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Hey, Managers, Here’s How to Keep Your Employees

November 10, 2020

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Two weeks ago, I posted about what I learned by quitting my job. If you haven’t read that post yet, here it is. I was absolutely blown away by the response. I started this blog to teach people about food and agriculture. Yet my words about a bad work environment are the most read. By far. And I’ve never been sent so many messages. It turns out that unhappiness at work is pretty relatable. Most of the messages were from people who had also quit their jobs.

According to Gallup, half of all the people who quit a job, do it because of their manager. It’s not necessarily that they want more money, don’t like the work and company, or are unhappy with the benefits. It’s that they don’t have a good manager.

I’ve seen dozens of articles and comments on the internet centered around what companies should do to recruit and keep younger generations. Based on the internet and pop culture, the way you do it is by providing nap chairs, free snacks, and more relaxed dress codes. Yeah, some of that might play a part for some people. But the majority of us? We just want good management. It’s as simple as that.

People are very willing to quit over this

If you’re interested in job openings and labor turnover, let me tell ya, you can get your fill of those stats in these reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS has monthly reports on the number of US job openings, hires, layoffs, and quits going back to February of 2004. They consider “quits” to be the voluntary departure from a company. There’ve been ups and downs, but the overall trend goes upward, with more quits. I looked at every December report back to 2008.

In 2019, 42 million people quit a job. If Gallup’s data is to be believed (which it should be, since it’s an analytics company that has been around since 1935 with a pretty phenomenal track record) that means 21 MILLION people had negative enough experiences with a manager to leave their job. In one year!

Warning: my next paragraph is full of generalizations. Lots of group lumping for the sake of a point.

I’ve heard people comment about younger generations, namely those damn millennials, quitting their jobs too much. That we don’t understand commitment or aren’t willing to put in the time or pay our dues. That we don’t work hard enough. That’s not it. It’s that we have decided that we aren’t willing to suffer for the sake of someone else’s bottom line. Because we, along with every person, in every generation, don’t need to suffer at work. We just don’t.

There’s a cost to poor management

Outside of driving potentially talented people to quit, poor managers have a serious economic impact. Gallup estimates a loss between $319 billion and $398 billion for the US economy every year. On the flip side, companies that prioritize good management see measurable increases in profitability, productivity, increased customer and employee engagement, and reduced employee turnover. Gallup has stats on all of that.

The management advice you’re here for

After hearing from so many people with their own “I left my job” stories, I decided that maybe all of those experiences could help employers. I put up a question box on my Olive Branch Instagram (linked here, if you aren’t already following me) and asked “What could a manager do to promote a healthier work environment?” I received about 30 responses. Some of them were similar and most fit into broader categories. Using those responses, along with my own experiences and observations, I came up with the following ways a manager/company can better retain employees.

Disclaimer: these are written kind of toward “corporate” work, since that’s where my experience is, but the ideas overall can be applied in every industry and type of work. Also, I know that “managers” are usually also employees of a company and not the owner, but for the sake of this conversation, a “manager” is anyone who has direct reports/is in charge of other people and “employees” refer to those reporting to that individual. The managers usually have managers (who also need to work on these things).

Okay, that’s enough disclaimers. Here’s how to be a better manager:

Trust your employees

I can’t really put this better than one responder did: “Don’t micromanage. You hired your employees for their unique talents and skills.” Believe that your employees genuinely want to do well and give them the space to try and succeed.

Promote balance and boundaries

Managers set the precedence. If managers respond to non-critical emails outside of working hours or work early/late and on the weekend, employees are more likely to feel obligated to do the same. Even if the manager has told their employees they don’t need to, by doing it themselves they imply that’s what should be done.

If a manager shows that they prioritize themselves or are living as balanced a life as they can, employees will feel more comfortable emulating that behavior. Managers, go to the doctor, take sick days, go watch your kiddo’s extracurricular events, take a mental health break. Take care of yourself, and your employees (usually) will do so as well.

Take. The. Vacation.

I swear, some people (managers and employees, alike) think that the whole company will fall apart without them for a week or two. This isn’t the case. And if that is the case, the employee training could use some improvement. It goes back to that trust thing. Trust your employees to hold it together.

And when on vacation, don’t work. Seriously. Then everyone else thinks they have to work on vacation too. That creates resentful employees and friends and partners and families of employees. And likely creates ex employees.

One person told me that when they were hired, their contract came with a certain amount of vacation days. Later, their boss came to them and said they shouldn’t actually be taking their vacation. Nope. If you give vacation, let them take it. Encourage them to take it. If you don’t give vacation, go ahead and give vacation.

Give feedback correctly

Every person has a certain way they want to receive feedback. The better you give the feedback, the better they take it, and the better they do in the future. Figure out how your employees want to be told how to better meet expectations, and then do it that way. Speaking of setting expectations: do that. Clearly. Employees love clear expectations upfront.

This is a generalization, but I’m pretty sure it’s true. No human wants to be criticized or reprimanded in front of others. Someone responded with this easy to follow advice: “Praise publicly, reprimand privately.”

Be constructive with feedback. Don’t just say that something isn’t/wasn’t good. Provide detail on why and what can be improved. Provide words of affirmation and gratitude. Tell them what they have done well. Even the little things.

Give credit where it is due.

Know your employees

Learn who they are at a deeper level than their name and job. Get to know what their work habits are and how they work best. How to motivate them and how to assist them. Not every employee wants and needs the same things from a manager.

Get rid of the toxicity

Sometimes offices have toxic environments not because of the manager’s inability to manage, but because of another employee or other factor. It’s the manager’s responsibility to help fix that issue. To root out the toxicity and protect the health and productivity of the team. Toxic teams aren’t productive and, therefore, aren’t beneficial to the company.

Last, but certainly not least – this one is how a company can improve retention.

Promote people with managerial talent

Being good at a certain job does not necessarily mean a person is good at managing people. For example, a great salesman is not necessarily suited to be a sales manager. In the same way, a great salesman is not necessarily going to be a great sales trainer.

Gallup has identified five talents that great managers have: “They motivate their employees, assert themselves to overcome obstacles, create a culture of accountability, build trusting relationships and make informed, unbiased decisions for the good of their team and company.”

According to Gallup, 82% of managers don’t have high talent in management. Think of how many employees are working under those managers and potentially experiencing some level of discontentment in their work. Companies would benefit greatly from considering the actual managerial talent of those applying for management positions.

There are always ways to do better

A friend who had an incredibly bad work experience told me “I can preach on company culture until I’m blue in the face.” (She also told me that we should become business culture coaches, so if anyone wants some training, we’ve got you!) There are a million things that can lead to an unhealthy work environment and a damaging company culture. It’s not just the manager. Management is an obvious place to start, however.

The items shared above aren’t an all encompassing list of how to be a good manager. You can’t put that into 1,500 words. And there will forever be new ways to improve. If you are a manager, I encourage you to think about these things, how well you are currently doing them, and see where you could improve. There are also maaaany more resources for you to read, watch, or listen to about how to be a good manager/improve the culture in your workplace. Check out some of those as well. And then start workin’.

What tip did you find most useful? Or what’s something I didn’t mention, that you think a manager can do for a healthier environment? Share it in the comments below! And then go ahead and send this link to the managers you know.


Oh! All the Gallup things I mentioned came from a 56 page document of theirs, titled The State of the American Manager. If you go to this link, you can put in your information and they will send it to you for free. I highly recommend it, if improving the workplace matters to you.

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