Why Workers Leave Good Bosses

When highly-valued employees quit their jobs for better pay or more responsibility at another organization, some bosses take it quite personally, especially if their relationship had been a good one. A new study shows that bosses should take heart, however, as employees tend to leave good bosses almost as often as bad ones.

And while it may seem counterintuitive that a worker would leave a good boss or a good job, there are several reasons why. One is that good bosses tend to invest in their workers, often to the point that they outgrow the current job.

“What we find is, if you have a good manager, they’re going to invest in you, they’re going to develop you, you’re going to become a better, more competent employee, which also means you’re more in-demand as a worker,” said Ravi S. Gajendran, Ph.D., a professor of business administration at the University of Illinois.

“You could move up in the organization, but that path may not always be available. Managers also might not want you to go up internally because then they’re losing a valued employee. So it means you’re attractive to employers in the outside job market.

“And that’s why people leave good managers, precisely because good managers invest in and develop their employees. They typically get a better job with more responsibilities at their next employer.”

While that scenario might leave managers in a bind, the findings point to a silver lining when valued employees end up leaving.

“Those soon-to-be ex-employees are likely to have good feelings for the organization that gave them an opportunity to develop themselves,” he said. “As a result, they are more likely to be open to a reunion with the organization as a so-called ‘boomerang employee,’ but they could also be a good source of information for the organization.”

For firms in industries with tight labor markets, companies are increasingly seeing the value of ‘alumni,’ with some creating online social networks for former high-level employees to keep in touch.

According to the paper, it also helps if managers at least make an effort to retain employees, even if they think it’s unlikely they’ll accept the offer to stay.

“If managers don’t make an attempt to retain an employee, the employee thinks, ‘Look, I put in all this effort and no one seems to care…’ Those ex-employees are less likely to help the organization later,” said Gajendran.

“Managers who make a good-faith attempt at retaining the leaving employee actually elicit the most goodwill from alumni. When people believe that they were valued by their former organization, they are more likely to have goodwill toward the organization and, thus, more likely to be a source of future benefits.”

The findings are especially apt in industries with a “high-velocity labor market” or places like Silicon Valley where there is a fair amount of employee churn, Gajendran said.

“If you’re a manager who has poured a lot of resources into developing an employee, your first instinct might be to take their leaving badly,” he said. “But it’s to your advantage to keep good ties with them. Recognize that it’s not personal but an opportunity to build a relationship with someone from another company.”

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Businessman leaving his job photo by shutterstock.