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Why Your Company Is Like a Stinky Cigar

To paraphrase Sigmund Freud, sometimes a resignation is just a resignation. It’s true. There are occasions when people leave your company for benign and justifiable reasons: pursuing an opportunity one would be foolish to pass up; following one’s spouse for a new job in a faraway city; opting out of the workforce to care for a new baby or an elderly family member. It doesn’t matter how great the job is or how awesome your company is, they need to leave.

But more often than not, a resignation is an indictment on your company: on your managers, on your wages, on your work environment, on the job itself.

I know, right? How much does that suck to hear?

Consider the hourly worker who chases a quarter raise at a competitor employer down the road. That amounts to a whopping $520 extra a year. Yes, times are tight for people at the bottom and $500 probably means something. But if your job—if your company—was amazing, I bet they wouldn’t leave for 25 cents more an hour.

The same is true for your professional positions. Pay. Opportunity. Respect. Autonomy. These are common explanations for why people quit their jobs. If your company was awesome, even if you can’t offer competitive pay, if you offer people opportunity for advancement, you treat them with respect, and you give them autonomy in the work they do, they will stay with you for a long time.

Otherwise, this is when a resignation, like a cigar, is a metaphor for deeper more ominous things that are going on. Things to which you need to pay attention.

You’ve probably heard that people don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers. A bad manager can make or break an employee’s overall work experience. A bad manager can alienate workers and sow discontent. Most of the time, people will tell you there’s no amount of money that makes working for a terrible boss worthwhile.

When bad managers are not dealt with, employees see no recourse but to exit. So, if you have high turnover in a particular position or a particular department, maybe you need to take a closer look at the manager.

Just because you have a bad manager in your employ, doesn’t mean you have to sack that person. There are many less drastic and more effective steps you can take. First, consider whether the person is really cut out to be a manager. Often, people are promoted into management positions because they are technically proficient but not necessarily good managers of people. And they are hamstrung because management is the only route to promotion, to seniority and to pay increases. To address this, you should consider a track for promotion for non-managers.

Second, consider training, tools and templates to help bad managers improve their people skills. There are so many books, blogs and webinars about leadership best practices, there is no excuse for not insisting that all your managers improve their skills and approach.

Finally, it’s possible that your terrible managers are self-aware enough to know they are terrible. It’s quite possible these managers are stressed and agonize over poor decisions and conflict. Removing these managers of their responsibilities may be a relief. But you need to do it in a manner that maintains their dignity and authority.

As a leader, it is your responsibility to make sure your workforce is happy. When bad managers are not dealt with, employees see no recourse but to exit. Worse yet, when terrible managers are rewarded for their technical competence, that is inconsistent with what anyone would consider justified or fair. Employees feel alienated and blame the company. So, even though it’s the manager that’s driving them away, it’s the company’s fault for allowing it to happen.

And that’s a pretty stinky company to work for.

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