Telling Your Bosses They’re the Reason Employees Quit

Question:

How do I tell our managing partner that he and the other partners are the main reason employees quit?

As office manager for our law firm, I feel caught between a rock and hard place when our employees voice their complaints to me.

I sympathize with the employees. I wish the MP and partners would treat the staff better. Small changes on the part of the partners would mean a lot. For example, the partners don’t say “hi” when they walk past the staff’s desks in the morning. One employee has been here two years, and the MP doesn’t even know her name.

Whenever I try to give the MP staff feedback, he gets defensive and tells me I hire whiners.

I also realize the MP and other partners are under a lot of stress and have more important things on their minds than saying “hi.”

A year ago, I just gave up. Since then, things have gotten worse. And this morning I received “needs improvement” scores on my performance review in two areas: employee retention and effective hiring. The MP laid the turnover problem at my feet, saying I hired poorly.

I need to figure this out. If I don’t, I might lose my job. What do I do? If I try to tell the MP that he and the partners are the problem and not me, I fear they’ll shoot the messenger.

Answer:

The good news — he’s told you to work on the problem. The bad news — he doesn’t realize he and the other partners own the problem.

The solution — don’t tell him he and the partners are the problem. Instead, present the partners with facts so they see the problem for themselves and can appreciate that you’ve researched the problems and can offer them no-cost strategies that reduce turnover.

Meet with MP and let him know you’ve taken his guidance on your review seriously and plan to investigate the issues he raised — hiring and retention.

Explain that you have a plan for assessing the situation and ask him if he’ll let you present the partners and he documented facts concerning hiring and retention. I suggest you conduct your presentation with the partners rather than only the MP as you’ve indicated his first reaction is to attack the information.

Outline the reality of the hiring issue by compiling resumes of the last five to 10 employees you hired that left in less than one year. Prior to your firm hiring them, how long had each stayed at their prior jobs? What job-relevant skills did each bring aboard? What did their prior supervisors say when describing them? If you made solid hiring decisions, this information will reveal your hiring decisions weren’t the problem.

Additionally, conduct an anonymous employee survey and present the partners with the results. If you’ve asked appropriate questions, such as “what are your favorite parts of your job and of working for our firm?” and “if you could change anything in terms of your work environment, what would you change?” the employees’ actual answers will reveal what costs your firm its employees.

Similarly, present the results of your exit interviews with departing employees. If you’ve asked effective questions, such as “what led you to decide to leave?” and “what could we have done to have kept you?” the compiled exit interview answers may surprise your MP. He may be specifically mentioned.

If your MP or the other partners make comments during your presentation, listen and nod. Don’t argue. Let the facts speak for themselves.

Finally, few problems have only one cause. Your staff might benefit from training. For example, in one of our favorite personality inventory trainings, we outline the difference between “relators” and “deciders.” Relators care if others say “hi.” “Deciders” often don’t say “hi” because they’re so task-focused, they don’t even “see” others as they pass by their desks. Relators thus need to learn not to take this personally.

If you try the above strategies and the partners don’t listen and continue to blame you, don’t lose your job, leave it. You owe it to yourself to find a new employer with a corporate culture that better values employees.

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4 thoughts on “Telling Your Bosses They’re the Reason Employees Quit

  1. Had a position once where I found myself whistling the theme from the Mickey Mouse Club every morning as I walked through the door. Now THAT is telling. Never thought about it but guess I have been guilty of being a “decider” in some positions, but a “relator” in others.

  2. Lynne–I love these proactive strategies and the fact-gathering research process you describe for the HR person to do to show the partners by laying out facts that they and the company culture are probably the retention problem, not HR. These folks are attorneys? I think your post said, so they should be accustomed to this style of argument and should be able to listen to it and process it. And as you said, if they can’t, don’t, or won’t, then the HR person should find a new and better job.

  3. In a previous role where I was a manager, I was shocked to have a relatively new employee complain to me that I never said good morning to him but that I did with the more senior employees…and he was right. I was allowing the fact that I didn’t know him well to influence my basic niceties and I was demoralizing him and didn’t even realize it until he said something. I hope that this person is able to get the MP and the others educated that manners matter, whether they think they do or not. Is 2 seconds of time each day really a waste of time when compared to the cost of turnover?

  4. Susan, Joe and Dee, thanks for all your useful comments. illustrating the many facets of this. I think we all have our fingers crossed for the office/HR person.

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