Employee Turnover: How to become a manager that people don’t want to leave

Employee turnover managers

Key points

  • Lack of satisfaction and commitment might make employees want to leave;
  • A line manager can contribute to their team members’ job satisfaction and commitment through five key behaviors;
  • To achieve this, experimenting, feedback, and a good partnership with HR are essential.

This Evidence Summary focuses on the link between managerial behavior and employee turnover. For a broader overview of the main causes of employee turnover and how to deal with this thorny issue from an evidence-based perspective, check out this Evidence Summary.

You may have heard the saying “people leave managers, not jobs”. This popular phrase puts a lot of pressure on the shoulders of managers, but is it even true? In part, research suggests. Managers are not the only reason why employees leave, but they can contribute to their decision to stay. So, what can you do as manager to keep valued people in your team?  

How attitudes might contribute to employee turnover

Recently, a comprehensive meta-analysis looked at 57 possible causes of employee turnover. Data from over 70.000 people showed that employees’ perceptions and attitudes towards their work environment rank amongst the most important predictors. Let’s see what these are and what managers can do to change them!

Satisfied and committed employees are more likely to stay

Most people probably had a job they just hated, but hopefully, they have also experienced the opposite: loving their job so much they waited Mondays with anticipation, time passing quickly at work because they liked what they were doing and enjoyed being around their colleagues. If yes, they experienced high job satisfaction: feeling positive and enthusiastic towards the different aspects of one’s job, including peers, activities, or the manager. Job satisfaction is linked to employee turnover: the more satisfied employees are, the less likely they are to leave.

A second important aspect is employees’ commitment to the organisation as a whole. It can come from different sources:

  • feeling aligned with the organization’s values and goals. This leads to a sense of loyalty and belonging;
  • feeling like they will have a lot to lose if they leave the organization. Examples could be money, prestige, friendship, autonomy, or rewarding work;
  • feeling that they shouldn’t leave the organisation, even if they could. For example, because their manager counts on them or they received a recent promotion.

Employees who are more committed to their organization are more likely to stay.

But, what do you as manager have to do with employee’s attitudes of job satisfaction or organizational commitment?

How can you make your team members more satisfied and committed?

Several researches have shown that employees’ job satisfaction and organizational commitment are linked to their direct manager’s behavior. Based on two different meta-analyses (Jackson, Meyer & Wang, 2013; Judge & Piccolo, 2004), we put together a list of five key behaviors that could help you keep your team members satisfied and committed:

  • Walk the talk and be a role model. Assume the responsibility of setting an example for your team: is your behavior consistent with how you expect and ask others to behave? For example, you can define team values and discuss together how everyone’s actions, including yours, reflect them.
  • Communicate a vision that inspires and motivates your team members. Talk with enthusiasm about higher-level goals, and link them to team members’ tasks. For example, describe the organization’s goals in terms of real-life impact: if we achieve our goal of becoming bank no. 1 in the country, more people will be able to enjoy our affordable credits to fulfill their dreams.
  • Challenge your team members. Ask them questions, request their opinions, debate assumptions, and encourage their creativity. Set challenging goals that enable them to achieve more and develop new skills. For example, present a problem and ask everyone to come up with at least one solution by the next team meeting.
  • Consider every individual in your team. Take time to understand each team member’s needs, concerns, and motivations. Coach and mentor your team members, helping them in ways that fit them. For example, have regular individual conversations about their development, agree what skills to develop and plan how to make it happen, based on individual preferences.
  • Set clear performance expectations and reward achievement. Define what and how you expect from each team member, and what the rewards will be for it. Ensure the other person has understood and agreed with them. For example, when setting goals, make sure they are based on clear metrics and KPIs and that progress against goals is easy to track. Then, once achieved, deliver the rewards as promised. Don’t forget about recognition: a team lunch could be an appropriate way to do it!

Employee turnover managers


Satisfied and committed employees are less likely to leave. Fortunately, managers can do more of five key behaviors that are linked to employees’ satisfaction and commitment. Working on these behaviors is easier than you think, and here is where you can start:

  • Review the five behaviors and reflect on what you’re already doing. Prioritize based on your own values as a leader and what the context demands from you.
  • Ask for feedback from your team members: it is the most valuable resource you have. Consider using a short anonymous survey. Make sure they know nothing big and immediate is at stake, so people feel safe to express their true opinions. Check out how Google is going about it!
  • Start small: choose one topic to focus on, such as the one with the lowest scores in the feedback survey. Another idea can be the topic with the most agreement between team members’ responses. Bring the team to the table again and ask them to suggest actions for improvement.
  • Experiment with different actions and track your progress by asking feedback. Repeat the survey, schedule discussions, and measure how changes impact outcomes such as satisfaction or turnover.
  • Ask your HR for support.  Discuss your action plan, how it will improve your team’s outcomes, and things you might need help with. Be open to suggestions and aim for a partnership.

Remember, feedback + practice makes perfect. Keep in mind what’s at stake: being a better manager benefits you, the team, and the organization!  

This Evidence Summary focused on the link between managerial behavior and employee turnover. For a broader overview of the main causes of employee turnover and how to deal with this thorny issue from an evidence-based perspective, check out this Evidence Summary.

Trustworthiness score

We critically evaluated the trustworthiness of the study we used to inform this article. We found that the design of the study was moderately appropriate (70% trustworthiness level) to demonstrate a causal relationship, such as effect or impact. This means that there is a 30% chance that alternative explanations for these results are possible, including random effects.

Learn how we critically appraise studies to assign them a Trustworthiness Score.

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Rubenstein, A.L., Eberly, M.B., Lee, T.W., Mitchell, T.R. (2017). Surveying the forest: A meta-analysis, moderator investigation, and future-oriented discussion of the antecedents of voluntary employee turnover. Personnel Psychology, 1–43. https://doi.org/10.1111/peps.12226

Judge, T. A., & Piccolo, R. F. (2004). Transformational and transactional leadership: a meta-analytic test of their relative validity. Journal of applied psychology, 89(5), 755. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.89.5.755

Jackson, T. A., Meyer, J. P., & Wang, X. H. (2013). Leadership, commitment, and culture: A meta-analysis. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 20(1), 84-106. https://doi.org/10.1177/1548051812466919

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  1. Pingback: Employee Turnover: An Evidence-Based Approach to a Thorny Issue • ScienceForWork