Is employee experience really all about your manager?

Tim Sackett
Tim Sackett | August 23, 2018
Is employee experience really all about your manager?

Employees dont leave companies. Employees leave managers. 

How often have you heard this over the past decade? A hundred times? A thousand times?

We love saying this in the HR, management consulting, leadership training world. We use it for employee engagement and employee experience, to almost anything where we want to blame bad managers and take the focus off all the other crap we get wrong in our companies.

The fact is, the quote above is mostly bullshit.

Employees actually care about other things more

The truth is, employees actually leave organizations more often over money than anything else. We dont want to believe it because that means as leaders we have to dig into our budgets, make less profit, and pay our employees true market value if we want them to stay.

Managers might be the issue if youre getting everything else right. So, if you pay your employees at the market rate. If you offer market-level benefits. If you give them a normal work environment, then yes, maybe employees dont leave your company, they leave their managers.

But you forgot all that other stuff? Maybe the real reason an employee left your company wasnt the fact their manager wasnt a rock star. Maybe it was the fact you paid them below market, gave them a crappy benefits package, and made them work in the basement?!

The dirty little truth about Employee Experience is that managers are just one component of the overall experience, and we give them way too much weight when looking at EX in totality. We do this because we feel we dont have control over all of the other stuff, but its easy to push managers around and train them up to be better than they actually are.

Rethinking Maslow for EX

There is a new Maslows Hierarchy of Employee Needs when it comes to Employee Experience and it goes like this:

Hierarchy of needsLevel IMoney – cash!

Level IIBenefits – health, fringes, etc.

Level IIIFlexibility of Schedule – work/life balance

Level IVWork Environment – short commute, great design, supportive co-workers

Level VThe Actual Job/Position – am I doing something that utilizes my best skills?

Level VIYour Manager – do I have a manager who supports my career & life goals?

We all immediately jump to Level VI when it comes to EX because thats what weve been told is the real reason people leave organizations. Which actually might be the case if all of the other five levels above are being met. What I find is that rarely are the first five levels met, and then it becomes really easy to blame managers for why their people leave.

Managers arent the difference maker

When I take a look at organizations with super low turnover, what I find are that they do a great job at the first five levels, and they do what everyone else does at level six. The managers at low turnover organizations are virtually the same as all other organizations. There is no real difference in skill sets and attitudes; those managers are just managing employees who are pretty satisfied because most of their basic needs are met pretty well.

I think the new quote should be this:

Good employees leave companies that give them average pay, benefits, and work environment, that dont utilize the employees skill set, and that make them work for a crappy boss.