Bad Managers Are the No. 1 Reason People Leave Their Jobs

What does it take to make an employee leave a job voluntarily, in a tough economy? A bad boss.

bad boss

(Photo Credit: Victor1558/Flickr)

"Employees don't need to be friends with their boss but they need to have a relationship," writes Susan Heathfield at About.com's Human Resources site. "The boss is too much of an integral part of their daily lives at work for an uncomfortable relationship. ...a toxic relationship with the person an employee reports to undermines the employee's engagement, confidence and commitment. A bad boss is also the number one reason why employees quit their job."

This information means something different to you, depending on whether you're a manager or an individual contributor.

For Managers:

First and foremost, keep an eye on how many of your people leave. Even if your company doesn't do 360-reviews, and your own boss doesn't have a beef with your management style, a mass exodus is a bad sign.

Good managers know that their job is to look out for their employees' interests, as well as those of the company. They also don't expect (or want) to be best friends with their reports.

For Employees:

If you're stuck with a bad manager, your position is more difficult. Managing up is always a challenge, and you can't transform a bad boss into a good one just by being a good employee.

That said, there are a few things you can do to improve your relationship with your manager:

1. Get Everything in Writing

"Make sure you get a job description in writing and approved by you, Human Resources and your manager," advises Renee Sylvestre-Williams at Forbes. "Before you sign anything, ensure that it lists everything you do and is detailed and specific. If there is any vague or unclear language, make sure it is cleared up so your manager can’t use it to give you 'other duties as assigned.'"

Sylvestre-Williams also recommends documenting everything that happens between you and the manager, so that you have a log to show HR, if worse comes to worst.

2. Try to See Things From the Other Perspective

Even if your boss is legitimately horrible, you'll get along better if you try to connect with him -- and that often means putting yourself in his shoes. The worst-case scenario is that it'll be a waste of your time, but there's always the chance that being more empathetic will allow you to develop a better rapport. At least, you'll be less likely to react negatively and make things worse.

3. Make Connections

Networking internally is your best bet in a situation like this. Forging alliances with folks in your department (or others, in case you need to make a jump to another part of the company) will make sure you're not out on a limb, all by yourself, should things come to a head.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you ever left your job because of a bad boss? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

20 Comments

  1. 20 CD 25 Nov
    I left my boss not my job. I put up with my bosses dysfunction for one year. What broke the camel's back and make me walk out of a perfectly good part time job with a very decent wage? My boss accused me of not emailing her an invoice for a final payment due. As I have done in the last year, I not only proved to her that I did send it in PDF form but the date that I did send it. Further she announced she wanted to be notified verbally of such things. No way I was going to do that and then the scenario would be I never said it. Combined with all this and denying that our employment agreement stated that I would get a 10% raise in 6 months (and I sent it to her to prove it was in there) I walked out that day and am not sorry. Dishonesty and lack of trust was the real reason I left. Previously the employee that worked there for 9 months pretty much left for the same reason. My boss was good at her trade BUT that does not mean she makes a good manager. I am a 60+ employee semi retired - worked enough years to recognize a "toxic" and administratively challenged manager.
  2. 19 Anonymous 20 Nov
    My boss not only reads my email, she files it away!
  3. 18 anonymous 17 Nov
    I started at my company a year ago and although I started at an entry-level position, I took the job with the promise of a promotion (as the company had just created a new position and needed someone to fill it)and with the promotion, a raise. I was asked every day by my manager if I really wanted the position, if I thought I was a capable of handling it, and so on, and the end of each of these stressful attacks, he would throw in "It comes with a pretty large raise and full benefits." So, a few months later, I was trained and put into my new position. My hours were lengthened to 12 hours a day, but my raise never came. I spoke to him about it 5 times, and each time he acted as if he were hearing it for the very first time, said he'd ask higher management about it, and went on with whatever he was doing. Nothing happened. Not to mention he continually sent me home early so I never received benefits either and actually wrote me up one day because I stayed to finish my own work, as well as another employee's work which he had told me to do. Several employees left and instead of hiring new ones, he had me fill three positions, plus my own. I have had one day off a week, and several times been called in on those days, because he did not show up, as he is the only one he trusts to do my job other than myself. I missed my sister's wedding because when I asked for that one day off, he refused it, claiming that because I was not technically full-time, I did not qualify for vacation hours, and refused to change my day off to another day, even though all of the jobs I do can be done any day of the week. However, after almost a year of this, I was finally transferred into a full-time position and officially told I was going to get a raise, but all I really want to do is quit. The raise will be nice (if it actually goes through this time) but it would have been nicer a year ago, and now opportunities that that raise would have made available, have been passed up. As soon as I've saved up enough money for my needs, I'm gone. I don't care if I end up working minimum wage odd-jobs, as long as I don't have to deal with another manager like this one. I feel like I've aged 20 years in this one year due to the stress and pent-up anger this job, this manager, has caused me.
  4. 17 anonymous 19 Jun

    I hate my situation because I work so hard, bend over backwards, go out of my way to complete work and extra work, and my boss doesn't formally recognize my work.  My coworkers and employees do, but my boss doesn't acknowledge it and I feel so frustrated.  I will be sure to document my work and challenges I face, so I can present proof when/where needed.  This article is good.  

  5. 16 ginamarie 18 Mar

    After 7 years and the promise of a nice raise,  I turned down a potentially well paying job but they needed someone right away and couldn't allow me the time to give my employer 2 weeks notice.  So, up comes my review and wholla, the big raise?  3%... less than a thousand dollars a year.  My workload has tripled and my performance is excellent.  I mean excellent... I'm not bragging, well maybe a little but it is a fact.  During my review my branch mgr told me that there were people at this so called forward thinking global company were making less than I was.  I told him that it didn't surprise me one bit.  He also told me that if someone were to replace me that they would start out making more money than I am now. (why would you tell someone that and think its funny?) He gave me a form that documented my big raise and according to the companies rating system my pay reflects that I am a beginner, inconsistent and just learning.  I would think that if a company of this caliber were to hang on to an insufficient  employee for 7 years then something is terribly wrong.  The first 4 years were the hardest as both of my bosses hated women, one had a bad marriage and felt compelled to control something, anything and anyone, and I was his target.  The other boss had an ex-wife who he hated and he in turn felt compelled to talk about women in the worst way possible.  In fact the second day that I was employed he sat down and told me to "know my place!"  What?  Really?  Do people even think this way anymore?  The workplace environment had become so unbearable that I I talked to three different attorneys and they all agreed that where I worked was a hostile work environment and suggested that I keep a journal.  Much to my own disappointment, I didn't quit and file a suit against them. I could have easily cost them their cushy jobs but with the economy as bad as it were I felt like I was on a sinking ship.  I also called the company compliance phone number and the admin asked, "What is your complaint?"  I said, "I'm tired of working with people who's mindset is still in the 50's."  She said, "Oh, I know it, its the same here."  This was from the secretary of the man in charge of company compliance!  That's okay because you know what I'm going to do?  I'm going to come out ahead, I'm going to be the better person.  I just know now that I should have never let them get away with the things that they said or did.  My confidence was shot from being surrounded by tyrants who kept telling me that if I didn't like it I could always leave, while piling more work at my feet.  Well, the next job offer that comes along I'm going to take it and I'm not going to give any notice.  I've also came up with a new marketing campaign that will hopefully make more people become aware of the importance to changing the way people are paid... we all deserve a FAIR LIVING WAGE!  We will beg no more!   

  6. 15 Anonymous2 20 Dec

    What do you do when you are the primary go-to, yet your boss keeps a (highly-paid, yet under-skilled) "friend" on because she has no one else to talk about her personal life with?  Or, withholds opportunities for advancement?  Or, fails to give credit when you make monumental discoveries in flawed information?  It's hurtful to not be valued, fought for, or properly recognized.  Some bosses don't give a care, and that's something that cannot be changed.

  7. 14 Lashed 19 Nov
    The worst boss is the one that has access to unlimited financial resources yet refuses to adequately compensate her direct reports.  I am the EA for a very bitter and delusional President of a Fortune 20 who had the audacity a few weeks ago to tell me, after six years with her, that I was "doing really well here" while she was giving me a pay-cut through what HR is calling job harmonization.  Yet, I am $35,000 below market!  The day that she reaches my last nerve - which will be soon - I will simply march to the EEOC and file an equal pay complaint and with my right to sue, I will sue; and send out press releases with ample details every hour of the day.  She's well aware of what she is doing to me, make no mistake.  You never hurt your right hand! Never!
  8. 13 The epitome how fast a company can lose talent 18 Nov
    I always find it ironic that many managers exempt themselves from the rules and a few understand their roles. I have started a company after a horrible 3 year manager experience and the model I have adopted so far is a more peer to peer leadership. Any managers I hire better understand clearly what their role is. To nurture and help employees succeed and empower, not "my way" attitude....uh, no! With my previous employer, the sales team had won an office of the year award and the so-called leader had the arrogance to display a picture of only herself on a last slide of a power point presentation. What is the most compelling part is she could not see how the team was let down by no recognition. This is what make it a truly sad thing. 
  9. 12 Epitome how fast a company can lose talent 18 Nov
    I always find it ironic that many managers exempt themselves from the rules and a few understand their roles. I have started a company after a horrible 3 year manager experience and the model I have adopted so far is a more peer to peer leadership. Any managers I hire better understand clearly what their role is. To nurture and help employees succeed and empower, not "my way" attitude....uh, no! With my previous employer, the sales team had won an office of the year award and the so-called leader had the arrogance to display a picture of only herself on a last slide of a power point presentation. What is the most compelling part is she could not see how the team was let down by no recognition. This is what make it a truly sad thing. 
  10. 11 An Old Mate. 17 Nov

    A bad boss...

    The eternal problem which is non curable.

  11. 10 Still Recovering.... 17 Nov

    I quit my job a few months ago due to bad management. I was promoted behind my boss and upon taking over her old job I found out my boss was stealing my ideas and spreadsheets as well as anyone else who wasn't 'in the loop'. She did other wrong doings I observed that were just plain mean of her but I never reported her officially. I tried to talk to 'useless' upper management but nothing changed. Suddenly untrue rumours about me started to surface and the day her contract was renewed, I quit! It's been somewhat of a struggle to get my self esteem back what with the leftover rumours but at the same time it's helped me sort out who was really genuine and who wasn't. She then tried to keep in contact personally by expressing her disaproval of my life choices, wow... Needless to say she is now blocked, I'm studying a business degree and just bartending for cash and some fitness. Money doesn't come as readily but it doesn't go out so quick now I'm not stressed either!! If you are on the cusp, take the plunge, get out!

  12. 9 anonymous 16 Nov

     I left a position that others advised me to stay in, to maintain the salary. Their guidance was "fight" the environment.  It's been tough, but I made the right decision. During my time there, in an education environment, I was asked to misrepresent information, and when I refused to do so, and went to another  location for guidance (I didn't report the boss but asked guidance on how to address the issue), I got placed on the "enemy" list.During that time that followed this episode that manager used every means possible to learn details about my personal circumstances; she ensured through strategic micromanagement that my direct reports went to her first (they were afraid for their jobs) ; and conducted routine searches of my desk. Indeed, when I went on vacation, my desk was broken into.  Throughout my employment there, my computer emails were monitored and sometimes deleted; important files containing documentation for faculty and student evaluations were vandalized and/or taken, and in some cases as I found out later, altered. After the episode, life at work got much more difficult; my computer network went "down" regularly--and I was the only one with network issues; etc.   I went to HR at the national headquarters (this was a for-profit college) and talked to the head of HR--calmly, with factual details and documentation, and frankly they didn't care.The company was conducting structured layoffs to save dollars and they had eviscerated the academic team without changing standards.  This boss used these circumstances to make the environment even more difficult by a variety of actions such as refusing to pay tutors $15 hourly due to tough financial issues to help students, then mandating higher levels of service, more tutoring, etc., with 50% of previous staff levels, with threats of write-ups for everyone if performance criteria were not met.The corporate changes would have been bearable with management support but without they were awful.  Not that this individual was a stellar boss before my refusal to misrepresent information--her favorite strategy for dealing with employee issues was to say "they need to be fired--write them up!"  She kept final written warnings on everyone just for strategic control. Yes, I kept a documentation file, but a harassment claim would have been tough to prove, especially when dealing with a multi-million dollar corporation who has a history of protecting employees who make money.  So when the opportunity came, I got out.  It's been a pleasure not to deal with a personality who enjoys control and abuse. In fact, detox from the environment has taken more time than I thought. And yes, it has been financially tough but getting out was the right thing to do for my own well-being.Your article is on point because if it had not been for that individual, I think I would still be there.  

  13. 8 Quit 16 Nov
    Unless you enjoy having fried nerves and high blood pressure....I suggest you quit a job with a bad manager...you'll never win...bad managers are usually bullies with severe personality disorders!!!
  14. 7 P-Peved 16 Nov

    When you have to start keeping an "evidence" email folder (I have one) you've probably already left the job in spirit if not in body. I've got a few irons in the fire and just biding my time till I'm out. I've seen how I can't win against a boss who has a lack of understanding of the tech, a lack of concern for work environment, and only cares about design output and not whether the output has any quality or repercussions on the overall company.

    I actually have an analogy about relationships and mold (Love, work, etc.). You start with a certain level of respect. It has ups and downs. When down a bit it grows back fast, when down a lot there isn't much left so it grows back slower, but if it ever hits zero then its dead, wiped, ==divorce. Imagine cleaning up mold, leave a bit and it comes back, but pull out the bleach and its dead.

    Once its fully broken just make your exit plan. Any hope for severance isn't really worth the health evects of postponing. If you want severance then just put in your notice with whatever number of weeks severance you expect, they may let you go with the severance, or at least you get to work out your days low stress.

     

  15. 6 Mr. Seeking Employment 15 Nov

    I've had 8 engineering managers in the 15 years that I remained at one of my former employers. Each time a new and inexperienced manager came in, my career was reset back to the beginning of my grade level. Ugh!

    Most (not all) of the managers were arrogant (and not honorable in my performance reviews I might add) and they did not care about what I accomplished for the company in the past, nor did they care about what the managers before them had to say or had documented about my performance.

    I survived all of the bad managers throughout the years except the last one. As time went on, I accomplished a lot but as the newer (and younger) managers came in, they did not come in experienced in my particular area of expertise and ultimately I started to miss my deadlines as I had no more motivation to work hard at this company any longer. In the end they wanted to fire me (put me on a performance improvement plan and had HR grill me intensely, etc) but I quit instead of fighting it out. My best advice: Line up a new job and move on to a new position as soon as possible before any bad manager can wreck your career and your health.

    This article was spot on. 

  16. 5 anon 15 Nov

    I worked in an unbearable environment - stressful and quite frankly more like slavery, 12 hrs a day with a 10 min break to eat one meal, god forbid if you wanted to go to the toilet!  It was made worse by a total #$^^ of a small manager.  My advice is don't hang around thinking it will get better. I tried to report the mgr but ineffectual senior management did not deal with it.  I left and many others have done likewise. Yet that company still does not recognize that it has  a problem.  Extraordinary! Very glad I left.  

  17. 4 LJ 15 Nov

    In my experience, you cannot really ever recover once a manager decides that don't like you, your style, your communication skills, etc.

    But I do agree that having other strong alliances and making a move early on can work if you haven't lost all support or gotten a reputation (albeit undeserved).

    Knowing when to jump ship is the trick I think - I have not learned it.

  18. 3 Moved Upwards & Onwards 15 Nov
    I had a horrible boss, who wanted to get rid of a co-worker and enlisted my aid.  Instead of getting rid of the co-worker ended up getting rid of my boss under the Respectful Workplace and Harrassment Policy that our company has and was promoted into my bosses job.  Can't stress enough document, document!!
  19. 2 Gone 15 Nov

    Had a job that started out wonderfully.  18 months of relative independence running a marketing operation.  Many kudos and recognition that the marketing group was making a significant contribution to company's success and was the highest rated group in the company.  Then the VP decided to become more heavily involved and began micro-managing.  Now I am gone.  My former direct reports send me notes about how miserable they are under the detailed supervision from the so-called VP.  At the earliest opportunity I will hire away the best talent from that company because I know just how exceptional they are as marketers.

  20. 1 anonymous 04 Nov
    This article gave good insight as to how best to cover yourself in both sides. I have been on the employee side  only and have done options 1 and possibly two(if in my mind counts).  Option 2 was still difficult seeing as how a past manager was very chauvinistic and prejudiced so  that would have been like goading him on for that behavior. But definitely keeping everything in hard copy is the way to go

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