Management skills: Quitting time

Bad managers are forcing good people to leave.

Disillusionment with management is on the rise, and it’s pushing valued employees to find work somewhere else. A recent survey of executives by employment consultant Robert Half International shows that while a lack of career opportunities is still the No. 1 reason employees quit, unhappiness with the way a company is operated is the fastest-rising reason.

It’s tempting to conclude that execs finally realize their company’s management skills aren’t as good as they believed five years ago, the last time the survey was conducted, but a likelier reason is that employees are looking for someone to lash out at because of the bad economy. “You can have a great manager and still be unhappy about things just because the purse strings are tightening, raises aren’t as high and people are being let go,” says Michael Gooley, branch manager at the Toronto office. “In many cases, the management carrying out these tough decisions are the lightning rod for discontent.”

That’s why it’s important for managers to keep people focused on the task at hand, communicate often and well, and be proactive in addressing problems, especially if a change in employee behaviour has been noticed. A shift in attitude, performance or even attire can be red flags that someone is getting ready to quit the company. Gooley says managers should ask questions, emphasize an employee’s value to the team and consider offering incentives. Even if they don’t have monetary value, such benefits as increased responsibilities, special projects and professional development can be welcome.

At the very least, valued employees should be aware that they are viewed in a positive light, by receiving sincere thank yous and praise in a public setting. “Both these things don’t cost much of anything, but recognition and thank yous go a long way in making people feel appreciated,” says Gooley. “It’s that whole ‘congratulate in public, criticize in private’ thing.”