Are bad managers behind the 'great resignation'?

Unclear communication, micromanagement lead to employee unhappiness

Are bad managers behind the 'great resignation'?

Many employees are frustrated by their leaders and this is negatively affecting their enjoyment on the job.

For one, 60 per cent of workers feel negative about their jobs. And while the top factor that contributes to job satisfaction is good leadership (61 per cent), roughly 75 per cent of employees are frustrated with their managers, finds a U.S. survey.

“People are frustrated with their managers — all employees feel that at some point. This is really more deep-seated and that was a little bit surprising to me, just how many people are frustrated,” says Jaime Dunaway-Seale, content writer at Clever Real Estate in Dallas.

The biggest reasons for this frustration are unclear communication (31 per cent), and micromanagement (27 per cent), found the survey of U.S. workers by Clever Real Estate in February.

“One thing that was really interesting about unclear communication is that managers might not lay out their expectations for employees in a way that really sets them up to succeed. But on the flip side, they expect employees to communicate flawlessly and immediately,” says Dunaway-Seale.

Work-life balance lacking

The survey also showed that employees’ time away from the business was not being respected by a significant number of managers.

“One-third of employees are expected to respond to employer communication during normal business hours so the other two-thirds have to respond outside of normal business hours in extreme cases on their PTO and on holidays, which is terrible, and it’s not good for employees’ mental health,” says Dunaway-Seale.

When it came to micromanagement, employee’s mental health concerns are not being adequately responded to, she says.

“When you’re micromanaged, you’re not necessarily free to be as creative as you could be; you’re maybe not as likely to try new ways of doing things that could benefit the company in the long run because you’re so worried about the Xs and Os of pleasing your boss and that can be a very stifling environment.”

This level of feeling about your boss will also bleed into your home life, good or bad, says Fahd Alhattab, founder of Unicorn Labs, a leadership training and team retreats company in Ottawa.

“One of the myths that we carry in our society is that there’s a separation between personal and professional and there isn’t; we’re humans, we bring our emotions back home with us from professional to personal, and vice versa. Who do you talk about at home when you go for dinner, and you’re sitting with your partner? You’re talking about your boss [and] they become a big part of our life.”

Results like this show that employees’ managers have an outsized effect on how employees feel about a large chunk of their lives, he says, citing a Gallup survey that showed 70 per cent of variance in employee engagement comes directly from a direct manager, “not your boss’s boss, not your CEO,” says Alhattab.

“We have a lot of theories on leadership around affinity to the CEO and the leadership and the C-suite and their vision but really, direct employee engagement, happiness comes with the boss that’s right in front of you.”

Lower salary for more happiness

Also surprising: A majority of workers (56 per cent) would take a salary decrease if it would guarantee they'd be happy at work — including one in six (16 per cent) who would take a pay cut of $20,000 or more.

In addition, 61 per cent rated good leadership as very important to satisfaction, which was just behind a good salary (64 per cent) at the top of the list.

“One thing that this study and the great resignation has shown us is it’s not solely about the money; it’s not just about high salaries and good benefits, it’s really about the culture that leaders are creating. The employees want to work in an environment where they feel supported and valued and just fulfilled and engaged,” says Dunaway-Seale.

This effect on the bottom line can also be illustrated with simple math, says Alhattab.

“If you’ve got a lousy manager managing 10 people, and the average salary of those 10 people is $50,000, then you’ve got half-a-million dollars being managed by this lousy manager. If we were to go to human resources, that old school way of looking at it, then think about 70 per cent of that half a million is directly affected by this one manager.”

Remote work was seen as popular with workers as about seven in 10 would prefer this option in the future and almost half (47 per cent) do not want to return to the office, which also could point to poor leaders, says Dunaway-Seale.

“Just the fact that you don’t have a bad boss looking over your shoulder, you don’t have to worry about them micromanaging you every moment of the day, and you are somewhat removed from maybe hurtful and discriminatory comments from other employees who may not realize what they’re saying.”

All this bad management might be one of the main reasons that many workers are choosing to leave, says Alhattab

“The great resignation is more of the great recognition that life is short, because COVID hit us a lot as people are really realizing their own mortality. But also [it’s about] ‘I don’t have to stick with this job that’s making me unhappy. I’m not engaged. I don’t like my team. I don’t like my work. I don’t like my boss, why am I sticking with this if there’s so many other opportunities out there?’ That’s really what we look at the ‘great resignation’ is just a realization of bad leaders, of bad managers.”

How to fix it

But what can be done to change this?

While training is always a good idea, how it should be implemented is key in getting good results, according to Alhattab.

“Don’t go watch some videos on LinkedIn learning, and that’s your leadership development; that can supplement learning but it’s not it’s not learning on its own.”

Send employees to a good leadership consultant for proper education and don’t forget about the value of employing good coaches in the organization, he says.

“In addition to leadership development, do you have a coach for them? Do you have someone helping support them? Because a lot of times, they don’t know who to go to when they do have an issue or no one’s correcting their behaviour, no one’s giving them another perspective on ‘You could have handled this issue this way.’ Also ‘Have you considered this?’”

For HR, the time to address this behaviour is not after hearing from employees via a happiness survey, but when they’re hired, says Dunaway-Seale.

“Just show them throughout the course of their time at the company that you care about them with good salaries and good benefits but also some of the soft benefits, like regular recognition and doing retention interviews to get feedback about how as a company, they can be better and support their employees more and pay for employee training so they can continue to grow their skills,” he says.

“The big takeaway for HR folks is it’s not an option to make your employees feel valued, it’s really a necessity and a priority, especially right now when the labour market is really hot. If you haven’t taken care of them for the past two or three years, they’ll go somewhere else. By the time that they resign, it’s too late and it should go without saying but just be kind, respect their personal boundaries. Those are all great ways to keep your employees happy and that, in turn, is wanting to make employees feel a little bit more loyal to the company.”


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