People Don’t Leave Companies They Leave Managers

Always remember the difference between a boss and a leader. A boss says “Go” and a leader says “Let’s Go”. George E.M. Kelly.

49% of people have voluntarily left a role they enjoyed because of a bad manager. In cities like Sacramento, Miami and Tampa that figure ascends to over 60%. Workers are leaving their employers at an alarming rate and it’s wreaking havoc on your bottom line. 

Staff cost as much as 20% of their salaries to replace and absenteeism leaks $16.6 billion in lost productivity from Canadian employers. 

With an overwhelming majority of workers (84%) across the US and Canada reporting that managers are contributing unnecessary stress, employers need to get to grips with their management resolve this issue because it is hurting your entire enterprise.

What are the Facts of Management in Today’s Workplace? 

It is easiest to start with a consensus definition of a manager to keep us all on the same page. A manager is any person installed in a company to lead a group of individuals toward a prescribed business goal. 

How many employees are assigned to one manager is known as the span of control and the ideal figure is found to be 1 manager to 5/6 employees. The optimal span of control is based on the most effective ratio for offering feedback regularly (yet not micromanaging) and fostering psychological safety and employee engagement. It is these three factors that impact employee performance the most and smaller ratios allow them to establish rapport with management and achieve greater results. 

In the US, the average span of control stands at 10. Companies such as GM opt for 1:15 ratios to reduce micromanaging tendencies. However, the ancillary consequences of management being spread too thin are solution lags, reduced support, and lower productivity. These issues inevitably lead to frustration and despondency because managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement

What is the Employee Experience of Management? 

The upper echelons of business hierarchies often fail to appreciate the dynamic between management and employees. The truth is the managerial figures they install are often the lens through which employees see the company. To clarify, employees don’t care about their work as much if their managers make life hell. No relationship within the enterprise is more powerful than the management and team. 

Employee tenure has dropped to an average of 4.1 years with 4 in 5 employees considering leaving their roles because so few are feeling engaged. Why do so few people feel engaged (30%) at work? In the words of Julius Campbell in Remember the Titans “Attitude reflects leadership, Captain”. 

Alarmingly, over half of the managers in the US are predominantly not feeling engaged with a further 14% being actively disengaged. This means employees are taking their cues and instruction from people who themselves aren’t motivated and driven to go the extra mile. Gallup estimates the collective impact of poor management engagement to be in the region on $319-$398 billion dollars of lost productivity. 

How are Managers Causing Employees to Leave?

When you learn that 56% of employees would actually reject a 10% raise to stay with a great boss, it suggests that turnover isn’t attributable to the most obvious factors. 

Employees in poorly managed teams are suffering mental health and performance decline as a result of several engagement inducers being missed. In bigger teams, feedback, solutions and guidance is a typical cost affecting their abilities to succeed. Employees go unheard and unsupported offering little chance to progress. 

With management feeling disengaged or being generally unsuited, they just don’t take the time to build relationships with their colleagues. As a fallout, team members are treated more like pawns in the pursuit of target success than contributors. Psychological safety is dramatically impacted which Google found to be the biggest difference-maker in team performance. This means employees are less likely to feel secure in offering novel ideas, problem-solving and admitting mistakes 

A direct line can then be drawn between the managerial performance and a dwindling hope of employees achieving career goals. 

When career progression, a key personal motivator, is taken out of the equation, you revert to relying on extrinsic factors like paychecks and benefits to do the motivational heavy lifting. Unfortunately, extrinsic motivators are far less likely to be a root to employee success when financial stress isn’t a major issue. 

The System for Choosing Managers is Broken

Gallup’s study of 2.7 million different workplaces on the State of the American Workplace found that the system for hiring management is built on archaic beliefs rather than data. 

Businesses and companies of today should be savvier in our understanding of what constitutes managerial excellence but 82% continue making hiring mistakes. They look at tenure, talent and titles and make decisions because they feel like people deserve it based on vanity factors.

Several flaws exist within this mindset. Firstly, being a talented or tenured salesperson, marketer, architect or web developer, for example, is no indication of your ability to lead others. Yes you can share skills and teach but management goes much deeper, far deeper than a fancy title earned in another organization. 

Businesses need to reduce the weight attached to proficiency in the basics which is more applicable in lower skilled roles. High proficiency is a predictor of performance in the role an employee is in but does not always translate to management. A significant body of research actually indicates companies would be better served by keeping high performers in their current roles and promoting employees who show strong leadership more than peak proficiency. 

What Should Companies Be Paying Attention To When Hiring Managers?

While Gallup and the Society for Human Resource Management hold strong, well-researched opinions on the erroneous management hiring practices, they do offer some clear guidance. The underscoring theme of the advice is to appreciate the differences between excelling within a team and leading human beings. One is about the hardline achievement of individual success while the other is getting the most out of others as a collective pursuit. 

To be a consummate manager, one needs to be a leader which involves building relationships and motivating employees. It involves making unbiased decisions and the ability to assert oneself to overcome obstacles. It mandates the skill to craft a culture of trust, accountability and safety. 

To maintain and continuously exude these traits, it often requires further training in line with the individual managers career goals and a willingness to listen. When American workers suggest the need for improvement in communication, team development, time management, delegation, team culture and managing performance as they have done, they should be heard. 


Without a shadow of a doubt, the role of a manager is multi-faceted, challenging and, importantly, not for everyone. Just because you show extraordinary talent in a job or have been there for longer than everyone else does not mean you are cut out to lead. 

Taking note of the latest statistics shows an alarming level of employees willing to leave their current jobs. With it costing an average of $12,000 to replace a lower-paid mid-level US employee, there is enough financial incentive for our enterprises to take action. Employers ought to think carefully in the next round of managerial promotions or hires to have any hope at tackling a high churn rate
Ultimately, employees don’t leave because they no longer subscribe to your overall mission, they leave because their manager is a prick, they are bored, their mental health and or career progression is stunted.

People are willing to stay if they feel valued, supported and heard but right now that is not the consensus experience. It is up to our businesses to do better and to choose managers based on their ability to lead people.