What is driving your employees away?

4 Mins

Engagement surveys make a simple but big promise: Tell you what your employees are unhappy with. All you need to do is address these issues to fix it.

But, this promise is rarely kept. Engagement Surveys will tell you if your employees feel and think negatively about your organization but you may not know how to address the underlying issues. 

For example, all of our surveys contain a key question:  I am unlikely to leave my company in the next 12 months. When agreement on this question drops into the 60% range, our clients wake up. They know they are in hot water and are facing elevated turnover rates. But what can be done? How can this be changed?

Sure, the first instinct is to check if pay increases are possible, add benefits, offer more wellness, and have more company barbeques. 

While we don’t disagree, we believe that none of these actions get to the root cause. 

To better understand what can be done, the Rhabit consulting team looked across 5 of Rhabit’s clients with a total of 4133 employees and 437 managers. We investigated which manager behaviors drive your employees away.

Study design


We looked at 2 categories of leadership behaviors

Getting things done and Getting along

Getting things done describes leadership behaviors that hold team members accountable. It is made up of these basic manager behaviors:

  • Holds team members accountable.
  • Sets clear priorities for team members.
  • Gives useful and clear directions.
  • Closely tracks the team’s progress.
  • Sets clear performance goals for the team

Getting along is all about building trusting relationships. Leaders who demonstrate these behaviors connect with their employees and are equitable, fair, and trustworthy.

  • Keeps commitments and promises.
  • Explains goals, objectives, and the reasons for pursuing them. 
  • Recognizes team members fairly.
  • Does not take credit for the work of others.
  • Admits mistakes.
  • Listens and cares about what others have to say.

BTW, these two clusters are not coming out of nowhere. The last 70 years of leadership research of again and again found these two categories of behaviors. Sometimes they are called “Production/Employee orientation”, sometimes “Concern for Production/Concern for people”, or “Directive Leadership/Supportive Leadership”. However, under the hood, these categories all describe the same thing: getting things done and getting along.”

Outcome Measures

As an outcome, we measured the turnover intentions for each one of the 4137 employees in this study. In other words, are they ready to quit or thinking about quitting? 

Findings (the not surprising ones)

Here are the not-so-surprising findings: Managers who show “Getting Along” behaviors are better at retaining their employees. Being a kind, friendly, and trustworthy leader will help you keep employees. Clearly, anyone who ever had a boss could have predicted this. However, this doesn’t mean that managers are getting this right. They do take credit for other’s work, they don’t recognize others fairly and they definitely don’t listen to their team. It happens all the time.

What are the effects?

In teams with leaders who show these behaviors, employees are 2 to 5 times LESS likely to have turnover intentions. They are also 2-5 times more likely to recommend employment at this company.

Findings (the surprising ones)

Managers who show “Getting things done” behaviors are high-accountability leaders, who set goals, set priorities, and track performance. They have an eye on productivity. In other words, they hold their employee accountable for their performance. Who wants to work for someone like that? We were, frankly, not sure if this behavior would keep employees or drive them away.

However, our results were very clear. Getting things done behaviors drive retention. 

In teams with high accountability managers, employees are 3 to 8 times LESS likely to have turnover intentions.

Why is this the case? We did a follow-up study. We found that high-performing employees are particularly affected by high accountability leaders. They appreciate a high-accountability leader more than low performers. And this makes sense. In a low-accountability team, everybody is treated the same. Low-performers get away with performing poorly while high-performers will not feel treated special. They don’t get any additional recognition.

In this environment, your high performers will likely leave the organization because why should they stay? Their extra effort and their talent are not being recognized and they are getting the same as their low-performing colleagues. In a situation like this, a LinkedIn message from a recruiter will find fertile ground. 


We know what makes a good leader: Being relatable and ensuring that extra efforts are recognized. Good managers can juggle these two demands. If managers fail to do so your company is at risk of losing high performers while successfully hanging on to the mediocre ones.

If you have a retention problem, the first place to look is your leaders. Leadership skills can be trained. Coaching engagement can target specific leaders, and leadership development classes can efficiently upskill your entire management staff. The key is not to stop with an engagement survey but to address the issue at its root cause, your leaders.

Are you ready to develop a highly engaged, high-accountability workforce? Schedule a time to meet with a Rhabit consultant.

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