Do People Leave Bad Companies or Bad Bosses?

According to a study from Florida State University*, 40 per cent of workers in the business world think they work for bad bosses.

 As for what constitutes a bad boss, they have a variety of answers:

– 39% said their managers failed to keep promises.

– 37% said their bosses did not give them the credit they deserved.

– 31% indicated their supervisor gave them “the silent treatment.”

– 27% reported negative comments from their management.

– 24% claimed their bosses invaded their privacy.

– 23% stated that their supervisor blamed them or other workers to cover up personal mistakes.


The online poll we conducted last week asking this question garnered an overwhelming response of 93% that people leave bad managers.

The Challenge Consulting team, as usual, had lots to say on the matter.

One asserted that the reality is that somebody’s perception of their employment situation is largely shaped by their manager or immediate team. Another said people leave for both reasons, but predominately bad managers as they have to deal with them all day. Someone’s manager has a more immediate and direct impact on you than the organisation at large, i.e. if you had a bad manager, who belittled you versus an organisation that had a leadership team with limited vision or benefits, which would have the most immediate impact for you to look for alternate employer? In the longer term, if you had a great manager, but the organisation would never support new initiatives or this great manager’s vision, you may be more likely to leave, or perhaps follow this great manager when they go somewhere else too! 

It can also depend on the size of the company. Many employees attempt to move to different departments, either due to bad manager or bad colleagues. In smaller companies, a bad manager may just as well be the company. The organisational structure is much “flatter” which makes reporting issues more difficult as well as there being nowhere within the company to move. 

Another Challenge team member wondered whether it is bad managers (collectively) that makes a bad company or whether it is a bad company that recruits bad managers? Additionally, managers can be perceived to be representative of the company ethos. Employees may therefore think they are leaving a bad company, which is not necessarily true. 

Ultimately, though, it should not be forgotten that employees leave jobs for all sorts of reasons – location, career opportunity, work/life balance, more interesting work, financial gain, ill health and so on,  and not merely something as simplistic as a “bad manager” or “bad company”. 

* Florida State University Leadership Quarterly, Fall 2007