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People quit managers, not jobs [It’s not them, it’s you]


I’ve seen it countless times. A qualified, efficient and motivated new employee, full of anticipation, starts a new job in a new organisation. Then something strange happens, in tiny increments.

The employee starts off motivated and, either in months or years, begins to feel mildly unsatisfied, but can’t quite identify why. They’re content with their salary and the perks are okay. The actual job is, on paper, fitting into their career path.

This mild uncertainty turns to a creeping lack of trust, which eventually morphs into disengagement, outright dislike for their job and the eventual decision to call it quits and move on.

Why do good people leave a job?

The reasons could number into the thousands, but in my 15 years’ experience in coaching teams and working with organisations throughout Australia, I estimate about ninety per cent of employees who resign are moving on because of poor management.

It’s not them, it’s you

The resignation of a good employee costs more than just the time and money it takes to recruit and train their replacement. When they leave, so does company intelligence, often straight to a competitor.

Yet when an employee resigns, many managers point the finger at reasons beyond their immediate control. Or they brush it under the carpet, circulating the farewell card and then proceeding with a ‘business as usual’ approach.

In most cases, they should be pointing the finger at themselves.

I believe the single biggest issue which drives an employee to resign is not the job, salary, workplace environment or the company. Instead it is the quality of the relationship between employees and their direct managers.

Managers spend a great deal of time on operations, systems, strategy, products and services. While these are really important pieces in the performance puzzle, many spend relatively little time developing their people – their greatest competitive advantage.

The research to back this up is somewhat endless. In the largest survey of its kind, global research organisation Gallup surveyed over a million employees and 80,000 managers to examine why employees stay or leave. The research found the immediate boss is the primary reason people stay and thrive in an organisation, and is also the main reason people leave.

Recent research from Indiana University also examined employees across many work sectors and found that a worker’s relationship with their boss is nearly equal in importance to their relationship with their spouse when it comes to overall well-being.

How workers feel about their managers even affects physical health. A study of hospital workers conducted by Chilterns University College in the UK found that nurses working for hospital supervisors with poor management styles had significantly higher blood pressure than nurses working for bosses judged as understanding and considerate. As a result, the nurses with bad bosses had a roughly 20 percent higher risk of heart disease.

In other words, managers simply cannot afford to ignore the magnitude of their roles.

Are you giving your employees heart attacks?

How employees stick around

Successful leadership is not easy. In fact it can be one of the most counter-intuitive and difficult tasks imaginable.

However, there are four key factors which directly relate to a manager’s ability to get their people motivated, engaged and happy to be there:


Lack of clarity regarding outcomes, culture and vision is one of the main reasons why people tune out, lose trust and leave.

It affects both performance and engagement. People actually want to do their best work but without clarity it becomes difficult.

A manager’s number one priority is to make what is expected of their people unambiguously clear. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of this task. This is the hardest thing any manager will do.

Constant Improvement

You don’t see coaches of high-performing sporting teams giving their players feedback every year. Feedback happens all the time. The workplace should really be no different.

A ‘review and improve’ culture is not about micromanagement, it’s about opening the gates for regular communication and constructive feedback.

The process of improving and learning initiates a reward response in the brain, similar to bonuses. People need feedback in order to improve and feel good about their role. People must have clear objectives and positive guidance on what they’re doing well and where they can get better.

Otherwise they will go stale, flounder and eventually move on.

Open and honest communication

This is fundamental to successful leadership and it boiled down to two simple things.

Firstly, big-picture ideas and common themes get people excited and engaged. Secondly, individual coaching and tailored communication makes the message clear and gets issues out into the open before they fester.

Social intelligence

Every day this aspect of leadership becomes more crucial, yet time and time again I see managers who cannot relate to their staff or whose irregular moods bring everyone down.

A manager must develop trust and respect through their treatment of people. They must develop their own self awareness, manage their emotions and display empathy.

A Learned Skill: Improving manager-staff relationships

These are all crucial factors in successful leadership, but it’s not as easy as adhering to four bullet-points.

Effective leadership is a learned skill and one that does not come naturally to most. In fact, many leaders I know yearn for the days when they could just turn up and get their hands dirty doing the work!

Being a good manager is a simple concept but it poses a challenge when we throw in dealing with people on a daily basis, and their ideas of what is important to them.

In my experience, most managers are promoted according to their ability to do a job well, and suddenly find themselves measured on a new set of criteria such as how well they can build a team and get the best out of people.

This probably wasn’t a consideration in any job prior to being a leader. Almost always, a manager is expected to easily transition without the necessary support and skill development.

Daunting, to say the least!

However, managers should spend regular time developing their ability to lead and engage people. Get it wrong and good staff will walk – and in these times, we want good people to stick around.

Despite the inherent challenges, every manager should face the truth about how vital their relationship with their staff is. It cannot be underestimated.

Tony Wilson has invested over 15 years to high performance management and is a sought after executive coach and Director of Teamcorp Australia. His new book, Jack and the Team that Couldn’t See, is out now, RRP $22.95, and available to order at www.tony-wilson.com.au.

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