ATD Blog

Are You Unknowingly Driving Great Employees Away?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

During years of witnessing problematic interactions between managers and members of their staffs and dealing with the fallout, I observed how frequently inattention to good management practices resulted in devastating effects on those involved in the exchanges – as well as on those around them. Through both inadvertent and deliberate actions, managers were driving employees away from their jobs, destroying morale, and often changing the entire trajectory of a team or organization in a negative way. Shockingly, they often had no idea they were doing it.

Even managers who had good intentions were making big mistakes, sometimes because they had let their guards down and acted without thinking through the consequences, and other times because they thought that their misguided management styles were somehow going to achieve their desired results.

People are first and foremost human, yet in work environments we sometimes focus a bit too much on the technical aspects of people’s skills and abilities—forgetting that a corporate culture includes much more, such as how our feelings and behaviors impact everyone around us.

If you are losing great employees, it may be time to take a reflective look at your management style and behaviors. Don’t risk losing your best employees due to bad habits that you have the power to change. Following are some examples of mistakes managers make—ones that can contribute to causing great employees to leave their jobs:

  • During interviews, don’t tell candidates what you think they want to hear without the intent to follow up on your promises once they’re hired.
    Instead: Be honest during interviews as to what you can and cannot offer potential employees, and don’t make promises you can’t keep. Why start off a working relationship with either a lack of commitment to what you said – or downright dishonesty?
  • Don’t speak to people in a demeaning, condescending tone.
    Instead: Speak to your employees in a respectful manner. Acknowledge good ideas, make individuals feel that they are an important part of the team, and support them in their efforts to do their best for you. The goal is to draw people toward you, not push them away.
  • Don’t micromanage, assuming employees are incapable of managing their own time and work.
    Instead: Give your employees the autonomy to make decisions on their own. Empowering employees helps build their confidence, fosters creative thinking and promotes productivity.
  • Don’t avoid dealing with problem employees.
    Instead: If you know something is wrong, have the difficult conversations. Typically the individuals involved know that they deserve to be called out on their behavior. Ignoring it only prolongs the problem and makes you look weak as a leader.
  • Don’t inflict performance punishment on your highest achievers, forcing unattainable amounts of work on them because you know they will work hard and produce the best results.
    Instead: Hold all of your employees responsible for their own work. Don’t shift the load and overburden your best employees just because they are your highest achievers and you think your less productive employees won’t perform adequately. Even devoted employees can burn out from feeling overworked, underappreciated and tired of unfair treatment.

We all come to work with what I call “shared accountability”: Each one of us is accountable for our part in the culture we create within our workplace. While I believe that most individuals come to work each day with the intent to be of good service to their internal and external customers, staff, fellow colleagues and organization, there are times that each of us slips into behaving in less than ideal ways.
If you feel you may be exhibiting less than ideal behaviors—including ones that may be driving good employees away—consider this a friendly wakeup call and an opportunity to begin improving the quality of your relationships with your employees. Set some time aside each week to think about your management style. Constructive ways to improve retention of your top employees might be found in those moments when you realize something is amiss—or could be improved.

Once you develop a keener awareness of your own contributions to the workplace environment, you can begin to work toward a more productive, successful approach. Developing a supportive, thoughtful and collaborative style of managing helps to create a meaningful work environment where people feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, ideas and feelings—and ultimately the best of their talents and abilities.


I believe Maya Angelou said it best:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” —Dr. Maya Angelou

About the Author

Barbara Otis, author of 101 Ways to Lose a Great Employee, is a training and organizational development professional with more than 20 years of experience who has worked with all sizes of organizations. She has found that many of the same issues exist regardless of how large or small a work environment is—and that the importance of employees feeling truly seen and heard should never be underestimated. Learn more about Barbara’s book at

Be the first to comment
Sign In to Post a Comment
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.