Do people really quit managers?

I don’t think that I have met in Poland a single person who spoke about managers in a positive way. I have no idea if that’s true as well for other countries, but from my experience, I can tell you that jokes about managers work everywhere. I still remember the first presentation of Venkat Subramaniam I attended a few years back in Krakow. While giving a code example, he created a class Employee and a class Manager, “obviously the manager class had an empty body, as managers don’t do anything”… I laughed, the audience laughed. Apparently, it seems to be quite an international thing. Though, sadly that’s the only thing I remember from this presentation.

How many times have you heard that people join companies, but leave managers? I’ve heard it at least a zillion times or even more. At leadership trainings, conferences, meetups, interviews or simply talking to people. If everyone says so, it must be true, right? Led by experience that people quite often tend to acknowledge some total bullshit to be true and are totally ready to defend it till the last drop of our blood, I decided to look for data to back this up. 

Please take into consideration that due to confirmation bias I may have looked for the research that supports the thesis I already had. I can only ensure that I tried to be as objective as possible. 

A bit of data

First, I looked at the data from the Polish researches – the Randstad Job Market Monitor 2019 and BulldogJob IT 2019 report. The part I looked for were reasons why people change their job. According to what everyone says, bad managers should be somewhere near the top of the list. Top reasons from the Randstad research are:

  • development opportunities,
  • higher salary,
  • better contract type,
  • the dissatisfaction of current employer,
  • too much time spent in one organization,
  • job loss,
  • private reasons.

No managers at all. Well maybe the research is too generic and it’s not relative to specific IT industry where salaries are much higher and we don’t have a problem with getting a permanent job contract. Let’s look into the BulldogJobs research, which is IT-only. Top reasons are:

  • higher salary,
  • friendly atmosphere and casual organisational culture,
  • flexible work hours,
  • promotion opportunities,
  • development opportunities,
  • innovative projects and technology,
  • remote work.

No managers… again… So, do people really quit managers or not? For me, the answer is “it’s complicated”.

I think that people don’t leave managers per se. I believe that people leave the culture.

However, it’s managers who usually have the biggest influence on the organizational culture, so leaving the culture means somehow leaving them as well. Plus, as there has to be someone to blame, managers get the punch.  

What is important here, by culture I mean all the things that happen in the organization, not if you can wear a t-shirt to the office, or if you have fruits every Monday. Culture is everything and everything is culture. 

If you look at every point on the list from BulldogJobs research it’s all a part of organization culture and usually, the managers are the ones with the biggest impact. Salaries are a part of organizational culture. Every company has remuneration strategies, market positioning strategies, etc. Some companies aspire to pay the top of the market with its pros and cons. On the other hand, some companies want to pay as little as possible, just enough to keep you from leaving. If you ask me, I would avoid both of them. Still, salaries are part of the culture. If you look who makes decisions about them? Managers (unless you are in a teal organization). Board decides about the budget, senior manager decide on teams or departments budget and finally, managers decide on salaries for individuals. 

It makes no sense to write a separate paragraph per each point on the list, as the conclusion is always the same. Every reason from the list is a part of organizational culture and every reason is mostly influenced by the management. Usually, management makes the final call on promotions, remote work, flexible hours, or delegates the decision down (and delegation is again part of the culture). 

Even if your manager is a real pain in the a…neck or is incompetent, I still will keep saying that it’s a part of the culture. Somehow this person passed the recruitment process for the role. Somehow, despite being a jerk and probably being escalated, still holds a leadership position. You wouldn’t leave the organization if such a person was identified quickly and fired. You have to keep in mind that maybe this person is a jerk to you, but fits nicely organization culture, as senior management values financial results over people relations. Which brings us to the last part of this post.

BTW there is also one other case. “If you can’t spot the crazy person on the bus, it’s you.” – How I Met Your Mother. Sometimes it’s not the manager…

Good culture, bad culture

We tend to assume that if people are leaving the organization, culture must be bad. Well, there is no such thing as good culture or bad culture. Except for some extremes, where employees are obviously abused or treated unacceptably. Organizational culture is what it is and if people leave, it just means a difference in values and expectations. Some people prefer to earn less money in a smaller company where they have a huge influence on the project, wear jeans and a t-shirt and work anytime they want from any place they want. Some people prefer the corporate world with strict dress code, little autonomy, longer hours, pointless meetings, but with a higher salary. They will never understand each other, that will both think they make the right choice. Still, it doesn’t mean any of them is better or that one organizational culture is better. 


I don’t think people leave managers, they leave the organization culture. As organizational culture is mostly affected by managers, we tend to blame them. Organizational culture is not good or bad. The more compliant it is with you, the better it seems, so it’s just a matter of perception. 

More reading

While looking at this topic I found an interesting article in Harvard Business Review. Seems that people from Facebook already asked themselves the same question.

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