New DDI Research: 57% of Employees Quit Because of Their Boss

Staff Report

Monday, December 16th, 2019

Frustrations with the boss drive more than half of employees out the door. An additional third stick around, but dream of opportunities to get away from their manager.

But why?

New data published in DDI's Frontline Leader Project dives into the emotions and relationships of frontline managers. The survey collected data from more than 1,000 managers, senior leaders, and individual contributors. The published findings reveal the anxieties, frustrations, and rewarding moments experienced by frontline managers, as well as the reflections of their senior leaders and direct reports.

"The research makes a clear case that we should stop using the term 'soft skills' to describe what are really critical leadership skills," said Stephanie Neal, director of DDI's Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research (CABER). "How leaders manage their emotions and how they make other people feel are the strongest drivers of talent retention. This leadership study gives an inside glimpse into the emotions surrounding frontline leaders to help organizations pinpoint the crucial gaps where people need more support."

Key findings in the research include:

People quit bosses. The research proves the old trope: People leave managers, not companies. 57 percent of employees have left a job because of their manager. Furthermore, 14 percent have left multiple jobs because of their managers. An additional 32 percent have seriously considered leaving because of their manager. 

Office politics and a time crunch are chief sources of stress. For managers and individual contributors alike, the two chief sources of stress are not enough time to do everything and dealing with office politics. Senior leaders also recognize how busy frontline leaders are, citing too many responsibilities and a lack of time for development as top barriers to success.

Managers are drowning in tough conversations. Senior leaders say the top weakness of frontline managers is their ability to have difficult performance conversations with their direct reports. And frontline managers agree; they rate difficult conversations, coaching, and engaging their teams as their top challenges.

A sense of purpose is the #1 driver of performance. Employees most commonly cite "wanting to have a positive impact on the world" as their primary motivating factor to succeed at work. They're also highly motivated by having ownership over projects, wanting to earn respect from family and peers, earning a promotion, and wanting to earn more money.

The move to leadership is typically unexpected – and can trigger regret. Seventy percent of frontline managers said they weren't expecting the promotion to leadership. While 20 percent were excited by the prospect of leadership, 17 percent only took the role because it seemed like the right next step. An additional 19 percent simply took it for the pay raise. Unfortunately, 18 percent of leaders also regret taking the role, and another 41 percent have doubts about whether it was the right move.