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They Don't Quit the Company, They Quit the Boss: Really?

Some colleagues I have closely interacted with have said that they loved their work mates and the overall organization culture, but dreaded interacting with their direct supervisor. This phenomenon is very common in many workplaces. Studies have shown that, for instance, 57% of employees have left jobs specifically because of a bad boss [Source: People Quit Bosses, Not Jobs: Why Employees Are Frustrated With Leadership in 2024]. That's right, employees leave their bosses, not necessarily their organizations. This isn't just anecdotal; it's a trend with serious implications for businesses.  In some instances, the toxicity of the work environment has led to litigation- constructive dismissal resulting in some companies being ordered to pay damages by the courts. I have in mind, for example, the Standard Chartered Bank Plc v Celine Meena Nair [2019] case where the trial judge awarded 36 months of gross salary as damages for constructive dismissal.

So why does this happen? Why do employees leave the boss? Ineffective leadership or poor leadership can create a toxic work environment. This is crucial because Leaders Set the Tone: A company's culture flows from the top. When leaders prioritize open communication, growth opportunities, and employee well-being, it creates a positive and engaging work environment that fosters loyalty.

Imagine micromanagement that stifles creativity, a lack of recognition that leaves employees feeling undervalued, or unclear communication that leads to constant frustration. To the list we can also add intimidation, victimization and discrimination in some organizations. These are proper ingredients a bad boss can mix or use to push even a happy employee towards the exit door.

It's Not All About the Boss (But It's a Big Part)

While bad bosses are a major factor, it's important to acknowledge that other issues can contribute to employee turnover. Studies by Culture Amp suggest that a lack of development opportunities might be an even bigger driver of employee departures, clocking in at a staggering 52% [Source: Culture Amp]. However, their research also highlights a key point: When development opportunities are lacking, good managers can make a significant difference in retaining employees.

So, what does this mean for organizations? It highlights the importance of a two-pronged approach.

Firstly, fostering a culture of strong leadership is crucial. Invest in training programs that equip managers/supervisors with the skills to provide effective feedback, delegate tasks appropriately, and create a supportive environment. To this, I strongly recommend training in emotional intelligence for all supervisors and managers. This is a MUST!

Secondly, prioritize employee development. Offer opportunities for skill-building through workshops, conferences, or even internal mentorship programs. Employees who feel that they are constantly learning and growing are more likely to stay engaged and committed to the organization, even if they face a temporary hiccup with a particular boss.

And so, while the saying "employees leave managers, not companies" holds a lot of truth, it's not the whole story. By focusing on both fostering good leadership and providing clear development paths, organizations can create an environment where employees feel valued, supported, and empowered to reach their full potential. This will lead to a happier, more productive workforce, and ultimately, a company with a lower turnover rate.

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This is Ronald R Sambo, AKA Mr Ron, FZIHRM,

Founder & CVO, Talent Hub

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