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People leave managers, not companies: cliché or fact?

If you have been working in the corporate world for a little while, you have definitely heard of this well-worn adage.

But is it just a cliché, or is there concrete evidence to support this notion?

According to a recent survey conducted by Gallup, 70% of employees globally contribute their lack of engagement to poor leadership.

As a career coach, I support people who feel disenchanted with work and disengaged from their job.

Here's why lack of proper leadership has such a huge effect on their motivation:

  1. Lack of recognition: According to a study by O.C. Tanner, 79% of employees who quit their jobs cite lack of appreciation as their reason for leaving. Recognition and reward may be different engagement strategies but they are equally impactful. Verbal recognition (private or public) as well as frequent expressions of appreciation can come in separately than monetary rewards for performance but employee motivation is driven by both.

  2. Micromanagement: A report by Harvard Business Review revealed that employees who feel micromanaged are 28% more likely to look for another job. The difference between micromanagement and supportive management is the level of trust that is provided to employees. People learn by trying out different things and making mistakes. If they don't feel trusted and allowed to do that, they will seek out more freedom and independence.

  3. Neglecting personal growth: When managers don't invest in their employees' development, it's a recipe for dissatisfaction. A study by LinkedIn found that 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career growth. Growth can take place in various ways - from training programs to rotating to different roles or teams, the most important focus point is providing opportunities for learning.

  4. Lack of Vision: A PwC study found that 79% of millennial employees consider a company's purpose and values when deciding where to work. One thing that leaders needs to provide is a vision for the future and a strategic overview of what needs to achieved; this helps employees feel like their work is significant, impactful and purposeful.

  5. Unfair Treatment: Discrimination or unfair treatment in the workplace is not only unethical but also a major demotivator, even to the employees who are not directly involved or affected. According to a study by Deloitte, 82% of employees who have experienced unfair treatment plan to leave their current job.

What do employees actually need from their managers?

  1. Sense of Progress: Employees want to see that their work is contributing to something meaningful. They seek roles where they can see tangible progress and growth in their skills and career.

  2. Mentorship: Having a mentor or a supportive manager who guides their professional journey is invaluable. Employees appreciate leaders who invest time in their development.

  3. Transparency/Clarity: Ambiguity breeds uncertainty and frustration. Employees thrive in environments where communication is transparent, and expectations are clear.

  4. Respect: Respect goes beyond just basic courtesy. Employees want to feel that their ideas, opinions, and contributions are respected, regardless of their position.

  5. Appreciation & Recognition: Regular acknowledgment of a job well done is essential. Simple acts of recognition can boost morale and motivation significantly.

  6. Safe Space to Be Authentic: Employees want to be themselves at work. A safe, inclusive environment where they can be authentic fosters a sense of belonging and commitment.

Effective leadership, which encompasses recognition, empowerment, mentorship, vision, and fairness, is the linchpin in retaining a motivated and engaged workforce. Developing the leadership skills that inspire people to work from their strengths is the only future-proof investment that an employer can make.


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