Employees don’t leave jobs–they leave managers.

Introduction

If you’ll bear with me for a bit, I’d like to share an experience with you. We’ve all heard the age-old phrase “If you take care of your team, your team will take care of you.” If you’ve not heard that exact verbiage, you are likely familiar with any of theses similar phrases: “Take care of your employees and your employees will take care of you.”

It seems logical enough, yet so many managers and others in positions of leadership fail to espouse the theory. More than likely, every person will run into such a situation during their career. I’ve had more than one of these experiencing, but only one that really affected me to the point where I feel it important to share it; my treatment by a particular person in a position of leadership–despite the lack of leadership demonstrated. My treatment by this person, and the company’s leadership team, was bad enough that it affected my mental health. I became depressed and anxious, hating my life, and by the end of it all, had sought medical care.

The Situation

Let’s set up the situation. I worked for a company in a rural part of the state. The company and its properties had been around and well-known by community members for more than 40 years. My departmental team consisted of myself and my boss, Joe. We served hundreds of employees effectively and efficiently, and had a good reputation with everyone. We were both a bit underpaid for what we did, but we loved our jobs and looked forward to work each day.

Company LLC bought our company and Joe and I now had a new big boss, Kevin. To his credit, Kevin had extensive experience in our industry–but primarily abroad, and primarily in very, very large metropolitan areas. Initially, he seemed like a laid-back and funny kind of guy. But the longer I worked under him, his true nature began to show. Everything we had in place, was incorrect and not good enough. Why use this vendor instead of that vendor? “Because it was what was in budget at the time, and is stable and performs perfectly.” But it wasn’t a vendor he liked, so it was wrong (mind you, he wasn’t with the company when such an action was taken, so how could we possibly conform to his preferences in the past).

In the early days of the acquisition by Company LLC, he stopped by our town a few times, but the visits grew fewer and fewer. When he was around, he would show up in cargo shorts and flip flops (our culture was more of a business-professional setting, with us wearing dress shirts and slacks). He would spend the entire duration of his visit on the phone with various people, instead of actually interacting with us locally. When he did interact, it was “F*** this,” “F*** that,” “F*** you.” I brushed it off, as I’m not one to take things personally, and not everyone is as overly nice as Joe and I. Bit by bit, new companies and locations were acquired, and as such, other departmental personnel were acquired as well.

I had a historical record of stellar performance spanning multiple companies, and a fantastic track record in our company pre-acquisition by Company LLC. My diligence and commitment were quickly realized and put to work with Company LLC. I was made the technical lead for our team of technicians, and it was verbally communicated to me that I was expected to oversee and assist the other technicians with anything they were working on, in addition to my existing workload. No worries, I was happy to help, and liked our less-experienced techs and wanted to help them grow in their knowledge and abilities. I was not supervisory to them, so I was essentially getting the fun part of mentoring and managing, but without the actual management responsibilities (hire, fire, discipline, time and attendance, etc.). Sweet gig, right?

It wasn’t. Kevin’s communications became less and less frequent, and when they existed, they were simple directives: “I want this done,” “Make sure this happens,” “Teach Scully/Richard how to do this.” Interactions were by phone or email, and typically consisted of two sentences at most. As more and more other companies and locations were acquired, there were more and more things that I required from him in order to be able to accomplish that which he requested. This would have been fine, if he ever responded and provided those things which were necessary to complete the requests. In the meantime, I completed each request as per industry best practices and standards as I usually did.

I became increasingly frustrated with the situation. I was putting in long hours — 14 hour days, often 6 or 7 days per week. At one point I worked approximately 30 days on without a true day off. This was becoming common at Company LLC, and many of the other employees were receiving compensation increases proportionate to the additional work they were taking on–but I had received no such increase. All to try and complete requests and assignments that had no details or instructions. I voiced my frustrations to my long-time direct boss, Joe, and my new big boss, Kevin. Kevin scheduled a call between me, Joe, and himself as a “resolution” to my frustrations. The call was brief, and consisted mostly of Kevin making feeble attempts to sound concerned, and ended with him telling me that if I had communication concerns, to route them through Joe and that would work better.

In the coming weeks and months, I routed everything through Joe, and still did not receive responses, guidance, or feedback on anything that was going on. Work was pervading my entire life. I was unhappy at work, and I was always working. In the small amount of time I got to spend with my wife at home, I was unhappy there as well, and it affected our home life. My mental health worsened tremendously. In the coming weeks and months, we went through hiring more than 4 technicians, all of which quit quickly due to the low pay, long hours, and poor treatment from Kevin.

I again expressed my concerns, and they fell on deaf ears. As a last resort, I met with Jennifer, our HR Manager, to discuss my concerns and see what could be done. The HR Manager and I started at the old company around the same time, and she knew me well for my glowing performance record. I explained the communication (or lack thereof) issues that were occurring. I expressed how the work environment had become hostile. I explained how my work life was never-ending and pervaded my home life. I explained how I sought medical treatment for my depression and anxiety. I explained all that the situation had cost me. She was very concerned by my experiences and said that she would go straight to the new owners with these concerns, as what was going on was not right and needed to be resolved some how.

Two days later, I become aware of the results of my meeting with HR. Kevin called me a liar, and said that I never worked as many hours as a I did (despite what my time sheet and daily/weekly reports showed). I was told that I was not worth any more to Kevin than what I was paid, and that instead of compensating me for the work I did, that they would be demoting me and reducing my responsibility. My rights, privileges, and access were restricted and my job got progressively more difficult as I had to rely on Kevin more and more, and was continually met with more and more silence. Jennifer advised that I should at least try to smooth things over with Kevin, so I wrote the below message and sent it to him:

The Letter

Kevin,

As I know you are well aware, I had a conversation with HR recently about my frustrations here at work as of late, after I had already had conversations with Joe, as well as you and Joe together, trying to make known my concerns and frustrations. The result of my meeting with HR was Jennifer playing messenger from you to me, and I now have some information that I am happy to have. Please bear with me as I have some things I wish to communicate in writing as don’t want to cause any miscommunication or misinterpretation. I understand that you shared with Jennifer some dissatisfaction with my attitude these past couple of weeks. Putting my reasoning or justifications aside, I acknowledge the poor attitude that has resulted from my organizational and corporate frustrations, and I wish to apologize for my attitude and seek your forgiveness.We are all under a lot of stress and have a lot to do, and I likely have not made any of that much easier with my frustrations and display of unhappiness with the situation. I do not wish for the current situation to become a barrier between you and I, nor between our team and success. I only went to Jennifer as I felt like you are I were not communicating as we should have been, and I wanted to try and get things right between us. Again, I think we have the makings of a great team and an impressive organization. I am happy to do what I can to help drive this forward in a team setting, receiving feedback along the way.

My largest frustration has not been money—that was just worsened by my other frustrations. I made that clear in my conversation with Jennifer. My largest frustration has been that I want nothing more than to do what you and Joe need for us all (the 5 of us—and more, should we keep growing) to be an amazing team and give Company LLC and its employees what it needs to become a seriously cool thing in the [our] industry. I think we have the makings of a great team here. I think Company LLC is setting up to be a huge player in the industry, which is an exciting thing of which to be a part. I have been frustrated because I am hearing things—delayed and eventually—but hearing things about your frustrations, disappointment, and dissatisfaction with my performance regarding certain situations and the way I have done things over the last couple of months when asking to do things. I have just learned about this; I was unaware of these dissatisfactions until late after the face of each situation. In no way do I want to do anything that does not result in what you want or that does not match your goals for our department. I’m a loyalty‐ and team‐oriented person.

I have also been frustrated at the number of things that I require your input on, but that you are too busy to assist with. Now this isn’t chalked up to just be your fault and I am not trying to point this huge finger of blame at you—you’re doing many things and are very busy with the acquisitions, mergers, and standardizations. I get it. But being the person that all the end [employees] dump their frustrations on because things are not getting done does get tiring, and I just want to help them. All I want to do is what is needed and be a part of our success. I like helping people. I’ve yet to have a job where it isn’t my job to help people. It’s kind of my thing!

We’ve had a lot of misunderstandings and miscommunications, you and I. Including what you thought to be a hierarchy of authority where you thought I was putting myself above Scully and Richard as their boss. Please be assured that is not so. “Lead” implies the foremost with others, not over others. My title is not supervisor, nor manager, nor director. Nor did I intend to make it appear as such. I provided Richard a document which showed path of knowledge and assistance seeking. IE, if he can’t resolve an issue, I’m a logical choice for him to reach out to for assistance. If the two of us cannot resolve it, we would go to Joe. Heaven forbid Joe and the two of us not figure it out, we could finally get a hold of you and ask for your help, etc. Rather than immediately going to the top of the chain for every little thing. Joe indicated that you did not like my documentation and procedural guides because I did not clear them with you first. I do apologize. You and I discussed this multiple times and had even agreed on getting the other [team members] access to the knowledge base which I created so carefully over my years with the company prior to your company purchasing ours. That is from where those guides came. I have since rescinded access for everyone except you, Joe, and myself and will not provide any of our team step by step guides as previously discussed unless approved by you first. This is just one such instance of miscommunication and misunderstanding.

Now that I have some information about things that you are not happy with, I will be doing my best to rectify these things. If I need clarification on any of these things, I will turn to Joe for clarification and further information. I had not previously rectified them because I was not previously aware of these things. If you have things that you would like done a certain way, I am eager to hear from either Joe or yourself how you’d like them accomplished, and I will ensure those things are done to your liking. If I accomplish something in a way that you do not like, please feel free and open to communicate with me to let me know, that way I can correct the situation and improve for the future. The good thing about feedback and communication is that if I am told that something wasn’t done right and that it should be a different way, then I can then take that information and use it to correct, adjust, and improve. Historically, I have a glowing performance record across multiple organizations and it is my desire to keep it as such and do what I can to be of assistance to our team and our organization. I don’t plan on being worse. I only plan on being helpful. My goal is to always ensure constant personal growth an development, and to encourage that in those around me as well.

Now that I have been made aware Joe is involved in our extra-state locations (whereas the opposite was originally true) and that he is involved in ticketing (which I understand is another recent development I am just learning of), I will be turning to him as a closer resource as he becomes more familiar with the Old Co. legacy systems, the people, and our awesome new team member, Scully. I know you plan to try to distance yourself from a communication standpoint from the day‐to‐day operations as you focus on the numerous acquisitions, mergers, integrations, etc. and let Joe help you more with the day‐to‐day. I will do my best to bother you less and route it all through Joe as I now understand that is your desire.

Jennifer did relay that rather than increase compensation to match market value based on skills/experience/abilities, that you would rather decrease responsibilities to try and even things out with your determined value. That’s fine, it’s your department and you delineate that as you see fit. If you’d like me to continue working with Scully and Richard to help them, great. If you want me to just focus on our intra-state locations, that’s fine. If you want me to focus on just my city’s locale, that’s also fine. If you would like, I can transfer all my extra-state tickets to Scully. If you’d like, I can assist Scully and Richard on an as‐needed basis. Just let me know how I can best help you and our team. Please know that I am willing to do as much work as is needed—same as when we first discussed when we initially met five months ago. I just want us to all communicate so we all can do our jobs to the best of our abilities. I have no problem with work. I’m a driven team member willing to help. As long as I know what I am supposed to be doing, I’ll be doing that! I would ask, please, that if there is anything you ever need done, or a way you would like things accomplished, or something you wish to say or ask, do not hesitate. I am always wide‐open to communication, conversation, and teamwork. Anybody here in my city will tell you, I’m here to help. And as anybody in our extra-state locations can tell you, I’m happy to. We just need to have some better communication and structure, I promise that I will be doing my part.

Hopefully I’ve made some kind of sense. Please accept my humblest apologies for any issues or frustration I may have caused you.

Thank you,

Griff

The Outcome

I tried to humble myself, assign myself some of the blame, and apologize. The response I got? Nothing. No response. Instead, I continued to receive near radio silence, no help, no instruction, and only criticism and harshness relayed from Kevin through Joe. If my experiences to date had not been slap-in-the-face enough, this certainly was. I begin searching for work immediately. Kevin wasn’t going to be the bigger person, so I figured I was going to have to be–in a different way than I had previously tried.

I nearly immediately found an opening at another company with a local site. The next month was spent quietly interviewing, having meetings, survey taking, and eventually signing an offer with that company. They wanted me to start on Thursday if possible. I considered letting them know that I would need to give a two-week notice, but decided against it. I had no reason to be loyal to Company LLC or Kevin. They’d never given me a single reason to be loyal–and that’s saying something coming from me, because I am typically an intensely loyal employee. So I walked into the HR office the next morning and handed Jennifer my resignation letter. She looked said, as we were close friends, and I could tell that she was disappointed in how the company had been treating me and the lack of resolution to my concerns. Resignation complete, I walked out the doors of the building. In that moment, I felt the most enormous weight lifted off my shoulders, and a grin spread across my face. I was free.

I went on to start with the new company and loved it. Every day, I looked forward to going to work. The difference in company morale was incredible. Everyone was kind, excited, and happy. High-fives were an important part of the culture. After just a few short months, I had traveled to many of our locations, met lots of amazing people, and settled in. Months felt like the best years.

In the time since, Company LLC has gone through several more technicians and cannot keep a solid team together. The company has people quitting like its going out of style. They have an average rating of 1.5 stars on Glassdoor, and all their employee reviews share similar narratives — overworked and unappreciated employees, ignorant and blind/deaf management, and poor company culture. It’s not terribly surprising, given the behavior of top-level managers such as Kevin.

Moving Forward

The reason I share this story is to reinforce the title, and introduction. Employees don’t leave jobs–they leave managers. If you take care of your team, your team will take care of you. Company LLC failed to take care of their teams, so their teams are not taking care of them. In parting, I would like to provide some advice to anybody who is in a similar situation. Don’t wait to start looking for a new job, a new team, a new company. Don’t feel guilty. Apply, call, interview, and network as much as possible and get yourself out of that toxic situation. There are good people and good companies out there. Don’t sacrifice your career, life, health, and sanity for a manager that is not willing to do the same for you.

Be well, my friends, and best wishes in your professional endeavors.

~ Griff

Author: griffethbarker

Griff is a manager of IT, consultant of IT and management, and continuous student of organizational development. His hobbies and interests include games of all types (video, board, dice, card, tabletop, etc.) as well as listening to music, photography, and writing. Find him on LinkedIn!

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