Leave a Bad Boss Before a Good One? Maybe Not

Okay.  So one boss lets you leave early to go to your kid's soccer game.  She always remembers your birthday.  And when a project you're working on gets, well, screwed up, she considers it just a lesson for next time.

Another boss takes the whole department out to lunch, except for you, and makes you work late on your birthday.   And when a project you're working on -- with the whole team -- goes AWOL, guess who's the only one who gets blamed?  I actually had a boss like that.

Now, which boss do you think most people would leave?

If you guessed both, you'd be right.

A new study has found that when fast-rising employees quit their jobs for better pay or more responsibility at another organization, the knee-jerk reaction may be to blame their leaving on a bad boss. Although the common perception is that workers join companies but leave managers, new research by a University of Illinois business professor shows that workers leave good bosses, too, according to newswise.com.

But this may work out benefitting you, and the company too.

Using data from interviews with ex-employees, researchers found that among employees who quit, the quality of the boss-worker bee relationship is positively related to higher salaries and greater responsibility in a worker's next job as well as the goodwill they feel toward their former company.

"But what other previous research also shows is that there is little correlation between having a good relationship with your manager and employee turnover," says Ravi S. Gajendran, a professor of business administration at the University of Illinois and co-author of the study. "Having a good relationship with your boss does reduce turnover to some extent, but given its relationship with improving job satisfaction and commitment, you would expect that it would also prevent people from leaving an organization. If you're making people happier, it should stand to reason that they're more committed to the organization. But the numbers don't bear that out."

 So why do workers leave despite having such a high-quality relationship with their manager?

"What we find is, if you have a good manager, they're going to invest in you, they're going to develop you, you're going to become a better, more competent employee, which also means you're more in-demand as a worker," Gajendran says. "You could move up in the organization, but that path may not always be available. Managers also might not want you to go up internally because then they're losing a valued employee. So it means you're attractive to employers in the outside job market.

"And that's why people leave good managers, precisely because good managers invest in and develop their employees. They typically get a better job with more responsibilities at their next employer."

Advice for companies? "Companies typically make a great effort in the 'on-boarding' process -- that is, how to get employees up and running. But scant attention has been paid to the off-boarding process," Gajendran says. "When people are leaving, you shouldn't just stop with an exit interview and a pat on the back. You should be thinking of them as a contact you can tap in the future. So it's a potential future asset that you want to think strategically about."

"If you're a manager who has poured a lot of resources into developing an employee, your first instinct might be to take their leaving badly," Gajendran says. "But it's to your advantage to keep good ties with them. Recognize that it's not personal but an opportunity to build a relationship with someone from another company."


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