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Do you want to leave your job — or is your manager the problem?

 (Pexels)
(Pexels)

There’s a well-known saying in business that’s a stark reality for a vast number of leaders — ‘you leave a manager, not a company.’

It’s not a new phrase, but it’s certainly truer than ever. UK businesses have seen millions of their employees resign in 2022, and survey findings consistently highlight management and leadership conflicts as a defining cause.

Employee experience brand Edenred conducted a survey of 2,000 British professionals, reporting that nearly a fifth of them had left their job within the past 12 months, citing management as one of, if not the leading reason.

In short, employees rarely leave a company or a job without a catalyst. That catalyst is typically an individual, and more often than not, it’s their manager.

But there’s no reason to jump to conclusions and assume your business has a ‘toxic’ leadership culture. Not to discount the companies which do, but there could be any number of reasons a manager is unconsciously having a negative impact on your talent retention.

Here’s why - and how to address it.

Why is there so much weight put on managers?

While we’re talking about managers in a broad sense, there’s not one core reason behind disharmonious manager-employee relations. In that same survey from Edenred, lack of training and onboarding, conflicting ideas of workload and wellbeing, and even communication styles were all cited as contributing factors to employees jumping ship.

Simply put: management is hard. But it is arguably the most important factor in your talent retention. Why? Because people buy people. Practically every business sees greater success when it cultivates strong working relationships, and just like any other relationship, trust, respect and understanding are its pillars.

Managers are also direct representations of the wider business. The way they undertake their role is reflective of a company’s purpose, vision, objectives, and wider culture. Think of it this way: if a manager doesn’t demonstrate they value an employee, how would that employee know the business values them?

Up-and-comers are particularly susceptible to this. They’re doing a great job, so why take the time to offer support and development, right? Precisely why they’re looking for it at another business.

5 ways to address the issue

There’s a big difference between a new, exciting opportunity tempting your team member(s) away, and your management driving them to it. Greater retention is led by greater managers.

  1. Support managers, no matter their rank or experience. It might sound obvious, but so many managers don’t receive adequate and ongoing development to support them in their new roles. This should be any business’ number one priority - and biggest call to action. This doesn’t always mean classroom-style training either, on the job coaching and development in real situations can be more effective.

  2. Embed your company values. So often businesses look at values as a means to attract talent, but not to retain them. Values are designed to lead attitudes and behaviours, especially where managers are concerned. Without that, your brand can quickly appear disingenuous.

  3. Enact company policies. Much like your values, the policies you have in place during the interview stage are what employees expect in their day-to-day. For example, if the business has said they have flexible working, it’s a manager’s responsibility to make this a reality - within reason. Many ensure managers are fully aware of them and build an environment where it’s OK to ask, managers can’t be expected to know everything overnight.

  4. Keep communication channels open. Your company culture is only as good as your ability to communicate and connect. Encouraging employees to air their views and challenges in the right way to help mitigate workplace toxicity and resentment and build trust. Internal surveys are useful to help you spot areas of weakness or misalignments.

  5. Develop leadership skills in everyone. Understanding how to manage individuals and situations takes time. Investing in employees’ training early on will help them build these skills steadily. Plus, it demonstrates the business is invested in their development.

Management isn’t easy. Besides the competing priorities and demanding workload, managers must adapt to differing communication styles, understand the needs and drivers of individual team members, align to overall business objectives and trajectory, and still continue to build their own careers. And that’s just a drop in the ocean.

Just like any other employee, managers need to feel inspired, valued and respected in their role. Without that level of support, it will become increasingly difficult to see the same commitment and performance — and it could well impact your talent retention.

Alice is the founder of executive search consultancy, Hanson Search and global digital freelance talent marketplace, The Work Crowd