Manager Mistakes That Hurt Retention
Updated: May 12
“But I don’t want to reward them for doing their job,” the company leader said when I asked him how often he individually thanks his employees. I’d heard this from managers before. It’s a common misconception. Shouldn’t managers have high expectations of their employees? If so, why thank them just for doing their jobs? If you're a business owner or manager, you may be managing your employees in ways you thought were good, but are actually bad. In fact, your mistakes may contribute to their gradual dislike of their jobs--even for your best employees. To retain their talent, managers must understand what they’re doing that can contribute to their employees' gradual dissatisfaction and to turnover. Unintentional Mistakes Managers Make Let’s look at some of the ways managers’ unexamined behaviors could unconsciously “dis” their employees and move them one step closer out the door:
Never -- or rarely -- thanking, recognizing, or rewarding employees for doing their jobs, or only recognizing some employees (which is even more damaging than never rewarding any employees because the unrecognized ones will feel unfairly treated).
Speaking to their direct reports in ways that sound like they’re questioning their judgment instead of encouraging their input or wanting to hear a different opinion.
Exhibiting low expectations -- as if expecting them to fail -- rather than showing employees they have high expectations of them. Even worse, not setting expectations with them at all - or - not able to give constructive feedback to correct them when they don’t perform adequately, causing them to continue underperforming.
Believing they need to separate their professional selves from their human selves by only talking to employees about their work and never conversing about their personal lives.
Task-Focused More Than People-Focused If you look deeply, you can find a common theme underlying these behaviors. Each of them subtly allows a manager to avoid conversations with their employees. However, this is not to say that avoiding conversations is necessarily intentional on managers’ part. Rather, based on my experience as a manager and an executive coach, I believe managers who are naturally task and achievement-focused more than people-focused often feel that time spent talking to their employees is "getting in the way" of achieving their goals. Again, this is more subconscious than conscious. They believe they’re being good managers by focusing on their tasks before focusing on their people. Missing Connecting Opportunities However, each of the examples above shows missed opportunities for connecting with an employee. The failure to connect with employees means a leader misfired. Each connection point helps employees feel seen and cared about and helps them feel more connected to their job (with the exception of micromanaging -- my next blog topic). Even if that connection point is to give constructive feedback on their performance -- which they may not be happy to receive -- it beats not caring enough to help employees improve, causing them to struggle or to lose their job due to poor performance. The examples above also all exhibit low emotional intelligence, though they seem fairly innocent. The good news is these examples are behaviors that can be changed, even if they’re behaviors that seem ingrained and natural to some managers’ personality types. The examples are not personality traits, but behaviors. Like any habit, a behavior can be learned, practiced, and changed. Connecting Skills Are Emotional Intelligence Skills Managers who display behaviors such as:
thanking and recognizing all employees often,
asking for employees’ input and ideas,
setting and encouraging employees to meet high expectations,
providing timely feedback, and
having informal conversations about personal interests
...are showing the emotional intelligence skills of empathy, social awareness, and relationship building. These skills help managers connect with their teams. Using these connecting skills also builds a positive emotional climate. A positive climate creates loyalty, creativity, and raises business performance. Learning New Skills How can a manager’s behaviors be changed from task-focused to people-focused and to connecting more? A behavior is simply a skill to learn. It’s common that people become managers because they excelled at technical skills. Yet often managers haven't been trained in the skills of managing emotions and relationships. Research shows that 90% of the difference between average and outstanding leaders is linked to emotional intelligence skills, rather than to cognitive and technical skills. Consider investing time and resources into helping managers learn these essential people skills. In fact, companies that spend one-third of their training budgets on leadership development are 12% more likely to report at least 5% greater revenues than those that spend less on leadership development.
Depending on your budget, leadership development on emotional intelligence can be as simple as:
Reading books and hosting discussion groups on emotional intelligence,
Using assessments to learn one’s emotional intelligence strengths and weaknesses, or
Providing training or coaching on how to change emotional intelligence behaviors.
Given their modest cost, emotional intelligence assessments can deliver significant value. Sixty percent of managers whose organizations use EI assessments rate them as “effective” or “highly effective.” Keep Employees Connected and Wanting To Stay To sum it up: managers who focus more on their tasks than their people may be missing golden connection opportunities which could strengthen their retention rate. Emotional intelligence awareness can help them recognize these opportunities.
If you see unintentional mistakes and missed connection opportunities like those listed above in your managers, consider integrating emotional intelligence training into your manager development activities. Emotional intelligence brings a foundation to leadership skills that will help them connect to their employees, create a positive climate, and ultimately keep employees from heading out the door.