Maybe employees don’t leave managers, after all

hr_trends_and_analyst_findingsFor years, it’s been common knowledge that employees leave managers, not companies. But a new infographic from Glassdoor disagrees: according to their research, only 8 percent of employees attribute their departure to their managers. Far more common reasons were lack of career growth (33 percent), salary and compensation (27 percent), company culture (15 percent), work/life balance (14 percent), work environment (12 percent), and overall company performance (11 percent).

So why does conventional wisdom maintain that managers are the cause? The most-cited study on manager-driven turnover is the 1999 book, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, which is based on 25 years of research by the Gallup Organization. But that report is 14 years old now; surely there’s more recent information than that?

Maybe not. My research turned up plenty of studies proving that employees don’t particularly love their bosses, including this much-cited study by Florida State University from 2006. (Thirty-nine percent of respondents reported that their supervisors failed to keep promises—not exactly an indicator of strong employee/manager bonds.) But the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Department of Labor archives each turned up nothing.

Still, the conviction that employees are primarily leaving managers is so strong that one 2010 blog post even asserts, “Although [employees] claim money or opportunity as a cause when asked in an exit interview, the real cause is their manager.” How do we know that? “The real reason is captured through post interviews six months later—not feeling appreciated by my manager,” the author continues, but unfortunately there are no citations to back it up.

Why, then, is our belief in the phenomenon so strong? Maybe we’re drawing from personal experience; I know I’ve certainly left jobs because of tension with my manager, as have most of my peers. Maybe the 1999 research is still valid, and the Glassdoor survey is somehow flawed. Or perhaps the reasons cited in the Glassdoor survey—culture, work/life balance, work environment—are in many ways attributable to managers, after all. Surely a terrible manager would create a hostile work environment, or contribute to a poor company culture.

Whatever the source of the discrepancy, it’s clear that there’s a need for new research on the level of the 1999 Gallup survey. We know that managers contribute strongly to employee engagement, which is a strong predictor of turnover, but it would be nice to see more recent data.

What do you think? Do you side with Gallup or Glassdoor? Do you know of any more-recent research I’ve missed? Share with us in the comments!