Author: Terry Hill

Sam was an account manager with a recruitment company. It was in the best role, well rewarded and so much more satisfying than the past medley of jobs that had just paid the bills. Freed from money worries, he could now think about all the positives. His manager Bob was a great source of support. Bob was enthused about Sam’s capabilities and potential for promotion, investing heavily in his protégé’s development. Bob was now promoted and had plans for Sam to become his replacement. Sam felt honoured–the job was virtually his, and as a bonus, he would continue to report to his mentor. Bob assured Sam this would be a big step up the income ladder. Sam thought, “one in the eye” for those colleagues that unfairly earned more than him under the current bonus scheme. 

But internally, Sam struggled as his interview approached. Did he really want all that admin and responsibility? He would certainly miss the time spent with clients. But now he felt trapped by Bob’s plans. His friend Sara was an account manager for a competitor company. She assured Sam there was always room for someone of his talent. Hers wasn’t the best-paid company but she loved their recognition-rich culture and business ethics. It was appealing and offered a way out for Sam.

So Sam’s next meeting with Bob wasn’t quite what his manager had hoped for. Sam resigned. Now it was Bob who struggled. “I gave him everything and now he’s leaving for a lesser job. Some gratitude!”

people-leaving-jobs

Sam was one of the fortunate ones. A recent Gallup survey suggested that only 14% of the Western European workforce were “highly engaged,” meaning they were psychologically committed to their jobs and going the extra mile to make positive contributions. About 66% were “not engaged,” meaning they lacked motivation and were unlikely to make such discretionary efforts. The remaining 20% were “actively disengaged,” or in other words, would have been quite happy to work as a saboteur within their own company. Saboteurs leave trails of destruction, often invisible. The results of disengagement costs–turnover, profits, staff retention, and morale–are the victims.

So why do professionals leave their jobs? Often, it is for more money, but other gripes get higher priority in exit interview surveys. Here are ten of the top reasons:

  1. Relationship with the boss
  2. Bored and unchallenged by the work itself
  3. Relationships with co-workers
  4. Opportunities to use skills and abilities
  5. Contribution of my work to the organisation’s business goals
  6. Autonomy and independence
  7. Meaningfulness of the job
  8. Organisation’s financial stability
  9. Corporate culture
  10. Manager’s recognition of my performance

Source: Susan M. Heathfield, Human Resources 

It’s All About the Manager

Most gripes would appear to be under the control of the immediate supervisor. So the manager is pivotal. Dissatisfaction here features far more strongly at exit interviews than dissatisfaction with pay or conditions. 

According to Investors in People, the most unpopular management trait is failing to reward or recognise employees for good work. Other complaints include being disorganised, failing to motivate employees and a lack of interest in employees’ career progression. 

“People join companies and leave managers”

Eric P. Bloom: President of Manager Mechanics LLC 


So What Can We Do?

According to Investors in People, the most admired quality in managers is trusting employees to do the job. Having experience and being approachable also scored highly, as did being well organised. Over half of those who said they work well with their manager are happier at work, while a quarter of them admit to working harder because of this and will stay longer in their position. 

So a change of behaviour might help but experience tells us such resolutions can be short-lived, melting in the heat of “business priorities.” Even if we remove bad practices, we might only succeed in keeping those afraid to move. It won’t create the kind of organisation that the best people want to join and stay with. 

So the bad news is that it really is the manager. The good news is that the causes are firmly under your control and there is lots of room for change.

employee-relationship-with-manager

Back to Sam

Sam is a case in point. With so much to be grateful for, why on earth did he leave, and what could his exasperated manager have done to keep him?

Our motivation problems lie in our thinking, or our mindset for motivation. Einstein once said, “Our current problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” Just as stamping out bad behaviour won’t create inspirational leaders, problems inherent in motivation with carrots and sticks won’t be resolved by making the carrots crunchier and the sticks sharper. We need a new way of thinking.

Four levels of mindset have dominated the last century, beginning with the earliest:

  • Level 1: Left to their own devices, people will typically do just enough to retain their jobs. Therefore, they must be motivated by carrots and sticks. (You ask how many widgets they have produced.) 
  • Level 2: People have not just economic but social needs: to be treated well, liked, respected, and to belong. If they do as they are told, you will look after them. (You ask how the family is.)
  • Level 3: People have latent talent we can use and which needs nurturing. (You ask their opinion.)
  • Level 4: People need meaningful work. (You ask what really matters to them and how they can achieve their goals whilst furthering those of the organisation.)

Bob had a mindset at Level 2 or 3– not bad, but insufficient to keep the best. He gave Sam what he would have wanted for himself. Once Sam could comfortably pay the bills, it was not about the money for him. In fact, the bonus scheme became a perceived source of unfairness–it’s hard to get these schemes right. What Sam really loved was recognition for his abilities, and so he went along with Bob’s aspirations for him. But winning the boss’s job would only briefly push his recognition “hot button” and little else. Along with the perceived downsides, lasting satisfaction was doubtful for Sam.

So what were Sam’s other “hot buttons”? After some soul-searching with Bob, Sam recognised he was really inspired by recognition (preferably public), making a difference to clients, and acting with integrity. He loved showing that nice guys win. Sam didn’t feel he could achieve these in Bob’s role. 

Bob had learned a painful lesson. Don’t give others what you would want for yourself but instead give them what they would want. The problem is individuals are typically unaware of what really motivates them. Had Bob been more aware of his people’s true passions, he could have harnessed them for the greater good, driving their enjoyment and performance to ever-new highs. As a bonus, these “intrinsic” rewards–those that come from doing the job itself–are almost always available, unlike traditional rewards like money or promotion.

Bob developed his skills for uncovering what really motivated his people and the feelings they most wanted in their roles. Needs, like stimulation, autonomy, growth and making a difference, almost always led to high performance. These now form the basis of a team values and mission statement that everyone supports. Bob built a reputation for creating and keeping star performers.

So be proactive, and find out what your people really want. Don’t wait until your best performers tell you at the exit interview. Ensure their needs can be met. Keeping in touch with your people’s feelings is your best way of keeping them. A Level 4 mindset makes it happen.