Weed out the bad bosses

content office weeds

Staff retention is an evergreen concern for any organisation, but even more so in a tight talent market. The last thing you want is to lose valuable, hard-won and hard-to-replace people.

This means keeping them happy and fulfilled, helping them grow and providing a positive environment. A lot of this should filter down from good leadership and management, but for many this isn’t the experience.

According to Gallup’s State of the American Manager report, one in every two employees has left a job to get away from a manager, while a Harvard Business Review survey found that 58% of people say they trust strangers more than their own bosses.

That distrust seems to go both ways. A study by the Saratoga Institute cited by Leigh Branham, author of The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, found that 89% of bosses believe employees quit because they want more money. This, of course, is a great self-pardoning move for any culpable boss, especially considering that, according to the study, only 12% of employees do actually leave an organisation for greater remuneration.

Bottom-line impact

None of this is particularly surprising when you consider that many managers never receive management training. The impact a bad boss can have on their staff cannot be underestimated; employees feel miserable at work, which then follows them home, piling stress upon stress, leading to poor wellbeing, both mental and physical.

Unhappy and unhealthy employees raise rates of absenteeism, and can affect corporate performance and customer ratings. At the same time, replacing employees and training new people doesn’t come cheap; a conservative estimate for US workplaces is at least one-and-a-half times the exiting employee’s annual salary.

This can affect team morale in the office, and lead to poor client or stakeholder relationships outside. It can also lead to damaged brands if ex-employees spread the word; people talk, after all.

So, why does it keep happening? Why do organisations continue to promote strong technical performers into management roles without proper management training? And why do companies keep hold of bad managers?

Train to lead

Many businesses don’t measure employee retention per manager. At the very least, organisations should invest in training people to lead, not simply expect them to do it based on job performance.


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True leadership qualities are innate in so few of us. Most of us are educated in and good at the technical aspect of our chosen professions, such as accountancy, but management is a whole other ball game, and arguably harder to learn.

Gallup’s report talks about great bosses having a rare combination of five qualities. They:

  • motivate employees
  • assert themselves to overcome obstacles
  • create a culture of accountability
  • build trusting relationships
  • make informed, unbiased decisions for the good of their team and organisation.

This is a big ask. Not many people possess such a combination of qualities; in fact, the report states that only one in 10 people do, while two in 10 have some of them and can become successful managers with good training. This leaves the majority to be mis-promoted into leadership roles potentially forever beyond their capabilities – or at least not without thorough, continuous coaching and mentoring.

Businesses should embed leadership and management training into their staff development strategies, affording this as much importance as technical skills training. Don’t simply promote people because they’ve performed well in their role or have been with the company a long time; ensure promotions are well-structured with leadership training, coaching and mentoring.

Once in place, managers should be continuously nurtured, supported and developed. They should not be expected to be great managers simply because that’s what the role demands or because of traditional vertical organisational structures.

Bad-boss archetypes

Here are some of the villains to look out for.

  • The credit-taker competes with their team members instead of leading them, looking for a pat on the head from their boss.
  • The ghost is here one minute, gone for the rest of the day.
  • The ‘cool’ boss confuses friendship with leadership, and thinks that being accepted and liked is good management.
  • The unfiltered uncle is ‘old school’ or ‘from a different time’, an anti-woke warrior blindly crossing the lines of acceptability.
  • The scholar quotes from all the management books and goes on all the leadership courses – and still isn’t good at managing.
  • The control freak asks and then answers their own questions. Full of unwarranted advice, they believe that their team is nothing without them, and loathes to delegate because only they can do the job properly.
  • The finger-pointer thinks nothing’s ever their fault, is always looking for scapegoats and will throw you under the bus if it helps their advancement.

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