Managers Can Increase Employee Retention By Changing Their Behavior

BY Kathy Crosett
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Nobody’s perfect, especially not managers. And employees know it. If there’s one thing employees love to talk about, it’s their manager’s behavior. Some of these problems are overblown. But many managers create a culture that drives away employees. The latest research on this topic shows:

  • More Employees Are Leaving Bad Managers
  • Specific On-​the-​Job Manager Behaviors Drive People Away
  • Employees Fear Speaking Up

Who Leaves Because of Manager Behavior?

Employees between the ages of 18 and 34 are more likely to leave a job to get away from a bad manager than workers in other age groups. Over half of younger workers have grown so frustrated with their manager’s shortcomings that they found another place to work. About 41% of workers aged 55 and older say the same. And for workers in the 35- to 54-​year-​old group, the departure rate comes in at 49%. This rate of turnover can hit a company’s bottom line during these booming economic times.

Employees Dislike These Managerial Behaviors

In its Voice of the Sales Rep survey, SalesFuel learned that only 35% of sales professionals would recommend their current manager to a friend or colleague. The other survey responders had complaints about their boss. What exactly constitutes a bad boss? In some cases, your team members need your support. Instead of getting that support, sales professionals told us their boss, “Leaves some tasks to me she should have completed before leaving for the day.” Or, “He fails to keep himself calm in certain situations.” Or, “He doesn’t respond to emails.”

Being Absent

These three statements show the frustrations team members feel when their manager doesn’t behave professionally. Asking a team member to do your work so you can leave early isn’t a sin. But it’s not professional to dump work on them at the last minute. And if you’re regularly delegating tasks to an employee, help them understand that you are giving them opportunities for professional development. Praise their willingness to take on extra tasks and make sure upper management sees their commitment. If possible, reward these team members with a bonus or gift card.

Emotional Outbursts

Failing to stay calm in emotional situations will quickly lead to disaster. Your employees expect you to set the tone for the department. If you lose your head and start slamming doors because the delivery of a key product will be late, what are your team members supposed to think? First, they’ll probably believe you favor an emotional work environment. If you’re not careful, people will resort to yelling instead of rationally trying to come up with solutions to the latest problem. Before you lose control of your emotions again, step into a private conference room or walk around the block until you cool off. At that point, you can engage logically with your team.

Ignoring Requests

There’s no excuse for delaying a response to a waiting employee. They’ve taken time from their busy schedule to ask a question or make a suggestion. If you don’t have an immediate answer for them, acknowledge that you’ve received their email. Let them know when they can expect your answer and keep to that schedule. Commit to cleaning out your email inbox every day. You don’t hold the role of manager so you can leave early and play golf. Being a manager means you’ll likely work longer hours than everyone else in the department. Be conscientious about that fact or get out of management. 


Responses to a recent Vital Smarts survey were remarkably similar to the opinions revealed in the SalesFuel survey. Of the 1,335 employees who participated in the Vital Smarts survey, 24% complained that their managers were not good listeners. During one-​on-​one meetings, while employees were commenting on issues they encountered while working, managers had one eye on their phones. Are managers more likely than other workers to multitask? Possibly. And who can blame them given the pressure they’re under to perform. Unfortunately, employees notice, and they consider this management behavior to be unacceptable.

Employees Will Not Tell You What They’re Thinking

Managers might figure that employees will flat out tell them when they don’t like specific behaviors. That’s not true. Employees might gossip amongst themselves about a manager who consistently comes in late, but they’ll hesitate to have a direct interaction with the boss on that topic. Most team members consider talking to the manager about objectionable behavior to be very dangerous territory. Employees won’t say anything because:

  • They don’t want to offend their managers (47%)
  • They fear retaliation (41%)
  • They worry about long-​term damage to their career (39%)

What Managers Can Do

If you’ve noticed people are leaving your department, it’s worth asking yourself how you’re contributing to the problem. Start paying attention to how you’re behaving on a daily basis. Are you listening to what employees are telling you? Or are you rushing them in a conversation so you can get to the next item on your list?

Ask a trusted colleague to give you some feedback that they think will be tough for you to hear. Then work on improving your flaw and check back in with them over time to be sure what you’re doing is making a difference. After a few weeks, gather your team members and explain the flaw you’ve been working on. Ask for their support and feedback as you continue to change. They may resist at first, but once they see that you won’t retaliate, they may tell you when they see the problem happening. When your team sees you actively trying to improve, they may decide to stay with you instead of looking for a new job.

Some managers like to make the workplace all about themselves. The opposite should be true. As a manager, you should be focused on helping your employees do their jobs and develop their professional skills. In your one-​on-​one meetings, with your phone locked away in a drawer, ask your employees which part of their job they most want to change. And ask them where they want to be professionally in five years. When bosses take that kind of interest in their employees and follow through, consistently, they can count on loyalty and engagement.