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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Management

3 Reasons Employees Leave Their Managers

When I was 17, in an attempt to save up for the gorgeous (but absurdly unaffordable) prom dress of my dreams, I picked up an after-school job at a cards and gift shop. My boss, the owner of the store, was a tall man with a short temper who spent most of the workday barking orders (“Hey you, cover the register!”) and asking me to lie to customers (“Hey you, don’t tell them that item is on sale!”). And, yes, he referred to me as “hey, you” for the entirety of my employment.

Needless to say, as soon as I saved up enough cash to purchase something halfway decent from the clearance rack at Lord & Taylor, I jumped ship and never looked back.

In short, my boss made my time at work unbearable—and that’s obviously why I left. It turns out, I’m not alone—Florida State University conducted a comprehensive study to analyze the reasons why dissatisfied employees leave their jobs, and it revealed that most of the time, employees leave managers, not companies.

If you’re a manager, you certainly can’t please everyone—but you can make sure your behavior isn’t actively encouraging your workers to leave. Read on for three common reasons why employees ditch their bosses, plus what you can do to turn them around.

1. They Don’t Communicate Goals

A friend of mine once had a job that required her to attend regular department meetings, which were aimed to communicate, recap, and evaluate the team’s goals. Unfortunately, these get-togethers turned out to be terribly unproductive—they were long and disorganized, and the team often left the conference room more confused about what to do next than they were when they entered.

And ineffective meetings are just the beginning. Many managers fail to properly communicate company, department, and individual goals on a daily basis, which makes it impossible for their employees to meet those expectations. Managers often assume that employees fully understand their job descriptions from the get-go and don’t need any additional guidance by the way of measurable goals.

But, this is a dangerous approach; if employees don’t understand exactly what’s expected of them, they’ll have a hard time completing their tasks. And when they don’t feel like they’re being successful at work, they’ll leave.

What You Can Do

As a manager, it’s important that you clearly communicate your overall mission and goals to your employees. You can do this in several ways: Meetings can be valuable when they’re run effectively (e.g., make sure to follow a clear and concise agenda, email detailed minutes to your team afterward, solicit feedback and questions from the group, and hold them on a regular basis).

Beyond meetings, keep the lines of communication open by offering constant feedback to your employees and checking in with them regularly. It’s important for your team to be aware of the progress they’ve made, what still needs to be done, and what their next steps should be. This kind of continuous interaction can go a long way to enhance performance: The more you talk about your expectations and goals, the more likely your employees will be to reach them.

2. They Don’t Make a Personal Connection

Even if they’ve mastered big-picture company communication, managers often fail to engage employees on a day-to-day basis. Because they’re frequently overwhelmed with their own work and responsibilities, managers don’t always have the time to initiate conversations that cover anything more than perfunctory discipline or a quick “good job.”

But without meaningful one-to-one conversations, leaders can’t connect with their employees on a professional or a personal level. And that connection is more important than you might realize—employees often look to their supervisors to help them feel more connected to the entire company. An employee who doesn’t feel connected to her manager won’t feel like a vital part of the company, and without that bond, there’s not much holding her to her job.

What You Can Do

Make it a goal to connect with your employees daily. Not sure where to start? To lay the foundation for a good connection, start by making yourself available. And I mean that literally: Open your office door so your workers don’t feel like they’re interrupting you if they need to come to you for advice or input, and make the rounds of your employees’ desks every so often to give your team ample opportunities to ask questions.

But beyond strictly work-centered topics, casual conversations are a perfectly acceptable way to connect with your employees. The key here is to make sure that you’re still approaching them with professionalism. (So, while you can ask about their families, education, and hobbies, it’s probably not a good idea to ask your employees what bars they’re hitting up over the weekend.)

3. They Allow for a Negative Company Culture

Employees want a boss who fully supports them and stands behind their work. So, when managers refuse to take responsibility when things go wrong or criticize employees in front of the rest of the team, productivity, happiness, and job satisfaction start to plummet.

And some managers (like my boss at the cards and gifts shop) take it even further by encouraging gossip, retaliation, and unethical behavior. And in that kind of work environment, employees won’t stick around to see if things will get better—they’ll be too busy running for the door.


What You Can Do

As a manager, you should set the example for how you want your employees to act. If you gossip, complain, or pass blame—guess what? Your employees are going to follow in your footsteps. So instead of encouraging that behavior, promote positivity by being a trustworthy, dependable, and inspirational leader. Keep employees informed about organizational issues, motivate them to grow professionally, strive to understand their needs, and allow them to show off their skills. When conflict arises (as it undoubtedly will), fix it immediately instead of letting it go unnoticed. When ignored, even small issues can become destructive and threaten the team culture you’ve worked so hard to create.

Ultimately, being a great manager to your employees won’t just make them happy; it’ll make your job easier. At the end of the day, you want your employees to trust you, look up to you, and respect you—and for that to happen, they actually have to stick around. Be a great boss, and you’ll attract great employees.

Photo of unhappy employee courtesy of Shutterstock.