the wisdom of mankind or may be some thing similar to that…I do not expect any one to agreed to this comment too.

  • Alison

    I agree, what also is important especially for a new hire is watching how the boss interacts with other employees and whether or not existing employees have respect for the boss.

  • Management certainly matters!

  • Robert C. Campbell

    How so true! I have left my job for the reasons on Diana Vanbraban”s Checklist. I believe these words in the article, “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?” I’m self-employed now, new on the block as a freelance, contractor.

  • John Q

    Eric, if I understand you correctly, that there is no place for “mushy stuff” in business and that you really don’t care about your employees feelings (and presumably, therefore, opinions), then you are setting yourself up for failure. In this case, you will have poor organisational communication exacerbated by a lack of empathy. You will therefore receive little or no “bad news” from your employees so that, when things go wrong, it will come as a surprise to you. The resilience of your workforce will diminish over time and be less productive. You will have high churn in your staff and this will cause both productivity and profitability to suffer. If “mushy stuff” has an element of different ways of thinking from your own, you will be rejecting some forms of innovation and the strengths emanating from the diversity of people in your workforce. But you may have little diversity if you employ only people who think as you do. A focus on profitability does not exclude a sound approach to workforce management and good communication. On the contrary, they go hand in hand.

  • Another reason people leave is because they find that either their boss’s or their own values are not necessarily aligned with those espoused by the company. This can have a profound effect on their productivity and esteem in the long term, although for a long time people may just feel that something’s ‘not right’ without being able to place it. How often do we hear of people who leave a ‘great’ job and are so much happier afterwards?

  • Olman Castro

    Although I too, agree wih most on he article, you failed to mention the obsessive compulsive manager. The one that has no work-life balance and expects everyone else to follow suit.

  • Fernando Freitas

    good article… Before leave any job for better proposals we must think about it!!!We always take a risk on this.

  • Imad Rehman

    True ! i also had problems with my sick account manager … He was an real asshole … but i bribed him to get my life back ..lmao !!

  • Eric, I agree that there are too many corporations and busnesses in this country that perpetuate a culture of indifference to the needs of employees. The only functional response is to be the change that you seek. By treating your subordinates with concern and respect, you may find over time that your bosses may join you in your quest.

  • Dijon Niehaus

    Good article! and Melanie’s article !

    I left for the same reasons some times. I agree with Melanie Chisnall as well. My philosophy won’t change as I move into senior management…..why…because of who I am and because I have worked for some people who were *let’s say not great* and I have worked for awesome bosses-(I had to leave due to other factors)….look at my LinkedIN profile intro-that is who I am….hopefully I won’t go over to the dark side.

    It is an awesome feeling having earned the respect of other good people like your boss, peers and people working for you (yes, even the people on a “lower level”). When people call you years later and ask you to come back, or they are willing to resign and come to work for you…..you know you made a positive difference in their lives…because we do take our day’s experience home to our spouses/g/f’s/partners….and I don’t want to be upset when I get home and she doesn’t want an angry husband to walk through the door.
    Here’s hoping I’ll be a good, honest and fair boss soon.

    Remember: Respect is earned not imposed/forced.

  • Deuce

    Priceless! Maybe the two of you can do group therapy;)

  • Deuce

    Great point. And one that proves what I have always said (that has never NOT been proven true).

    99% of all problems in all businesses are management problems and vice versa.

    As far as me and my company are concerned this is the golden rule of business. This article is just one more reason why. The losses that don’t show up on the balance sheet are the most treacherous. Losing and good employee and his ideas, because of an inept manager, could cost your business more than it has ever made. History is full of these tales and we’ve all probably seen a few of our own.

    Not lost on me….

  • Lesley Wyldbore

    Interesting reading, thank you for your insights

  • Jim

    Great info. Thanks!

  • Shannon

    This article raise some interesting points. As a previous retail store manager I can state that it is very important to really get to know who is working for you, what motivates each employee individually, what they like about work what they don’t like, and understand if when something isn’t done to standard is it due to lack of training on the managers part or due to a lack of will on the employees part.
    As a manager it is very crucial to not just “talk the talk but to walk the walk”! In turn I have found that this is how a manager earns respect from their employees. As managers it is important to keep in mind that Respect isn’t just given it is earned!

  • Deuce

    I have done this, and elevating your concerns to someone who hardly knows you and has been getting a one sided of view of you from that manager for as long as you’ve been employed, NEVER works in your favor. It just leaves a paper trail that paints you as a malcontent.
    Trust yourself. If you weren’t happy, you probably weren’t gonna be. Get over the brief bout of Stockholm syndrome and go out and be all you know you can be with someone who desires to foster that. You’ll never look back, trust me.

  • The Reals

    I worked for a large company where, after a particularly bad quarter, managers were told to give their employees “D” performance ratings across the board so that they wouldn’t have to give any raises. The managers all agreed and did so willingly. Nothing about this verifiable real world situation rectifies with your straw man arguments. We are all people. A manager is just as likely to be a rotten person as an employee. Your post seems to categorically deny this undeniable fact. I have quit many jobs for reasons like this, leaving only a trail of patents, technologies and improvements that made the company 10-1000 times what they were paying me while treating me like crap. Those companies would still tell you that I was one of those ‘successful employees’ even though I wouldn’t say the same about them.

    Speaking in superlatives is ignorant and juvenile. OF COURSE there are bad managers and companies, and this is what the article is speaking to, not your straw man reality from planet nowhere. And in those cases the best recourse is to move on, and let the rotten rot. The fact that you don’t know that a former employee didn’t make some landmark discovery for another employer is not enough for you to say that you were fine without them. Its just baseless posturing.

    I run my own business now and I treat my employees like solid gold because that’s what they are. And given our two vastly different philosophies on the topic who do you think the vast majority are going to want to work with and for? Your aggressive denialism of any management obligation whatsoever to employee engagement is so directly the type of situation the article is speaking to that its almost comical.

  • Amy

    Eric, you need to think about what you have written. It clearly bothers you that nobody seems to care about your feelings, yet you treat those around you with similar disrespect. Making others miserable is not going to make you happy! Corporations today sometimes loose the run of themselves, in that they are so interested in being a success, they mistreat the very people that can make it happen. Employees are the heart and soul of every company. They represent the business and its ethos every day, in or out of work. Unhappy employees are unlikely to represent the company in a favorable fashion and it does matter. You should embrace change Eric. Forget how your superiors behave, concentrate on being respectful to others. Treat others how you wish to be treated and if nothing else, you will find yourself in a much more pleasant environment at work.

  • Gene

    What more needs to be said. Promoting personnel to management position doesn’t necessarily mean they will fit the Position. Some managers are promoted through the buddy system. People skills are key to leading a team, whether a big or small team. On the technical management note, some technical people just want to do their job. Ask before promoting them to management. I have had both very good and very bad technical managers. I personally think being a manager is easy. Lead or get out of the way.

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  • Trailer trash workplace

    I just left a company where they lost 8 middel level staff in eight weeks because of the three top managers were unbearable. Soon after this I was actually asaulted at work by a more junior staff memeber and they did nothing about it so I resigned. It does not get any worse than that.

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  • francoise

    Very difficult to be a good manager/director, you have to be a boss, a mother/father, a friend and a teacher of course !….i must have been ok as we “sold” our staff to our manager with the business a few years ago !… and yet, i am confident that still at time some thought i was a “bitch”..

  • The reason why is because managers don’t care … and the reason why managers don’t care is because manager’s manager doesn’t care; and the higher you climb the hierarchy

  • Paul Blocklyn

    Thank you for this article. I have left more positions than I care to remember because of an impossible boss. Don’t ever let an individual like this ruin your professional life!

  • Andrew Webb

    All these things about poor management are all certainly valid.
    But the question you must ask yourself is are you in the right job?
    Doing a job just to pay a big mortgage, or please the wife, or because you think it might look good on your CV are all the wrong reasons.
    It’s far far more important to find something you like doing. Sod the money, you will be less depressed and get more out of it.

    One of the saddest, most pathetic things I used to hear in one of my previous jobs was colleagues banging on about what they would do with their winnings, in the unlikely event of a Lottery win. Or bitching about the failings of other colleagues and managers. Everything except own up to the fact that they’re in the wrong career, doing work they don’t like with people they don’t like.

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  • Terrence Bocage

    This reminds me of the UPS commercials where Bob comes up with the good ideas for logistics but the management either takes credit for it (“WE did Bob, WE did”, with his hand on Bob’s shoulder in a forceful manner) or won’t give credit where it’s due (woman saying, “I wasn’t being funny Bob”, as if to say good job but I’m not very friendly). Bob looks clearly stressed out.

    If you need a way out, start reading Richard Wolff, A Cure for Capitalism. Not promoting his book outright, but it gives good ideas to help start co-op businesses.

  • anon

    thats nothing my direct boss told me three weeks into the job that he would get rid of me, so i started looking for work elsewhere and then when i tried to do that found out that he’d made it impossible for me to get another job which i am disgusted by. Not only that i also got a lot of threats whilst i worked for them and have had nothing but trouble since don’t work for monitise.

  • Ralfine

    People think there is no place in business for emotions. But in fact many successful companies wouldn’t exist without these emotions. Buying a Porsche or Ferrari is purely an emotional decision. On a rational level these cars are totally useless. They cost a ton of money in purchase and maintenance and operation, and you can bareley take a purse with you, forget your kids, parents, pram or wheelchair.
    Maybe America is such a sh*tty place because emotions are made illegal?

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  • A good manager can make a world of difference in their employees’ morale. It’s important for management to cultivate a healthy relationship with their co-workers whom they supervise. Great article.