What makes your boss want to walk?

Dec 01 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Personality clashes with their immediate boss are the biggest single reason for people leaving their jobs. But what is it that might make your boss want to do the same thing?

According to John Bingham, assistant professor of organisational leadership and strategy at Brigham Young University in Utah, USA, executives don't mind pressure to perform, as long as they feel that they have control over situations and are given freedom to achieve the high standards.

"Job demands create the basic 'fight or flight' situation," Bingham said.

"When managers have some control over how to deal with a challenge, they accept -- and may even enjoy - fighting to overcome it. But when the issues affecting them are beyond their control, they start to look at that flight option."

As recent research by Accenture has highlighted, employees at the critical middle manager level are increasingly disillusioned, with a third going as far as to describe their organisation as "mismanaged."

Similarly, a study by Britain's Chartered Management Institute has found that while nine out of 10 managers are confident in their own decision-making ability, many are frustrated by the inability of their organisations to act on them or put them into practise. They also feel undermined by constant hurdles in the shape of pressure from colleagues, bureaucracy and a lack of resources.

But are these factors enough to push managers to start looking for alternative employment? To find out, John Bingham collected data from more than a thousand of them, comparing their responses about their work environments to their activity the job market.

The study, published in the latest issue of "Group and Organisational Management," explored whether executives had recently read a book about getting a new job, revised their resume, read position listings in professional journals or newspapers or sent copies of resumes to prospective employers.

They were also asked if they had gone on a job interview, initiated contact with an executive search firm, searched the Internet for job opportunities or made telephone inquiries to prospective employers.

The results prompted Bingham to divide job demands into two categories: challenge-related demands and obstacle-related demands.

Challenge-related demands include issues executives tend to have more control over, like a downturn in productivity or a tight schedule. These demands provide motivating, productive stress.

Bingham said these types of positive challenges actually increase productivity, helping executives work harder to reach organisational goals and standards.

Obstacle-related demands –those highlighted by the Chartered Management Institute research - have elements outside the executive's control, such as an unsupportive boss, lots of red tape or unrealistic quotas and goals.

Bingham found these negative obstacles were what caused executives to start browsing the help-wanted ads.

Bingham suggested high-level executives involve their key leaders in the goal-setting process and allow them leeway in how they meet those goals to keep them happy in their jobs. He also said it is important for top executives to provide lots of opportunities for managers to give feedback.

"Executives and managers want to have control over the problems facing them," Bingham said. "When they don't, that's when they start looking for something new."