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5 Turnover Excuses That Signal Your Managers Are The Problem

by | Jul 25, 2017 | approachable leadership

Have you ever quit your boss?

You wouldn’t be weird if you did. In fact, you’d be right in the middle of the bell curve. Because in a recent Gallup study of 7,272 U.S. adults a whopping 50 percent of employees said they left a job “to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career.”

I want to point out one phrase again: “to improve their overall life.”

The work we do is directly related to our quality of life. If you’ve ever made the decision to quit a job you know how gut-wrenching it can be. Thus, as leaders who oversee the work-lives of our team, we have a responsibility to them. To “meet their needs as valued employees and human beings.”

But here’s the problem. When someone quits a job they rarely say, “I’d stay, except I hate my boss.” Occasionally you’ll hear something like that in an exit interview, but people don’t want to burn bridges. After all, there are no guarantees in life. Why not keep your options open? So instead of coming clean about how miserable their boss makes them they’ll point out a host of other reasons and tell you how hard it is to leave. And they’ll work real hard to say it with a straight face.

When You Should Dig a Little Deeper Into Turnover

That’s why if you’re a leader of leaders and you notice people departing from a work area (especially if those people are strong performers) you need to dig a little deeper than the exit interview. While you could conduct a bunch of “stay interviews” with the teammates who stay behind (I’m not a big fan of these and I’ll explain why in a future post) I think there is a more important person to interview: the leader who was just abandoned.

When someone quits a team it should have a big impact on the leader. This is a critical teammate who they’ve invested in and developed. They got the job done and cared for customers. Their departure stresses out the rest of the team while a new person is developed. Even in the most positive situation, where an employee grows and develops to the point where they can’t move up inside the company, it is still a big blow to the leader. They can be excited that their teammate has “graduated,” but still concerned about who’s stepping up next.

Other times the situation is more gray. The leader may not be sure exactly why the employee left. They might look behind the stated reasons to see if something else might be going on. That’s an OK reaction too. A leader who looks in the mirror and sees this as an opportunity to reflect and grow themselves is on the right track.

Turnover Excuses: The 5 Tell-Tale Signs Your Leader May Be the Problem

But some leaders, especially the ones who employees ARE leaving, will have a very different reaction. They’ll have a lot of excuses for why people leave. if you’re a leader of leaders you can learn a lot (and identify a much bigger organizational problem than losing one star contributor) by listening carefully to the turnover excuses you hear.

If you have a manager with a turnover issue dig a little deeper. Ask them why they think people are leaving their department or work area. Then listen very carefully to their answer. If you notice any of these 5 turnover excuses you might have a bigger problem on your hands.

One: Looking everywhere (but in the mirror).

Does your leader say things like:

  • Our orientation process stinks;
  • We need to stop getting people from want ads;
  • Anyone who’s worth a darn is already working;
  • Nobody wants to work hard any more;
  • Our pay and benefits aren’t competitive, etc.

If your manager offers no thoughts about their own relationship with the employees who are leaving or how they may have contributed you want to dig a little deeper. Pay close attention. Are all the excuses outside of the manager’s influence? Do they focus on how little control they have over the situation? That’s a tell-tale sign.

It’s not that these outside factors have no impact on whether someone stays or leaves. Each of them could contribute. But if the focus is only on outside factors you should seriously test the idea that these are the culprit. Correlation isn’t causation. Ask yourself: Do people stay in other departments that share these external factors? Then it’s likely the problem isn’t these external factors. Let’s dive into a few of these excuses a little further.

Two: We don’t pay enough.

This is the easiest cop-out. Don’t get me wrong – people do leave jobs to make more money. Money’s important.

But here’s the thing. Money isn’t everything. Especially for today’s workforce, people have a need for jobs to be about more than money. They’re looking for things like a “good work-life balance and sustainable business practices.”

Furthermore, people who love their jobs (as in, they enjoy the work they do and the people they do it with and for) have a hard time quitting. Even when a better (financial) offer comes on the table. People who exit often say it’s because they are getting a raise. That’s considered a low-risk way to exit. But many people will stay in a job that’s not at the top of the scale because they love their boss.

I’m not suggesting that you pay below market and make up for it with strong leaders. But top talent won’t jump for money if it means working for a jerk (and they’ll boomerang right back if they do). If you are consistently losing people to a competitor who offers superior pay and benefits (and offers similar or better work environment and leadership) you have a structural problem. That problem could be isolated to a specific department (some high-skilled jobs are notorious for this behavior). But often where you see only isolated pockets of this problem you are looking at a leadership issue, not pay.

Three: The work itself stinks.

Okay, some work does stink. And it’s easy to blame high turnover rates on that. But these jobs are actually few and far between. That’s because job quality is relative. These positions are often low-skilled or entry-level jobs. Many times these roles attract teammates who are happy for the opportunity.

Is this a “foot in the door” role? Can people develop into better quality roles? Before blaming turnover on job quality again consider all the facts. Has turnover always been bad in this role? Who has been successful in the past? Are there locations where these jobs don’t turn over? It’s important not to be too quick to blame the work itself, even for some of these “crappy” jobs.

Four: They weren’t right for the position in the first place.

This may be a legitimate complaint. If your hiring process is pumping out C players who are expected to perform like A players you’ll have a revolving door. Finding the right person for the right position is one of the most important and most challenging aspects of any business. And honestly, as leaders, we get it wrong a lot. One HBR study actually found that “as much as 80 percent of employee turnover is due to bad hiring decisions.”

But this problem has a leadership component too. No doubt that the hiring process must serve with the talent needs of the organization. However, one reason for all these bad hiring decisions is turnover. The more holes you have to fill, the harder it will be to take the time and effort to find the right person. The business is breathing down your neck to fill the hole in the lineup. So you settle for the C player because you can’t wait for the A player.

Another option is to redirect struggling talent to other roles. An involved, approachable leader should also recognize when the work isn’t suited to the employee (or visa versa). So long as that employee appears to be a keeper (they’re intelligent, kind, hard-working, etc.), your best course of action is to switch them to a more suitable position. If that’s not an option at the time, keep it open. No need for you to burn bridges either. Who knows when they might be an A player somewhere else in your company. To dive deeper into why discussions like that are so important, check out this article.

Five: We’re better off. They weren’t motivated.

Is this a person with poor internal motivation? Or is it a person whose motivation was drained by a bad boss? Again, looking at the trends will tell you a lot. A bad boss will blame the hiring process. A leader will double down on their skills and habits to motivate their team.

Sometimes the loss of an employee IS for the best. So long as it’s handled right (as in, you replace them with the right person). But here’s the thing. Are you the kind of leader who tries to figure out why someone isn’t motivated? More often than not, you can turn it around. All it takes is a little investment on your part.

Is their lack of motivation work-related or personal? If it’s work-related, focus on progress. (For more on how to put the Progress Principle to work for your team click here). If it’s personal, simply taking the time to recognize their struggle and expressing concern will work wonders. They’ll immediately feel more connected to you and the company. Not only is that good for your turnover rates, it’s good for that member of your team. To feel important. To feel valued. And to feel like this organization, this team, supports them.

The Takeaways

There are many reasons people leave jobs. As the labor market tightens, turnover and retention will get worse. But the worst thing you can do is hire a great person only to see them walk out the door. That’s shooting yourself in the foot. That’s why you must diagnose when managers are causing turnover. Here are 5 turnover excuses that signal your managers are the problem:

  1. Did they blame everything but themselves? Are your leaders looking in the mirror when a teammate jumps ship? Or do they blame everyone else? Do your managers take responsibility when the chips are down?
  2. We don’t pay enough. Money is important. But it isn’t everything. Most people leave for other reasons (their leader and other factors their leader directly impacts).
  3. The work itself stinks. Job quality is relative. What “stinks” for one person may be a perfect fit for another. Blaming turnover on the nature of the work basically means this manager isn’t interested or willing to discover bigger issues.
  4. They weren’t right for the position in the first place. How much of this is caused by stress on your hiring process due to high turnover? That’s a hidden cost of turnover. And what do you do to save someone who might be an A player somewhere else in your company?
  5. We’re better off. They weren’t motivated. Motivation doesn’t fall 100 percent on the employee. Leaders play a very important role in keeping their team engaged. What are your leaders doing to manage progress and development? Are your leaders creating organizational citizens or organizational vandals?

Ever heard any of these turnover excuses before? Were they a signal to you of a bigger problem? What’s made the biggest difference in turning around your turnover issues? I love hearing personal experiences from our readers!