Why Do People Quit Their Jobs, Exactly? Here’s the Entire Reason, Summed Up in 1 Sentence

By Marcel Schwantes


In my line of work, I do a lot of listening to managers bickering about losing good employees. It’s understandable–turnover is costly and disruptive.

So, many of them will point fingers somewhere, but the data I receive from exit interview reports, feedback instruments, and employee engagement surveys has fingers pointing back at them.

This is consistent with leading research by Gallup. In one study of 7,272 U.S. adults, it found that 50 percent of employees left their job “to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career.”

We’ve all heard this “tune” play like a broken record: People leave managers, not companies.

Gallup CEO Jim Clifton, however, takes the cake. He summarized in a succinct sentence the bottom line of why your company’s employee turnover may be high. He said:

The single biggest decision you make in your job–bigger than all the rest–is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits–nothing.

That’s what Clifton wrote in the summary accompanying Gallup’s 2013 “State of the American Workplace” employee engagement study. That quote is the conclusion Gallup drew from decades of data and interviews with 25 million employees. But companies keep getting this decision wrong, over and over again.

Clifton says decision makers at the top of the food chain spend billions of dollars every year on everything but hiring the right managers. He writes, “They’ll buy miserable employees latte machines for their offices, give them free lunch and sodas, or even worse–just let them all work at home, hailing an ‘enlightened’ policy of telecommuting.”

Changing the face of management today

If you’re an executive concerned about low morale, employee satisfaction or engagement, or–at worst–a revolving door at your company, start by looking at who your current managers are. You have a choice to make: Develop their leadership skills or filter them out of their leadership roles.

In either scenario, you have something to shoot for as you identify current and future leaders. Here are four traits of managers that I can attest (and research will back up) will lead your employees to perform at the highest level.

1. They are radically honest.

When you’re authentic and vulnerable with your employees, they are more than likely to reciprocate and gain your trust.

If you see hard times in the company, tell your employees. Let them know ahead of time that they will not be receiving Christmas bonuses, pay raises, or time off. But compensate for that by ensuring that if they perform and sales go up, they will see those things reenter the picture in the coming year. It holds everyone accountable and makes them feel like a team.

Radical honesty is about being transparent. The best leaders leverage this approach to influence and develop trust. It’s always the best policy.

2. They are supportive.

Great leaders support their people by showing an interest in their people’s jobs and career aspirations. They look into the future to create learning and development opportunities. They find out what motivates their best people by getting to know each tribe member’s desires that will drive them. This is about emotional engagement.

This means being supportive of employees who are up for promotions or job changes, or going through transitions or difficult circumstances in their personal lives. Remember this quote by John C. Maxwell? “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

When leaders show that they care about their employees as human beings and support their employees’ future career choices, it helps employees feel more confident in their position and career path, whether it means moving up or moving on.

3. They recognize the talents and strengths of their tribe.

Clifton states that “employees’ strengths never stop growing throughout their career–particularly when they have talented managers who build unique development strategies around their individual, innate talents, and who make sure they are always in roles where they get to use those strengths every day.”

People love to use their unique talents and gifts. The best leaders will leverage close relationships with employees by finding out what their strengths are, and bringing out the best in their employees.

In fact, when managers help employees develop through their strengths and natural talents, they are more than twice as likely to engage their team members.

4. They display empathy.

Global training giant Development Dimensions International (DDI) has studied leadership for 46 years. The firm assessed over 15,000 leaders from more than 300 organizations across 20 industries and 18 countries to determine which conversational skills have the greatest impact on overall performance.

The findings, published in DDI’s “High-Resolution Leadership” report, are revealing. While skills such as “encouraging involvement of others” and “recognizing accomplishments” are important, empathy–yes, empathy–rose to the top as the most critical driver of overall performance: specifically, the ability to listen and respond with empathy.

Unfortunately, the DDI report also revealed a dire need for leaders with the skill of empathy. Only four out of 10 frontline leaders assessed were proficient in or strong on empathy.

A leader displaying empathy is your secret weapon, but it can’t be faked. The real McCoys are leaders who will naturally foster strong personal relationships and promote productive collaboration. They’ll think about their team’s circumstances, understand their challenges and frustrations, and know that those emotions are every bit as real as their own. This helps develop perspective and opens team members to helping one another.

Bringing it home

With automation and robotics looming in the distance, the biggest human capital gains businesses will witness in the future will stem from the same smart practices we see today: hiring and training the right managers, who in turn care for, develop, and maximize the strengths of every single employee. This is what research has repeatedly confirmed will transform companies now and in the future.


This piece was originally published by Inc.

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