3 million: the number of results you’ll get searching for the term “employee retention”.
Read some of those 3 million blog posts, news articles and surveys, and you’ll notice a pattern. They’re all about why people quit their jobs, the cost of employee turnover (spoiler alert: it’s you-better-keep-your-current-employees-happy high), and employee retention strategies.
Manager retention in specific, though, doesn’t get nearly as much attention.
We wanted to change that. So, we teamed up with Dr. Ashley Prisant, instructor of leadership, business, and human resources classes at Harvard Extension School, Harvard University. Dr. Prisant has an extensive background in human resources, she is the author of “Go Beyond the Job Description,” which explores ways for leaders and individuals to do more in their current jobs, and leads Square Peg Solutions, which is focused on optimizing leaders’ impact on organizations, among others.
TalentLMS’s survey on why managers leave their jobs
To explore why managers quit, we surveyed 500 managers, with a maximum of ten years of experience in that position, working in the US. The survey was conducted online between October 2-9, 2019.
The respondents are 25 and older, and they’ve been holding a supervisory position for more than a year in the same company.
Now that we know who our respondents are, here is what we’ll cover:
- The reasons managers stay at their current companies
- Who is taking care of managers at work?
- How and when do companies look after their managers?
- The reasons managers leave their jobs for other opportunities
- Training on management and leadership skills
- Common managerial complaints
- How to start building your manager retention strategy
Retention of managers: Why do managers stay at their companies?
It’s a harsh economy we live in. The majority of our respondents (7 in 10) say they feel undervalued and underpaid. So, what are the reasons they stay at their current company?
In a multiple-selection question, 61% of managers say that the number one reason they stay is that they work well with the people they manage. “Having freedom and authority to make decisions” and “the right amount of work-life balance” were the second and third most popular answers, respectively.
As the answer to why they stay at their current company shows, managers care a lot about human relationships in the workplace — both with the team they manage and with their own managers.
But by taking a look at the graph above, we can see that they’re not just looking for a workplace that supports teamwork and work-life balance. They’re looking for a work environment they can contribute to, and they want to make decisions about the direction the company is heading towards.
Workplace fairy godmothers: Who is taking care of managers?
An office is no wonderland, and problems can’t magically disappear. A manager who has talent retention in mind works as a safety net for any employee who might encounter any type of issue. But who catches managers when they fall?
When asked about their go-to person at work, 36% said that their managers are the ones they turn to when they need some kind of help at work. In second and third place are the answers “turning to a co-worker who’s also a friend” (26%) and “a team member” (20%).
So, the answer to the question “who is taking care of managers” might be quite straightforward: the majority says it’s their managers.
Our academic partner, Dr. Prisant, raises an important point here: “Should others be taking care of managers? Are they doing enough to take care of themselves? A lot of people say ‘my senior people don’t support me’ – but they do nothing to improve their own world.”
Aside from who plays the role of the safety net, one of the main concerns managers have is, of course, feedback. And since managers are looking for a healthy environment within the direct team, they’re not looking for feedback from their managers only.
Twenty-nine percent of respondents say that, when they want feedback about their performance, they ask a coworker who’s also a friend, while another 18% ask one of their team members.
For the record, 7% of respondents say they have no one to rely on at work. The next section is all about them.
Loners: The isolated managers
By examining this 7% of managers who have no one to talk to at work, we found out that 73% of them are thinking of leaving their company in the next year.
- Only 22% of those have no one to rely on at work feel like their company takes more care of them now that they’re managers. But “more care” in the business world isn’t necessarily someone to rely on – it can be translated into more money and benefits.
- 51% say they felt happier before they became managers.
- 62% say that this isolation began after they got promoted.
Manager retention: Experienced managers are more likely to leave their jobs
We asked our respondents whether they felt that their company started taking more care of them after they became managers. Forty-six percent said yes.
It’s worth noting that about 44% of those who said that their company cares more for them now, have less than 3 years of managerial experience.
On the other hand, 74% of the managers who said that their company takes less care of them now, have been managers for more than 3 years.
So, that raises the question: do companies stop caring about managers after they are onboarded and introduced to their new position? Well, it looks like it.
Generally, the more you advance in a company, the less help you need in your tasks – and, sadly, the more invisible you get. As a result, experienced managers might often feel like the vital assets that no one notices.
Without this being the focal point of this survey or having to do with HR employee retention, there’s something that we noticed right off the bat. Managers with an experience of 3 years or less, showed an overall feeling of excitement due to the support they receive from their company — especially when compared to how experienced managers feel.
In consequence, only 37% of those who are thinking of leaving their current company are new managers (3 years of experience or less). On the other hand, a 52% that is exploring other opportunities consists of managers with an experience greater than 5 years.
And as for all managers in general? Almost 1 in 2 managers is on their way out.
Managerial buh-byes: Why do managers leave their jobs?
The initial claim of this survey was that retention of managers is highly associated with a pleasant working environment and healthy communication within the team. But this was about why they’re staying.
What are the reasons why people in managerial positions leave their jobs? All we had to do was ask those who’re thinking of quitting in the next year. Lousy communication with their coworkers and/or their team was the number one reason why managers leave their jobs.
But it’s not just about what their workplace is like. It’s also about how much they’re allowed to shape it. No employee wants to feel like an order executor — and this is one of the main reasons why high performers quit. Same goes for managers.
Managers want to contribute to a working environment where they can take action. As a matter of fact, many said that a shift in the culture of the company they work at would be enough to make them stay.
The examples above show that managers might be looking for a company with a good culture, which doesn’t only make people happy, but also allows them to work in a more productive way. They want a balanced, inclusive environment with the purpose of boosting the overall business performance. What’s more, they want a productive environment they will be able to play a part in.
By organizing all the open-ended questions by recurring themes, these are the top factors (besides low pay) that drive managers away:
- An unhealthy working environment
- Not being part of decision-making processes
- Not enough training and development opportunities
About training, specifically, 92% of managers find it important, and 41% have received training specific to their role over the past month.
And speaking of training…
Making a manager: Training on managerial skills
Training and employee retention tend to go hand in hand, but something’s going on with leadership skills training. Long story short, it isn’t offered to the extent it should be.
When asked about training on management skills, 7% said they had received it before they became managers, while another 21% got leadership training after their promotion.
The good news is that 47% of managers were trained on managerial skills both before and after they started managing people.
The bad news is that 1 in 4 managers never received any management training at all.
At first, someone could argue that these businesses where the respondents said they received no managerial training don’t offer any employee training at all. But, unfortunately (and fortunately), this is not the case.
With 78% of respondents saying that their companies offer compliance training at frequent intervals, we can reach a bitter conclusion: it’s not that training, in general, is not part of the business culture; it’s that training on leadership skills or managerial abilities is more or less overlooked.
So, this is the amount of training managers get. But what do they want?
A 76% of them say that they want more training and development opportunities from their companies. And 47% of managers who want more training and don’t get it, are thinking of quitting their jobs.
Uh-oh: A list of managerial complaints
We analyzed 500 responses to see what makes managers hit the road. These might not be the top reasons why managers or employees leave their jobs, but they definitely have an impact on how satisfied they are with their jobs.
After all, an average of 70% of the managers who contributed to the claims below are thinking of moving to another company.
Overworking and employee retention:
- 68% of respondents say they often work over the agreed hours
- 68% feel they’re not paid enough for the responsibility
Happiness, isolation, and the retention of managers:
- 42% clearly say they felt happier at work before they became managers
- 43% say they feel isolated at work after they got a managerial position
Need for recognition:
- 58% have not received an unexpected gift from their company over the past year, while 48% consider unexpected gifts important or somewhat important
- 59% have not received unexpected time off from their company over the past year
- 31% have never received any unexpected time off
So, there’s only one solution for any company that’s looking to develop an employee retention plan: ask your managers and employees what they want. They’ll most probably say that they need to be happy and feel recognized at work.
Piece of cake! Sort of.
Conclusion: Looking for strategies to reduce manager turnover? Focus on building a workplace they’ll love
Nobody can really define “workplace happiness” — mainly because of the vast number of contributing factors that can make an employee happy. However, one thing’s for sure: it’s all about people.
- We asked managers why they’re staying at their current company, and it was all about harmonious relationships at work; first with the team they manage, and then with upper management.
- We also asked those who’re thinking of leaving what would make them stay, and most of them said that a healthy working environment and a culture based on inclusion would be enough.
- But it goes deeper. Words like “strategy” and “involvement” occurred regularly when respondents with one foot out the door were asked to describe what would make them stay.
So, if your managers are thinking of hitting the road, this is what you have to do:
Focus on human relationships in the workplace and create an environment managers will be happy to work in every day. And if they feel like something’s not working out, listen to them and give them space to make decisions and adjustments, so they can form the workplace they want.
A smart way to assure that your managers are going to make the right decisions is to provide them with training on management skills – which, according to our respondents, is among the top 3 factors that would increase their retention.
With training, managers will be able to boost workplace happiness, productivity, and engagement with the company; both for them and for their team.