Workplace Culture

Bosses Don’t Drive Workers Away, Poll Concludes

By Ed Frauenheim

Apr. 4, 2010

The bond between a worker and his or her manager has become slightly more important to employee engagement during the recession. But a bad connection with the immediate boss is not the main reason workers are thinking about leaving their firms.

Those are among the findings of a recent nationwide poll of 525 working Americans by Workforce Management and Workplace Options, a provider of work/life and employee assistance program services.

The poll, conducted in December, adds to a mixed picture of the significance of the employee-manager relationship when it comes to engagement. And it confirms other findings that say the strife between workers and supervisors is not a central cause of voluntary turnover.

Questions about the role that managers play in motivation and retention have arisen as engagement has dropped during the downturn and many workers say they plan to pursue new jobs.

Managers are the largest factor in employee engagement, the Corporate Executive Board has found. And the research firm documented an increase between 2006 and 2009 in the importance of manager quality when it comes to inspiring extra effort among workers.

On the other hand, the impact of the broader organization on employee effort has increased faster in recent years, according to the Corporate Executive Board. It found that between 2004 and 2009, worker commitment to managers declined in relative importance with respect to engagement, while commitment to the organization increased in relative importance.

Polling firm Gallup, for its part, hasn’t seen a drop in the impact of the manager on employee engagement and performance during the recession.

In the Workforce Management-Workplace Options poll, 82 percent of workers said they had a good or very good relationship with their immediate supervisor or supervisors. Slightly more than 70 percent said their relationship with their manager is important or very important to their engagement.

About half the respondents said the connection between the bond with their boss and their engagement has remained the same during the economic downturn. Nearly 20 percent said the connection has become less important, while 30 percent said it has become more important.

There’s an old maxim that employees “don’t leave companies, they leave managers.” But both consulting firm Towers Watson and compensation specialist have found that employees rank the manager relationship as a relatively unimportant reason for leaving a job.

The Workforce Management-Workplace Options poll results dovetail with those findings. Of those employees thinking about leaving or planning to leave, just 11 percent said a bad relationship with their manager was the main reason. Thirteen percent said a troubled tie with the boss was a reason, but not the main one. About 35 percent said they had a “so-so relationship” with their manager but it wasn’t a reason for leaving, and 40 percent said they had a good connection with their supervisor but they still planned to leave.

Asked to choose one thing they wished their manager would do better, the bulk of employees focused on communication. The top-ranked answer was “keeping [the worker] informed about what’s really going on in the company.”

Workforce Management, April 2010, p. 23Subscribe Now!

Ed Frauenheim is a former Associate Editorial Director at Human Capital Media and currently works as Senior Director of Content at Great Place to Work. He is a co-author of A Great Place to Work For All.

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