Why your people leave

Stressed businesswoman covering her ears with hands

Attrition. It’s costly, and if your company has above-average rates of turnover, not only are those costs borne in terms of hard dollars and time, but there could also be irreparable damage to your brand. Your employees are your profit makers. Without them, you would not be able to do anything. You want to recruit and retain the best talent in the market. To do so, you need to create a culture that empowers employees and embraces creativity and innovation. 

Companies with high attrition have problems rooted in their cultures. There are numerous scholarly studies on the causes of attrition, and most of them cite the same three factors: lack of job training, mismatch of skills, or crummy pay. Well, I talk to hundreds (thousands?) of job seekers each year, and they tell a different story. Based on my unscientific, non-peer-reviewed research, I can tell you that the number one reason people leave their jobs is due to poor management. I’m not just talking about a bad boss, although that can certainly fall into the “poor management” bucket. I’m talking about executive management, the kind that is supposed to be leadership that fails.

More specifically, people leave jobs when they perceive that upper management is petty, unfair, or clueless. This type of culture is a big problem. It’s not about a lack of passion or innovation. It’s systemic and exists within the lifeblood of your organization. Here are a few things that I heard from currently-employed job seekers just in the last ten days:

For the last three years, I reported to a great boss. Best boss of my 20+ year career. But two months ago, his boss threw him under the bus for something. It was a total CYA move on this guy’s part. Now, I am so disgusted that he would do this to a fantastic manager, who is not only great at his job but who is an all-around great guy, that it is motivating me to look for a new role.

When I switched from public accounting to take a role as Finance Director with a mid-sized public company, one of the things I was looking forward to was a reduction in hours, especially during the annual busy season. I was wrong. Both the Controller and the VP of Finance expect me to stay at the office until all hours of the night, and to work weekends. I’m not talking about during a quarterly close. This is just the way they work. Obviously, the CFO and CEO are fine with this arrangement, but I’m not.

A colleague suffered a massive stroke, which left him with weaknesses on one side of his body. Walking is not exactly easy for him, and his commute to the office involves a commuter train, a subway, and a 15-block walk. Although there is no reason he couldn’t work primarily from home, our boss insists that he come into the office every day, even when the rest of us work remotely two days per week. It is well known that she doesn’t like him and that he has never been the best performer. But, if his performance is at issue, she should address that. Forcing him to endure the commute every day is spiteful and just unkind. 

Business people with stress and worries in office

The common theme in all of these stories is the hellish culture that results from management that treats people poorly. If you want to stop the flow of employees out of your revolving door (especially in this tight labor market), you need to work to build a culture that values employees. It is not enough to say that you value them. Managers need to walk the talk. This is a huge undertaking, and it can be an uncomfortable one. But companies that get it right become employers of choice. Isn’t that what you want? 


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