by Scott Tackett

Not a day goes by that at least one of my consulting clients (and most of the time, more than one) asks me, “Why are people leaving my company? I’m paying them a good wage and even added some benefits. What’s going on?”

In 2002, I attended a SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) conference where one of the speakers, Yvonne K. Caputo, stated very simply, “Employees don’t leave jobs — they leave supervisors, managers, and companies.” Her comment resonated with me then, and my interactions with employees and clients throughout the past fifteen years have continued to validate her statement. Providing even more support is what Dick Finnegan, a retention consultant, has been quoted as saying for years to anyone who will listen: “Good people simply won’t continue to work for a jerk or under unfavorable daily conditions.”

Many managers and owners don’t want to accept responsibility for losing employees. They simply don’t want to acknowledge that, perhaps, the high turnover they’re experiencing is directly related to the culture they’ve created in their company. Instead, thinking that money is the reason for losing employees is a popular fallback. By placing the blame on people leaving to make more money elsewhere, the blame is shifted from themselves or others in the organization.

It’s important that we open our eyes and ears to the real reasons employees may be leaving. Listen to what they say (and don’t say) when explaining the motivation behind making an employment move. In most cases, we’ll find that people are not leaving for money, regardless of what they may be telling us. This is not the case in all situations, of course, but it would certainly serve us well to remove the rose-colored glasses and take a good look around.

An honest appraisal of our business may uncover managers engaging in discouraging or demotivating behaviors, sometimes not even realizing that they are doing so. Behaviors such as criticizing constantly, having double standards, talking down to or belittling employees or giving feedback that’s always negative and never positive are a few examples. Or, maybe we’ll find managers engaging in other methods of discouragement, domination, insensitivity, silence or intimidation. An honest appraisal may not be easy. After all, who wants to admit to these types of behaviors happening around us? But think of what will happen if we’re experiencing high turnover and don’t take a good look around. Nothing will change. And the result of our employees being subjected to discouraging or demotivating behaviors is that they will either shutdown completely or they will leave — both of which are devastating to the company.

The coaching firm CO2 Partners posed the following question to a large sample of people working in a cross section of business: “Whom do you turn to for advice on problems at work?” The results of the survey were, in my opinion, astounding. Only slightly more than 1 out of 10 people replied that they turn to their supervisor or manager for help. The rest go somewhere else. If, as suggested above, we’re opening our eyes and ears to underlying causes, I think it would be safe to assume that supervisors, managers, or company cultures have a hand in people feeling they can’t, or won’t, take work problems to management.

So, what are the keys to great managerial leadership that will breed successful retention of good employees in our organization? Here are a few:

  • Really listen to employees. Be present during conversations and listen to what they’re not saying as much as to what they are
  • Hold everyone accountable, including supervisors and managers. Understand, however, that accountability is not about blame, coercion, criticism or finger pointing.
  • Have open, honest and frequent communication. It’s every bit as important that our people hear from us when things are going well as it is when things are not.
  • Make sure every employee knows that their job matters and plays an important part in the business, regardless of their title.
  • Admit our mistakes and learn from them. Move forward. Mistakes are going to happen, and if viewed as learning opportunities, they help us to better ourselves.
  • Finally, be positive and enthusiastic. All of us can affect change by our demeanors, as well as our actions.

There will always be turnover in our companies, but it’s possible to successfully retain good employees by having good supervisors and managers, and a good culture in the organization. Regardless of how high or low the turnover, an honest appraisal of current conditions is time well spent. There is always room for improvement if you look closely enough.

I will leave you with a final thought from Philip Brewer, president of Keep Employees, Inc.: “A key reason — perhaps the number one reason — people stay with their current employers is the relationships they have with their direct managers. If the manager gives them what they need to be successful in their work, that can be reason enough to decide to stay or to leave.”


Scott Tackett is a Business Development Advisor for Violand Management Associates (VMA), a highly-respected consulting company in the restoration and cleaning industries. He is considered the leading expert in restoration and cleaning for Human Resource Development and Organizational Leadership with over 30 years of experience. Through Violand, Tackett works with companies to develop their people and profits. To reach him, visit or call (800)360-3513.