Blog Post

A New Study Finds Bad Managers Aren't the Main Reason Employees Quit

Suzanne Lucas

Founder, Evil HR Lady

Good management is important. We all know this. In fact, multiple studies have shown that not getting along with a manager is often the strongest influence on employee engagement—and eventual departure. Or, at least, that's what we thought.

According to new research from IBM on why employees quit, the old HR adage "people don't leave companies, they leave managers" is being called into question. After surveying 22,000 people, IBM found out the following:

  • 14 percent leave because they are unhappy with their manager
  • 40 percent leave because they are unhappy with their jobs
  • 39 percent leave for personal reasons (e.g., spouse relocation, child care, health, etc.)
  • 20 percent leave because they are unhappy with the organization
  • 18 percent leave due to uncertainty in the organization, following a change

Even with the ability to pick multiple reasons for leaving, only 14 percent named their boss as a reason for leaving. Of course, this doesn't mean that we don't need good managers. But it does mean that HR and the senior staff should think more holistically about why people quit before pinning it on individual managers. Let's take a closer look.

40 Percent of People Are Unhappy With Their Job

Is it the work? Is it the pay? Is it the coworkers? All of these things can weigh in on an employee's mind. If we don't have interesting, challenging work and growth opportunities, people will go elsewhere. If we allow toxic employees to torment their co-workers, people will go elsewhere. While the work needs to get done (and some work just will never be interesting), we need to make sure that we're offering the best that we can.

39 Percent Leave for Personal Reasons

Can you fix personal reasons? Maybe and maybe not. If a spouse is in the military and gets transferred, your employee will need to move. If you can't bear to see the employee leave, consider the option to let people work remotely. If the employee doesn't accept, then you'll know it's probably a bigger issue with the role than "personal reasons."

Childcare is also an important consideration when it comes to personal departures. Subsidizing daycare, allowing more flexible schedules and part-time work, and ensuring that overtime never comes as a surprise will make it easier to retain working parents.

20 Percent Are Unhappy With the Organization

Unhappiness with the organization, or sensing organizational uncertainty, is an issue that stems from the top. Are leaders being honest with employees, or are they making unexpected and unexplained changes?

While it's easy to say, "people leave because they don't like their managers," that answer often lets everyone else in an organization off the hook. By facing the fact that there are several other reasons people quit their jobs, company leaders can improve retention by evaluating a range of potential issues. If you want to retain your best employees, it's time to start looking at the big picture.

Photo: Creative Commons

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Employment law is complicated and can have big repercussions for your company if employees fail to adhere to it — either out of ignorance or neglect. A talent contractor for Comcast was just forced to pay $7.5 million to settle a lawsuit over unpaid overtime — a violation of employment law. While you can't expect everyone at your company to be experts in the law (that's why you should have an attorney on retainer), your managers should be trained on the basics. Otherwise, you make your company susceptible to lawsuits.

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