To be honest, I can’t assume what executives are thinking when they experience a mass exodus of employees or, worst yet, their leaders. They could certainly chalk it up as normal attrition or they can scratch their heads in bewilderment of why they are leaving. You can bet it’s not just the super companies that experience this challenge, companies small and large all have dealt with this. But let me break it to you–“people don’t just quit their jobs, they quit their bosses.” As much as they want to rationalize their unexpected departures, they quit because of their leaders. My point to this blog is for leaders to stop searching causes and look the mirror in its eyes. Yes, it is your company’s leaders that are running them off for various reasons.
So let’s pull the thread on this:
The obvious reasons are trust, toxicity, maltreatment, unsafe environment, upward mobility, or even passivity. But, there are more subtle causes that lead to their resignations. Subtleties, such as courage, dumb policies, lack of communication, or ignoring their people’s attempts at work-life balance. These reasons don’t always scream out loud as quitting offenses but the emotions of it all build over time until they can’t take it anymore. So, they reluctantly gather their belongings and head out.
I’ll offer this–against their better judgment, people would rather stay than upset their lives with starting over, changing jobs, or a new routine. Even if it’s not their Top 5 job, they would rather stay because of a variety of reasons. And certainly, if the pay is decent, the commute is reasonable, and the work is interesting, your people will stay and disregard the negative aspects of leadership driving them away. It’s your entry-level employees that really feel these pain points but when your leaders feel them, it’s far more personal. I’ll assume it’s their understanding of the system and their proximity to the decisions and decision-makers that make it most upsetting. Maybe it is because of how they perceive the relationship among leaders. So, it’s a gut punch for them. But as for your entry-level employees, they will lump all the unfavorable actions as being systematic, then cluster the leaders together as “stupi-visors”, and just leave because of “them.”
Let’s break down the less obvious causes:
On the surface, courage is a leader’s strength to face pain or a complex challenge. Pragmatically, courage for leaders is a willingness to resist, counter, or ward off plans that impact their people. It’s a purposeful act. It’s offering to put yourself in the crosshairs rather than allow your people to deal with it. Courage is important but is not a do-or-die. It’s not just saying, “No.” It is freely offering a perspective to the powers-that-be, even though the directive is certain to be put in place. Let me also say this–when your people have confidence that you have this strength, they won’t question your willingness to speak truth to power. But when they don’t, you become the problem–not the managers behind the curtain.
Micromanaging is a behavior of managers by a smothering supervision style. They tend to dictate every step down to when to exhale. OK, I’m being a little hyperbolic. But, this behavior is an iceberg for trust and control. Under the surface, the boss doesn’t trust its leaders or employees to solve problems or perform to a certain level. The confusing part for those that leave is that they were under the impression that they were recruited, hired, and trained to solve or perform. Micromanaging is like a splinter. It will never get better until it is removed. In fact, it gets worse. Because this management style leaves no room for deviating or analyzing standard work by those that actually do the work or lead the people, the splinter digs in. Here’s the thing–micromanagement can be cowardly hidden in written policy to confuse where to finger-point. Burying every step in manuals has the same effect as an overburdening supervisor. Let me break it to you–unnecessarily strict management by policy or presence is productivity’s kryptonite. When it becomes a pattern, this poor style of management, masquerading as leader engagement, is sure to have your people looking for the door.
Communication can easily be the number one reason people leave. Withholding information by not explaining the “why,” or poor communication by unclear objectives, inadequate feedback, or none at all, are an incredible cause of frustration and friction. You should know, in absence of communication, your employees decide on their own what the prevailing thoughts are on the current issue or what their bosses were thinking. Often, their minds run away with them, creating an absurdity in their imaginations. Leaders have a real opportunity here of controlling the narrative by simply having clear, timely, and open dialogue. You can’t forget, communication includes listening. I mean, really listening by hearing the words, observing the non-verbals, connecting to them emotionally, and sensing the whispers in the message. Listening is critical and your people take this two-way communication very seriously. And if workers don’t feel heard or acknowledged, the clock starts on their exit plan.
Costs to Attrition
Increased learning curve
Missed performance goals
Underneath the many issues that can drive them out, there is an overwhelming absence of organizationaltrust being unveiled here by a lack of courage, a smothering management style, and poor communication. It could be any condition or transgression, but regardless, it will point back to the company’s bosses. There’s a lot to unpack here. From the view of the departed, they just want to feel valued. But instead, they feel useless with a screaming trust issue under the surface of it all. If the vast majority of them do want to stay, then win back the trust by offering them autonomy, space to fail, and supportive feedback. Reposition yourself as working for the people instead of the other way around. Don’t wait until the retention data gets your attention. It would have already been too late. If they are quitting, they are quitting because of the collective you, not some other random reason. You should probably acknowledge this fact and begin investing in a development program for your leaders that encourages earning trust, strong relationships, and healthy culture. The costs are too great to not consider it. They actually would rather stay.
David Satchell was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. After joining the United States Air Force, he earned his Bachelor's Degree in Sociology and Masters in Human Resources while serving 30 years in the Air Force. After his retirement, he had a stint as an Operations Manager at Amazon. Then, he started his own leadership development company called CORE Leadership Consulting to "Help Leaders Win at Work." Satch's leadership style is to lead by "personal power," and leverages emotional intelligence, situational leadership, personality, and character as his method to inspire his coworkers. He wants to share the lessons he has learned by experience and now through a deep study on leadership, as he's navigated through the ranks and developed a reputation for inspiring individuals and teams toward increased performance.