A phrase I have repeatedly heard in the internal comms and employee engagement arena recently is ‘People leave managers, not companies.’

When I first heard it I did think it was a striking statement, encouraging managers to be more effective and to encourage companies to create better managers, which is where it does have merit. However, the more I’ve heard it, and the more I’ve heard the contexts in which it is now being used, the more I have become adverse to this statement.

In recent years, it seems people are putting more and more responsibilities on managers. In the beginning managers were accountable for ensuring employees were fulfilling their duties, understood their roles and were there to resolve workplace issues.

However, this has now increased to include a strong emphasis on employee engagement, health and well-being such as ensuring a work-life balance, and HR responsibilities such as feuds between colleagues. If any of these things appears to be faltering many are now quick to blame the manager, when perhaps the issue is far more deep-seated, and where perhaps stress put upon the manager is setting up a failure or mistake.

In my opinion, the statement is also far too sweeping and makes it easy to find a scape goat. Each employee is different and reasons for leaving a workplace therefore differ too.

For instance, there are many reasons out of a manager’s control, such as not enjoying the sector/job. I have known many people who thought their dream was in a particular field but after getting their ‘dream job’ they quickly realised it wasn’t what they wanted, so they left.

Another factor for employees leaving is career progression, in some roles you have fulfilled all that you can and you need to move on. Example – small companies where progression into other roles is unlikely or, a very common reason, it was always a stepping stone. I have done much retail work in my life, with myself and my manager knowing full-well that I wouldn’t be there long. Retail was not my passion, there’s nothing they could do about that.

Another, unfortunately, common reason for employees leaving, which cannot always be controlled by managers, is an employee not getting along with a team member. Occasionally, people clash and as much as you can attempt to help them get along and, where possible prevent them crossing paths, the outcome can be that one member of staff decides to leave. It is an unfortunate circumstance, but it does happen.

These are just some of the things that, on reflection, can be out of a manager’s control, or perhaps should not be in their remit to begin with. I strongly believe that the happiness of staff is not down to a single person but each individual in the team and each factor of the role. I have had many instances where my manager has been incredible and I have had the utmost respect for their work and their methods, but yet I have left and I would hate to think the blame ever landed on their desk.  

In one particular role, it was the conflicting pay compared to product price, the fact I had to pay four times a year for my own uniform – which meant giving the majority of my paycheck each season back to the company - and the very high store manager turnover, that meant I left. In such a case it was certainly the company that I left, my manager however was brilliant.

I can see where people are coming from, managers play a huge role in the fulfilment of their employees but it is unfair to use this statement to explain each leaver and to take the weight off other factors, which without addressing could lead to higher staff turnover. 

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