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Early this year, Arun, an old friend who is a senior  software
designer, got an offer from a prestigious international firm to work
in  its India operations developing a specialized software. He was
thrilled by the  offer. He had heard a lot about the CEO of this
company, a charismatic man often  quoted in the business press for
his visionary attitude.

The salary was great. The company had all the right  systems in
place - employee-friendly human resources (HR) policies, a spanking
new office, the very best technology, even a canteen that served
superb  food.

Twice Arun was sent abroad for training. "My learning  curve is the
sharpest it's ever been," he said soon after he joined. "It's a  real
high working with such cutting edge technology."

Last week, less than eight months after he joined, Arun  walked out
of the job. He has no other offer in hand but he said he couldn't
take it anymore. Nor, apparently, could several other people in his
department  who have also quit recently.

The CEO is distressed about the high employee turnover.  He's
distressed about the money he's spent in training them. He's
distressed  because he can't figure out what happened. Why did this
talented employee leave  despite a top salary?

Arun quit for the same reason that drives many good  people away. The
answer lies in one of the largest studies undertaken by the  Gallup
Organization. The study surveyed over a  million employees and
80,000 managers and was published in a book called First Break All
The Rules. It  came up with this surprising finding: If you're losing
good people, look to  their immediate supervisor. More than any other
single reason, he is the reason  people stay and thrive in an
organization. And he's the reason why they quit,  taking their
knowledge, experience and contacts with them. Often, straight to  the

"People leave managers not companies," write the authors  Marcus
Buckingham and Curt Coffman. "So much money has been thrown at the
challenge of keeping good people - in the form of better pay, better
perks and  better training - when, in the end, turnover is mostly a
manager issue." If you  have a turnover problem, look first to your
Are they driving  people away?

Beyond a point, an employee's primary need has less to  do with
money, and more to do with how he's treated and how valued he feels.
Much of this depends directly on the immediate manager. And yet, bad
bosses seem  to happen to good people everywhere. A Fortune magazine
survey some years ago  found that nearly 75 per cent of employees
have suffered at the hands of  difficult superiors. You can leave one
job to find - you guessed it, another  wolf in a pin-stripe suit in
the next one.

Of all the workplace stressors, a bad boss is possibly  the worst,
directly impacting the emotional health and productivity of

Here are some all-too common tales from the  battlefield:

Dev, an engineer, still shudders as he recalls the  almost daily
firings his boss subjected him to, usually in front of his
subordinates. His boss emasculated him with personal, insulting
remarks. In the  face of such rage, Dev completely lost the courage
to speak up. But when he  reached home depressed, he poured himself a
few  drinks, and magically,  became as abusive as the boss himself.
Only, it would come out on his wife and  children. Not only was his
work life in the doldrums, his marriage began  cracking up too.

Another employee Rajat recalls the Chinese torture his  boss put him
through after a minor disagreement. He cut him off completely. He
bypassed him in any decision that needed to be taken. "He stopped
sending me any  papers or files," says Rajat. "It was humiliating
sitting at an empty table. I  knew nothing and no one told me
anything."  Unable to bear this  corporate Siberia, he finally quit.

HR experts say that of all the abuses, employees find  public
humiliation  the most intolerable. The first time, an employee may
not leave, but a  thought has been planted. The second time, that
thought  gets strengthened. The third time, he starts looking for
another  job.

When people cannot retort openly in anger, they do so by  passive
aggression. By digging their heels in and slowing down. By doing
only  what they are told to do and no more. By omitting to give the
boss crucial  information. Dev says: "If you work for a jerk, you
basically want to get him  into trouble. You don't have your heart
and soul in the job."

Different managers can stress out employees in different  ways - by
being too controlling, too suspicious, too pushy, too critical, too
nit-picky. But they forget that workers are not fixed assets, they
are free  agents. When this goes on too long, an employee will quit -
often over a  seemingly  trivial issue.

It isn't the 100th blow that knocks a good man down.  It's the 99
that went before. And while it's true that people leave jobs for all
kinds of reasons - for better opportunities or for circumstantial
reasons - many  who leave would have stayed - had it not been for one
man constantly telling  them, as Arun's boss did: "You are
dispensable. I can find dozens like  you."

While it seems like there are plenty of other fish  especially in
today's waters, consider for a moment the cost of losing a  talented
employee. There's the cost of finding a replacement. The cost of
training the replacement. The cost of not having someone to do the
job in the  meantime. The loss of clients and contacts the person had
with the industry. The  loss of morale in co-workers. The loss of
trade secrets this person may now  share with others.

Plus, of course, the loss of the company's reputation.  Every person
who leaves a corporation then becomes its ambassador, for better or
for worse. We all know of large IT companies that people would love
to join and  large television companies few want to  go near. In both
cases, former  employees have left to tell their tales.

"Any company trying to compete must figure out a way to  engage the
mind of every employee," Jack Welch of GE once said. Much of a
company's value lies "between the ears of its employees". If it's
bleeding  talent, it's bleeding value. Unfortunately, many senior
executives busy  traveling the world, signing new deals and
developing a vision  for the  company, have little idea of what may
be going on at home. That deep within an  organization that otherwise
does all the right things, one man could be driving  its best people

Posted on Tuesday, July 13, 2004 3:35 AM | Back to top

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