bad managers make employees quit

Good employees leave bad managers who do these 4 things.

August 28, 2018
5 minute read
Last updated January 13, 2020

Good employees leave bad managers who do these 4 things.

By Erin Balsa August 28, 2018

Being a manager means having the power to influence others. Great managers inspire their teams to greatness and lead by example. Terrible managers frustrate their employees—and frustrated employees don’t stick around for the long haul. 

High turnover is not only frustrating—it’s expensive. The true cost of employee turnover can be as much as five times the position’s annual compensation. Fortunately, these expenses are avoidable.

To reduce your company’s turnover problem:

  • Identify manager actions that cause people to quit their jobs (via an employee experience survey).
  • Teach your people managers to lead in a way that promotes employee engagement and retention.

If you don’t yet have access to an employee experience survey, read on to discover four reasons talented employees leave bad bosses. If you observe these behaviors in your company, take action to correct them.

1. Bad managers give feedback too often (or not at all).

The Predictive Index® conducted a people management study in which 5,103 people told us about their managers. Our research showed us that great bosses give just the right amount of feedback.

As you can see (below), managers who gave “just the right amount of feedback” were rated—on average—an 8.6 on a scale of 1-10. Managers who gave no feedback at all scored an average rating of 4.2. On the opposite end of the spectrum, managers who gave “way too much” feedback earned a 4.5.

Chart showing manager ratings and employee feedback

If you’re unsure whether your managers give the appropriate amount of feedback, have them ask their employees during 1:1s. Or, if you don’t think employees will tell the truth, consider sending a quick survey they can answer anonymously.

Key takeaway: When in doubt, it’s better to give more feedback than less. Take a look at how the numbers stack up when you compare “I get some feedback, but not as much as I’d like” (6.5) to “I get a little more feedback than I’d like” (7.1).  

Motivate and manage your team to perform.

The practical guide to managing teams.

Download guide

2. Bad managers don’t invest in their people.

As part of the same People Management Study, respondents selected from a list of 105 traits to describe their managers. One of the 10 most common traits of bad managers was “Doesn’t show concern for my career and professional development.”

Full-time employees spend approximately one-quarter of their lives at work. It’s no wonder, then, that career and personal development is a top priority for so many.

Facebook found that learning and development was a top motivator for employees ages 54 and younger. Learning and development were most important to people in the 25-34 age bracket.

Key takeaway: To retain top performers—particularly early- to mid-career employees—managers need to provide ample opportunity for on-the-job development. Your company could bring in expert trainers on a regular basis. Or you might allow employees to attend professional conferences during normal working hours. Top talent thrives on gaining industry knowledge and developing specialized skills. Leadership must support and nurture those desires.

3. Bad managers don’t make expectations clear.

Good people want to do a good job. However, when the people in charge don’t set clear expectations, they set employees up to fail. And that failure leads to employee unhappiness and a high turnover rate.

Gallup studied 7,272 adults and found that one-half had quit a job because of a bad manager. They also learned that clarity of expectations is vital to employee performance.

It’s not enough to hand someone a job description or give a quick overview of responsibilities. Instead, managers should help employees set goals then talk about expectations and progress regularly. Gallup found that this dynamic boosts employee engagement:

Chart showing employee engagement and manager goal setting

Key takeaway: Managers should set clear expectations for employee behavior to minimize friction. Be sure to instruct people managers to communicate their preferences early on so everyone knows where they stand.

4. Bad managers play favorites.

High-performing employees are easy to like. They close huge deals, always hit deadlines, and are a pleasure to work with. While good managers are able to treat everyone on the team equally, bad managers give preferential treatment to a favorite few. Favoritism is demotivating and has a negative impact on team morale and company culture.

Key takeaway: Managers need to recognize that when they play favorites, they play with fire. Remind your managers to be mindful of how others may perceive the things they do and take meaningful steps to create an atmosphere of inclusivity. For example, managers could keep track of each time they recognize an employee for doing good work. They should be sure everyone gets celebrated at least once per quarter so nobody feels unappreciated. 

Great managers are self-aware.

In conducting our People Management Study we found that most problems boil down to a lack of self-awareness. Leaders who lack self-awareness don’t realize the impact their actions have on their employees. This shortcoming manifests in a variety of ways—none of which are good for company health.

Pie chart showing the importance of self-awareness as a manager trait

Managers rated a 9 or 10 were described as “communicative, respectful, transparent, fair, compassionate, inspiring, and supportive.” These adjectives indicate self-awareness. If you want to be the kind of manager people don’t leave, self-awareness should be a top priority.



  1. “Bad Managers dont manage.”
    You forgot the most basic point!
    No consistency or continuity in meetings, no leaderships, no follow through, aka dropping the ball!
    And 100% no clue! Too much focus on personal lives of employees and not enough on their actual performance and work.
    I WISH my compliant was “too much vs not enough feedback”, like the article mentioned!
    That sounds like a dream problem!

  2. A lot of information to process. Very interesting that female managers are valued for being kind compared to male managers. Glad to see the effectiveness of generations to just arriving are doing great things – breaks the myth.

    1. Disagree. The assumption that female managers are kinder than male managers is a total myth. I believe in gender equality, therefore I believe that women and men are equally capable of being lousy managers. As a manager once myself, I cared about my team’s job satisfaction and career paths. My feedback was always constructive and I did everything in my power to remove roadblocks to their success. Sadly, my manager was not the same. Her feedback was relentless and never constructive. She often used fear tactics to get more out of us in order to make her look good. She only cared about her advancement and we were nothing more than instruments for her success. She was also arrogant, had piss-poor self awareness… I could go on and on. Her PI report said that she “likes to win” (heaven help you if that’s in your boss’ PI). People who reported to her, including myself, ended up quitting because because she was an absolute nightmare to work for. I had another manager who was so insecure and paranoid that any initiative on my part was interpreted as a threat to her job. She didn’t like anybody on her team going above and beyond. Instead, she played favourites with those who didn’t challenger her. I did have an excellent female manager once. She was smart, secure in her expertise, gave helpful feedback, didn’t micromanage. A real professional. Sadly she left the company because of her lousy (male) boss. She’s since moved on to achieve great success at another company. I had my share of crummy male managers, too. They were way too hands-off, rarely gave enough relevant feedback or direction, couldn’t make a decision to save their lives and seemed more concerned about their own advancement than nurturing an engaged and productive team. I don’t believe that gender makes any difference in the quality of a manager. Anyone can be a bad boss.

      1. Hey Gabriel! Thanks for checking out our blog and leaving a comment.

        For sure, individual managers can vary, and managers can be “good” or “bad” regardless of gender! Our research showed that female managers were ranked higher than male managers, but only by a very small amount–not enough to be significant. So there’s equal opportunity here for managers of all kinds.

  3. Interesting information – I agree clear expectations are something most people like having because they feel confident they are going in the right direction. It is up to the manager to determine how detailed the expectations are and tailor them to individual employees.

  4. Thank you for posting this article. We have Managers who have been promoted due to their technical skills but we need to do a better job at teaching them about how to motivate and lead their people.

  5. I absolutely relate to the need for setting expectations. Having a clear understanding of what is expected makes all the difference when it comes to where to focus your energy. It’s about feeling secure in your role and knowing how to succeed.

  6. Great Article! Loved the information shared in this whole survey. It speaks to helping foster employee engagement and coaching management to help staff be effective.

    1. I guess investing is where raises fall..

      Good managers give merit increases…. all of that other stuff is cool, but honestly I’m going to quit because the company isn’t able to pay me what I’m worth.

      My entire career I have literally never care about half of the stuff on this list over a merit increase.

      No titles, no benefits, no recognition, none of that.



      stop acting like employees give a crap about how you treat them, for the right price you can tell what ever you want to an employee.

      You know why I quit my last 4 jobs?

      Because I got a better job offer that PAID more.

      If you want to improve employee retention then start paying them what they are worth.

      Stop wasting money on all that other crap and invest it in raises

  7. Interesting observations, and several are, unfortunately, all-too-true. There are some great take-aways here that give me pause to reflect on my own areas of opportunity as a manager.

  8. Great article! This is the first time I have seen comprehensive data supporting the idea that individuals leave managers not organizations. I will certainly be sharing this with other managers.

    In my personal experience, spending time reflecting on personal tendencies and growth opportunities has been beneficial. This practice has allowed me to have more natural and honest conversations with my team members; which has created a culture of trust and communication. I have also found Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model helpful when determining what management style (directive or supportive) is going to be best given the individual and the particular goal or task.

  9. Thank you for sharing this information. I believe there are many managers out there, good managers too, if they take an honest look at themselves, would say that they are guilty of doing at least one of these things from time to time. This article is something I will be sharing with colleagues.

  10. I believe that the underlying theme in this report is that good managers are people that you trust, and bad managers are not. There is very little that an employee would not do for a manager that they trust, and very little they would do for a manager that they do not trust.

  11. Communication is such an important tool in a manager’s toolbox. Another vital tool is a servant-leadership mindset….putting others’ needs before your own.

    I always say, “God loves me best”. I am convinced that God loves EVERYONE best. Wouldn’t it be great if leaders made each and every person they encounter feel that they are the favorite one? Something to think about…

  12. Didn’t realize that almost all employees rated that managers should be self aware and now realize that this needs to be emphasized when a new manager comes on board!

    1. Agreed. I think often new managers are not properly equipped with the toolbox they need to lead a team – self awareness being a critical one!

  13. It seems the common theme in each of these is trust. If you cannot trust your manager, you will not want to work for them. Without trust, there is no reason to take any risk at all. A great employee may be willing risks that could pay off for the entire company. When they do not trust their manager, there is more fear than there should be in the risk.

  14. Great article! I especially appreciate the mention of unclear expectations. In my role, I see it so frequently that employees aren’t sure what they should do or how good of a job they are (or aren’t) doing because there hasn’t been a clear discussion and goals outlined around what’s ultimately expected of them! Clear expectations makes it so much easier to manage employees and provide them solid feedback on what is and isn’t going well!

  15. If playing favorites means rewarding employees who go above and beyond, then sign me up. Although every employee should be commended when they do a good job, why should everyone be treated equally and rewarded the same when one is doing mediocre work and the other is excelling?

  16. Love this! I was just speaking with a manager that believes in favoritism and doesn’t try to hide it. I’ve always been a believer that just like with your own children, no one should ever be able to pinpoint who the favorite is. People should be treated equivalently but not the same if that makes sense. It’s the new golden rule called the “platinum rule” which says, “treat others the way THEY want to be treated”.

    It’s a bit scary how fine the line is between sharing too much and not sharing enough in regards to feedback.

  17. This is a wonderful article. I think for the most part, most managers are pretty good; but those aren’t the ones you hear about. You only hear the horror stories. Unfortunately, many managers have gotten lazy and feel they don’t even have to try. They are used to people being desperate to retain their jobs. I hope to share this article with some of my managers as a reminder that we need to value all of our employees.

  18. Great article. I never thought there was such a thing as “too much feedback,” however, it makes sense as this could be seen as micro-managing. If a manager is poor in any of the areas mentioned in the article, his/her employees will be disengaged. Good statistics to share with managers.

  19. It was a nice reminder of the essentials for good management. The fine balance necessary to share and give feedback but not too much feedback is so close! I know so colleagues that people openly showing favoritism is okay. I’m a firm believer that even if you have a favorite, your team should never know it.

  20. I am excited to share this research with our managers. People leave managers, not companies. The importance of feedback can’t be stressed enough. Self awareness is the foundation of our leadership training. The PI has transformed our ability to train self awareness using a common language and in a “safe” manner. It allows for comfortable conversations with sharing of similarities and differences, intensity of drives and that behavior is adaptable.

  21. Having worked with Gallup’s engagement survey for many years, these findings reinforce that the number one thing people want is to know what is expected of them. My greatest struggle as a Talent & OD Professional in my current company is coaching managers to be able to communicate clear expectations. Thankfully my CEO sponsored the creation of our first performance management process where we now have quarterly goal-setting and evaluation conversations. Still working on skill development but it has been rewarding to hear how many employees (and even managers) appreciate the regular conversation and gaining clarity.

  22. It’s interesting that for on-the-job development you listed bringing someone in or sending someone out to a conference. When I hear that term I think about less formal ways of learning, such as stretch or temporary assignments that give people a chance to learn and grow in areas they may not have much experience in.

  23. This was a really good article. It was interesting to see some of the numbers on the communication because I hear all the time, the employee does not get enough information but never thought of over communication as a “real” issue.

  24. I’ve long held the belief that bad management is a result more of nobody training people how to manage in the first place. In several industries I’ve witness talented people promoted who made for bad managers. it wasn’t because they didn’t know the job. They had to. They were the best at it. But the skill of managing people who aren’t capable of your level id challenging. Here’s a simple example of what I mean. I went to college with a mix of professional professors and professionals that were part-time professors. A trained teacher finds ways to communicate what they need your to learn in a way that you can digest and understand. the professionals doing night classes usually knew what they were talking about but couldn’t understand why you didn’t. it was second nature to them. They forgot that long ago the concepts were foreign to them and nobody had ever taught THEM how to teach what they know.

  25. I find that the two that resonate with me the most is lack of knowledge regarding expectations to effectively do your job and investment in your employees, I am willing to go over and above if I know the company has my back. I want to engage and effectively work for the greater good.

  26. If you never know if you are doing a good job (unclear expectations) know that you won’t be able to compete with the favored few (favoritism), and have no trust of your manager (basically the rest of the points), then yes you are going to leave. I feel if you can trust your manger who is consistent and interested in your career trajectory you will stay and work at your capacity.

  27. I think its a really difficult balance and depends on the person you are supervising. If you give them too much feedback, they may perceive you are micromanaging. Give them too little feedback, they perceive you don’t care. The amount of feedback for one person may not be enough for another — it’s in the eyes of the beholder and you have be able to understand their needs.

  28. There’s a fine line between Micro-Managing and allowing the associate to grow and develop through the right amount of coaching and feedback.
    It takes time and communication between the leader and the associate because every person is just that little tiny bit different and you want to show the care to learn where the line is.

  29. The statement about having clarity in the expectations really resonated with me. Our company started having one-on-one meetings with leadership to review goals and expectations.

  30. This article is spot on! I would agree with the four points stated here. For me personally, self-awareness, playing favorites and unclear expectations are main drivers in unhappy employees. If a manager is bad at one of these things, never mind all of them, it is a recipe for disaster.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *