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Breaking the myth employees leave managers not companies

With Brexit looming and record levels of UK employment, employee retention has never been more important. Whilst some churn is healthy, introducing new blood and ideas, many organisations need to manage and reduce their current level of staff turnover. As well as direct costs like recruitment, on-boarding and training, high employee turnover can negatively impact customer relationships and can be corrosive for the company culture.

From our perspective, the key to improving employee retention is identifying your greatest attrition risks (whether they are in particular departments or at specific stages of the employee life-cycle), and, secondly, the reasons why employees may be considering leaving. With this information in hand you can take action before your best talent walks out the door.

What we’ve been told

Conventional wisdom and countless articles tell us that people leave their jobs because of bad managers. Thinking about our own personal experiences, many of us may be able recall at least one toxic manager. Perhaps they were disengaged themselves; they didn’t lead by example; or they were prone to micro-management. But is this the norm? Whilst no manager is perfect, are the majority so bad that this is the single biggest reason why people leave their jobs? Or are there bigger factors at play?

Our research

In WorkBuzz employee engagement surveys, we recommend asking employees if they would choose to stay working at their company, even if they were offered a similar job elsewhere. If they say they would consider leaving, we then ask them why:

By aggregating this data across WorkBuzz clients, assessing 23,500 individuals, we were able to see the main reasons why employees said they would consider leaving. Here’s what we found:

The results are startling – only 1 in 8 (13%), cited their manager as a contributing factor. The top reasons – a lack of career opportunities dissatisfaction with pay and recognition were cited at least three times more often!

Now, there are some caveats. Firstly, WorkBuzz clients aren’t fully representative of all companies – the fact that they’re investing in tracking their culture and employee experience may mean that they’re more likely to be investing in developing their people managers, so they’re better than average. However, the fact that employees were three times more likely to cite a lack of career opportunities or appreciation is telling.

Secondly, managers can and do impact these factors – if they’re helping to coach their team members and discuss this career aspirations, their team members are more likely to feel that they can grow and develop their career. That said, bigger cultural issues are at play, such as whether the company has mapped out career paths; whether it allocates budget for training and development; and whether it has well publicised role models who have progressed through the ranks.

We’d therefore urge you not to focus too much on the percentages shown above, but on the order: for most employees a lack of career opportunities and pay and recognition are the key factors that will affect whether they would consider leaving.

Understanding what drives staff turnover for your organisation

Your organisation is unique and what drives employee turnover will differ compared to the averages we’ve shared above. To start, in your engagement survey, we recommend that you repeat the above steps, confidentially asking prospective leavers the reason(s) why they may be considering leaving and supplementing this with exit interview data.

It’s also crucial to look at this by each stage of the employee life-cycle. For example, newer employees in the honeymoon period may be really satisfied with their development and feeling appreciated. However, this may quickly wear off when they’re no longer a newbie.

Finally, look at this by demographics like age and department. If you have a high percentage of people in a given office saying that they are considering leaving because of their manager, this may well be a warning sign. Recruitment source can also be interesting – you may find employees who have heard about the job via an employee referral may be a better cultural fit and less likely to say that they are considering leaving.

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