We’ve all heard the saying that “People don’t quit their job, they quit their manager.” According to this 2019 study, 57% of people have left at least one job because of their manager, and another 32% have considered it.
Most of us have experienced a range of managers in our lives. The best cared about us as people and taught us lessons that we still carry and pass on to others. The worst made life miserable and we try to block out the memories of toiling under them.
No matter what kind of organization you work in—big or small, for-profit or non-profit, local or remote—your manager has enormous power over what you do, how you feel and who you become. It is a responsibility that rivals a teacher, parent or religious leader in terms of personal impact.
What you may not have heard is “People don’t join a company, they join a manager.” Well, let me be the first to tell you that this is going to be one of the key themes of how work is changing in our lifetimes.
A Power Shift in Progress
COVID is far from the only thing that’s resetting the foundations of how we work. Bigger changes are happening with the shift toward knowledge-based jobs, fewer graduates coming out of college, and more older workers leaving the payrolls.
The more we automate basic jobs, the more important people you hire become—and the more power they have to choose when/where/how they work. I see a few factors that are coming together that are leading employees to be much more selective about who they work for:
Growing choices + YOLO - High demand for talent and more remote options mean soaring choices for employees. There’s also a lot less stigma about moving jobs more often.
Mental safety is a growing concern - Some claim younger people today are too easily triggered, others say they just don’t want to work with assholes. Either way you cut it, the power is going to the people and they don’t want to put up with bosses who bring bad vibes.
Non-solicit contracts are rolling back - Companies have historically had the power to force employees to sign broad employment agreements, which include non-competition and non-solicit provisions. But the pendulum is swinging towards employees as state courts and legislatures strike them down and pare them back. That means more movement of employees overall, and more teams following a great manager out the door.
Access to knowledge is increasing - Our world is getting smaller and information about good and bad bosses is increasingly at our fingertips. Employees now perform their own backchannel reference checks and reverse due diligence on prospective managers before they take a job.
This latter point is one of our inspirations for launching Hearty. We’re making it easier for people to see who the great bosses are with our reputation profiles. In our new job post feature, people must call out who the hiring manager is for a position. And we’ve got a Leaderboard for Dream Managers & Mentors.
If You Manage People, Manage Yourself First
What’s a manager to do in a world where your direct reports can easily vote with their feet? The first step is to recognize the power that you hold, use it responsibly, and adopt a servant-leader mentality. As one of my earliest managers taught me: “You rely on others for you to be successful and do things you cannot do. If you can’t motivate them, you will fail. They don’t work for you, you work for them.”
A lot of managers are going to struggle because they have problems of their own to sort out. Every weak manager I’ve come across has had serious personal demons. The yelling, withdrawal, harassment, favoritism, greed, selfishness, ethical lapses and dictatorial leanings come from deep personality issues—often reaching way back to childhood. Unfortunately their position of power too often allows them to get away with treating people poorly. And in many cases, ordering people around and generating misery in others makes them feel better about themselves. It is a sickness. And whether you’re managing a publicly-traded company or a couple of freelancers, you’re not going to get very far until you get some expert help.
Meanwhile, those of us in the middle of the manager pack should continually ask for feedback, become better listeners, and trade tips with fellow leaders who are striving to improve people skills.
Take Responsibility for the Relationship and Manage Up
While I welcome the power shift toward talent in the manager-employee relationship, the reality is that it takes time and an investment from both sides to get right. On the employee side, if you are unhappy with how you are being managed, you have an equal responsibility for trying to improve things.
Put yourself in your manager’s shoes and recognize that this is a difficult job, with very little training, and we’re all kind of making it up as we go along. If I’m a good manager today, it’s mainly because I’ve screwed up in the past and had employees with the courage to correct me and give me another chance.
If you are unhappy and looking to leave anyway, why not try to fix the relationship by being direct? Either you bring up the issue and your manager works to solve it, or they don’t, and you can be fully confident that you tried to make it work but leaving is the right decision.
Ironically, as more automation and A.I come to work, I believe we’re going to see a rise of more humanity in the workplace. The companies and leaders that thrive will be those that earn respect by safe, positive environment where we can do amazing things together.