They’re Yours to Lose — The Impact of Good and Bad Bosses

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Feb 19, 2015

Last week, while listening to a friend weigh the pros and cons of a potential job offer, I started thinking about what I call the Unholy Work Trinity (UWT) — Relationship with Boss, Job Tasks, and Compensation.

The UWT exists in a delicate balance, and when any of the three parts becomes the source of mild dissatisfaction, a bit of angst usually sets in.

When an employee becomes significantly dissatisfied with one part of the UWT, however, the angst can escalate into disgruntlement. If that same employee becomes significantly dissatisfied with two or more parts of the UWT, a change is comin’ on.

Employees react to their surroundings

Consider the following:

  • If I like my boss, like the work, and like the money, I’ll stay (even if I think about leaving);
  • If I love my boss, like the work, and hate the money, I’ll leave (even if I think about staying); and,
  • If I HATE my boss, hate the work, and hate the money, well, I’m already gone.

We could do this a few more times, but I think you get it.

Now here’s something every manager should notice. In each of these cases, I (as the fictional employee) am reacting to my surroundings. If things stay good, I stay put. When things change, I change.

In other words, your employees are yours to lose.

It’s called inertia

Back in the day when I was responsible for managing retirement plans, I stumbled upon a little old law of human behavior called inertia. Yes, inertia explains why the negative enrollment option we later instituted for the 401(k)  worked so well. As it turns out, if action were required to opt out of the plan, most employees would just as soon stay in it.

How does inertia affect employee turnover?

A 1973 (yes, 1973!) article from the Harvard Business Review put it this way:

Why do employees stay? The brief answer is ‘inertia.’ Employees tend to remain with a company until some force causes them to leave. The concept here is very like the concept of inertia in the physical sciences: a body will remain as it is until acted on by a force.”

OK, so let’s talk about bad bosses.

Two in five Americans say they have a bad boss

A new study by the Barna Group, in partnership with Leadercast, found that 40 percent of Americans rate their boss as “bad.”

Bad bosses are described as lacking clear vision and not providing direction (32 percent), being the most stressful part of the job (33 percent), and making their employees feel controlled, manipulated, or defensive (31 percent).

People leave bad bosses. Seriously. It’s not just a pithy saying.

Here’s some detail from the survey:

Employees who don’t respect their leaders — who classify their supervisor as a bad one — are more than twice as likely as those with a good supervisor to say they plan to look for a new job within the next year. More than six in 10 of those who work for a bad boss (61 percent) plan to be on the job hunt this next year, while less than three in 10 of those who work for a good boss (27 percent) say the same.”

Motivating to move, or encouraging to stay put?

Bad bosses motivate employees to do something different. Bad bosses are an effective antidote to inertia.

On the other hand, good bosses (and good pay and interesting work) encourage employees to stay put.

It sounds so darn simplistic! But how many managers truly consider the key point — that your employees are yours to lose — and act accordingly?