HR Connection

Sometimes Employees Leave Jobs (Not Managers)

Posted by Sharlyn Lauby on Mar 2, 2017 6:33:00 AM

when an employee leaves

There’s an old saying that says, “Employees don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.” And it’s often true. Throughout my career, I’ve talked to hundreds of employees who love the company and their work, but they can’t stand their manager. So they leave. Sometimes they will just transfer to a different department or another location. Sometimes they will leave the organization all together.

Now, sometimes, when an employee says they’re leaving because of their manager, that’s okay. Because the manager is doing all the right things and the employee just doesn’t like it. In those instances, we can’t do anything but wish the employee well.

However, sometimes it is the manager’s fault. Which is a shame. The organization spends a lot of time and resources to select a manager. You’d like to think that they would make sure the manager is successful by providing onboarding, training, development, mentoring, coaching, etc.

But when an employee leaves, it’s not always the manager or employee’s fault. Sometimes the organization needs to accept responsibility. Here are three examples:

  • When a job is poorly designed, employees leave. Poorly designed jobs can be boring and unfulfilling. Employees want and need to have purpose and a connection to the business. This keeps them engaged and helps them to stay. Managers and employees don’t always have input into job design–and they probably should. They don’t have to design the entire job, but their feedback could be valuable.
  • When the job pays poorly, employees leave. I’m defining pay here as salary plus benefits and perks. I’ve had jobs in my career where I wasn’t making lots of money but the benefits were fantastic. You have to look at the total package. But if employees aren’t being paid competitively to the external market and fair internally, they will eventually figure it out and then they will take action.
  • If a job offers no growth opportunities, employees leave. Many employees will take a poorly designed job with terrible pay because they know that future opportunities exist that are excellent. While an employee’s current manager might have some say in whether an employee is promoted, if the opportunity doesn’t exist, then it doesn’t matter what kind of say the manager has. It’s about availability.

Managers have many responsibilities. I certainly do not want to imply that they have no control over work design, compensation, and promotional opportunities–because they do. The question is, do they have enough?

In my experience, I’ve seen managers try to create new opportunities for employees, fight for pay increases, and suggest new ways for employees to do the work, only to have their ideas shot down by senior management. From the employee’s view, it looks like the manager doesn’t care. Now, yes, the manager can tell the employee that they tried but senior management said “no” – effectively throwing senior management under the bus. But that’s not really the best approach.

So many managers simply take the hit. The employee leaves and says it’s because the manager isn’t supportive.

I certainly hope when those situations happen that organizations step back for a second and ask themselves, “Was it really the manager?” or “Was it us?” If it truly was the manager, get them the tools to become better. But if it wasn’t, then find a way to create a culture that doesn’t blame managers for things not under their control.

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Sharlyn Lauby is the author of HR Bartender (, a friendly place to discuss workplace issues. When not tending bar, she is president of ITM Group, Inc., which specializes in training solutions to help clients retain and engage talent. She can be contacted on Twitter at @HRBartender.

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Topics: Labor & Industrial Insights, Retention, Employees

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