Why Employees Leave Managers, Not Companies

By now, we’ve all heard the phrase…

“Employees don’t leave companies, they leave their managers.” 

With 50% of employees reporting leaving a job at least once because of a bad manager, the old saying rings true. If employee satisfaction is highly dependent on their relationship with their manager, then what are companies doing to improve that relationship?

Let’s put this another way. What are managers doing, but more importantly, not doing to keep their direct reports engaged?

Where is the gap between employee and manager that leads to employee dissatisfaction and, eventually, resignation? With the companies that we work with, we often see a disconnect in accountability…

46% of newly-hired employees will fail within 18 months, while only 19% will achieve unequivocal success.” - Leadership IQ

This means getting to know them personally, as well as proactively providing feedback on their performance. At Paddle HR, we believe that the best managers show a heightened interest in their employees’ career development.

These may seem like moot, or obvious points; surprisingly, they’re not universally practiced across enterprises and SMEs alike. Managers have a lot on their plate, and typically a lot to deliver on a daily basis. It’s easy to put “having tough conversations with my report” lower on the list, especially when it’s something they’re not comfortable with.

In fact, 69% of managers admit that there’s something providing feedback and leadership that bothers them. As a result, putting in the effort to ensure your employees feel like they can grow within the company may feel like an onerous task. 

Yet these overlooked practices may be some of the most important tools a manager can use to cultivate a productive team. We thought it might be good to explain why making an effort to help your employees grow can keep them engaged and excited about their future within the company.

If you’re asking us, the most important checklist item for managers is to make sure their reports know that they’re there to  help them grow.

If you’re asking us, the most important checklist item for managers is to make sure their reports know that they’re there to help them grow.

Employees notice if you don’t listen or make time for them

Like most relationships, the level of communication between two parties affects the strength and productivity of a partnership, and employee-manager relationships are no different.

In a study on managers done by Gallup, they found that 70% of the variation in employee engagement can be accounted for by the behaviour of that employee’s manager. That means that an employee’s interest and effort in their job is almost entirely determinant on the practices of their manager.

The same study found that employees who had a higher engagement at work almost always had open relationships with their bosses. Those higher rates of communication and openness meant that employees felt more drive to commit to their work than employees whose bosses didn’t make time for them. 

Engaged employees perform better and stay longer 

Companies are constantly looking for new ways to motivate employees. It might be easy to get caught up in glamorous perks like free lunches or open workout classes (after all, that’s what the most attractive tech companies are doing, right?). 

“Perks are great for attracting people, but they have little effect on retaining them”. - Lighthouse

As great as they are, the fun perks we mentioned above don’t have anything to do with career growth and fulfillment. So, what’s a more effective, evergreen strategy for better employee engagement?  


A manager’s best friend.

One-on-ones are one of our favourite tools to engage employees better. Productivity is intricately tied to employees knowing what is expected of them. Do your employees know what your company goals are? Or, how well they’ve done, and how they can improve?

Moreover, do you know how you’re doing as a manager, and whether or not your leadership is impacting your team?

Scheduling regular meetings with your employees that go over these questions is key to making sure your employees know they are valued. It’s also an excellent way for you to see where they’re at in the growth process and more importantly, identify “flight risks”.

Employees who don’t get these one-on-ones feel less connected to their work and team, and are a lot more likely to look for other positions where they feel more valued.

Furthermore, asking for an employee’s short and long-term goals not only gives you a sense of who they are, but it allows them to visualize a future with your company.

Investing for the long-term ensures engagement in the short-term.

“Top performers are always looking for ways to enable themselves, be it by taking on new projects or adding new skills.” - HR Technologist 

Getting to know your employee’s goals is one way to improve your employee relationships, but a manager’s job doesn’t end there. Once you know what it is your employee is aiming for, you need to help them get there.

In a study done by Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends, “training and development” were the top benefits people wanted from their employer, outranking benefits like cash bonuses. Similarly, a study by Deloitte on millennial workers found that being able to grow and develop new skills accounted for two of the top five things young people look for in a job.

Managers now have the task of understanding their employee’s goals and seeing what they can do to help them be realized. With employees increasingly valuing growth in their careers, it’s essential to keep your talent feeling challenged. What you as a manager can do is make an effort to understand what career growth means for each person, and how you can support them in getting there. 

42% of departing employees cite the lack of career growth as the reason why they left.

Bruce Chen