Employees don’t leave bad companies, just bad bosses – or do they?


One common saying among the business world is that employees do not leave bad companies, they leave bad bosses. The point being that no matter how great your company may be, if the employee is working for a bad boss, they are still likely to leave. As a result, if your company wants to reduce employee turnover, they should focus on how their management is treating the employees first, rather than focusing on other factors. But is this always the case?

The truth is there are plenty of reasons that an employee may leave their employer. While their boss can certainly influence their decision, it is not always in a negative way. And there are other circumstances that come into play, rather than only the manager-employee relationship.

Yes, it’s true: bad bosses do have a pretty big impact

First, let’s look at this study conducted by Gallup of 7,272 adults, which found that 1 in 2 of them had left a job at some point in their career to get away from a bad manager. If fifty percent of those surveyed say that they would leave their job because of a poor manager, then you know it is a common problem. There is certainly some validity to the statement that people don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad bosses, but why is this?

A bad boss can influence an employee’s life in several ways. For starters, if the boss is abusive, rude, or unappreciative, this is a hard environment to work in 5 days a week. On top of that, a bad boss may not actively encourage their employee to be their best, and a result, the employee will feel like they are not living up to their own potential each week.

Not only does a bad boss impact their time at work, but many employees may end up bringing these negative emotions home with them. Time away from work spent stressing about work or rehashing encounters with their manager does not bode well for work-life balance. Now not only is their work life miserable, but they have brought their misery home with them.

What exactly makes a bad boss?

Of course, since not every employee is the same, they have different definitions as to what makes a bad boss. However, there are a few common themes among most descriptions. For starters, there is a perceived difference between a “boss” and a “leader”, and a quick image search on Google for “boss vs leader” provides a simplistic visual aid in their differences. For instance, it’s usually argued that a bad boss lacks leadership skills. Some essential leadership skills are clear communication, innovative, strives for results and solves problems. Just because a person is in a position of power does not mean they inherently possess these skills.

Ego is another problem common among bad bosses. Rather than listening to their team or taking healthy criticisms, a bad boss will only listen to themselves. As a result, the employee’s input is of less importance, and makes coming into work each day a little harder. A good leader is able to set their ego aside and take feedback from those around them.

Lastly, a good boss will empower their employees to do their best and often gently push their employees to take on more challenges. On the other hand, a bad boss might keep their employees doing the same work day after day and never push them to be better. While it is important for employees to always want to be better, it is helpful to have your manager on your side and rooting for you along the way.

In the end, a leader leads while a boss simply drives. A boss acts more like a dictator and demands work from their employees, while a leader is more democratic and inspires the employees to get the work done to the best of their ability. If you want to evaluate how effective of a manager someone will be, look first at their leadership skills.

Surprise! Employees will leave good bosses, too

As it turns out, being a great boss is not enough to keep employees around forever. There are many other reasons that an employee can choose to leave their current position and they often have nothing to do with management. In fact, sometimes an employee leaves their position because their boss is too good.

For example, let’s say a boss has been pushing one of their employees to improve a certain skill set. After the employee does so, they feel like they are now able to handle a larger responsibility or shift to another role. As a result, they find another job – one in which they can use their new skill and continue to grow further. The boss empowered the employee to become better, but the end result is still the same – the employee leaves.

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Research has shown that employees leave good bosses and bad bosses at about the same rate – meaning the reasons that an employee leaves can not entirely be attributed to the boss. An employee could decide to move to another town, grow tired of the work they are doing or industry they work within, leave the workforce in order to raise a family, find a better opportunity elsewhere, or retire. All this is to say that while a bad boss can certainly lead to an employee leaving, there are many other factors that can contribute to this decision.

What can employers do?

As we’ve seen, there is some evidence to suggest that people leave their jobs because of a bad boss, but this is not always the case. For managers, it is important to be a good leader not only to keep your employees around – since this may not matter, in the end – but to get the best possible work output from them.

Since employees can leave their jobs regardless of whether they have a good boss or not, you might as well be a good one and at least try to lessen the odds. At the very least, you’ll end up being able to maintain a good relationship with prior employees who respected you, which can work in your favor; they will become lifelong promoters of you and your company, and may even refer talented colleagues or individuals in their professional network to work for you.

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