I’ve always been interested in what makes an effective team, and in the fundamentals of attracting, hiring and retaining talent. And I am particularly intent on understanding why people quit.

High performers tend to leave companies because they are being badly managed, as outlined in this piece by Alaister Low:

I thought about all the people leaving their positions because they simply couldn’t work with their manager. The work was stimulating, the team was great but their manager was unbearable to work with. In these situations, what seems to happen is companies lose good employees on a regular basis and all the managers sit around a conference table trying to address employee attrition, developing strategies for employee retention.

Here’s a strategy for employee retention: take responsibility for the dysfunction on your team, and in your company.

Too often, managers and executives look at the unhappiness or frustration in these environments and think, "what is wrong with everyone?" They blame the person who quit - “he clearly wasn’t up to our performance standards” or “she wasn’t cut out for this role”.

Or they will undermine an employee who complains about having too many responsibilities with a glib, “well, get in to work earlier then. I don’t see you here at 7.30am…”

Or they will reward someone who has shown leadership and subsequently asked for a promotion with vague responses about why s/he is “not ready for that title” while failing to provide clear benchmarks for what “ready” would look like.

Or they respond to an employee who has shown initiative in highlighting issues with process (or an absence of process) by saying, essentially, “that’s not really a problem” or - the classic - “that’s just not a priority for us right now.”

I say they. But I am and have been a manager, and I may well have been the reason someone left the office and went straight to a bar for a stiff drink, or resented even the thought of having to come to work the next day.

How much more often than, “why can’t people just get things done?” should we be thinking, "I take responsibility for this. How might I make this better? How might I be better?"

We can always be better.

And what if that employee is actually slacking off, or doesn’t deserve a promotion, or is creating problems where none exist instead of finding solutions? Still not an excuse for being a bad manager (and indeed, sometimes bad management is the cause of these behaviours).

We can always be better. We owe it to our teams, our colleagues, our clients and our shareholders.

Recognize your micromanaging tendencies. Realize you might not know how to effectively work with engineers. Consider that expecting everyone else on your team to respond to emails at 6am within fifteen minutes of you sending them because you’re an insomniac workaholic will only lead to sleep deprivation and poor decision making for everyone involved.

Then get some help (and it abounds).

Don’t be the reason people quit. Be the reason people stay.


A version of this post first appeared in the #awesomewomen newsletter.