Nothing scares employees more than bad behavior on the part of their CEO. But what makes them bristle and what makes them leave are two completely different things.
According to career experts, employees are willing to tolerate a lot from their leader, especially the lower on the totem pole they are, but if it directly impacts their career prospects or their workplace happiness, the good ones won’t think twice about jumping ship. In fact, according to a recent Glassdoor survey, one in five employees said their boss has a negative impact on their career.
“You want to be working for a company where your career interests and personal needs are being satisfied,” says Paul Winum, senior partner and global practice leader at RHR International, the executive consulting firm. “When the CEOs decisions and actions put employees’ ambitions or career prospects at risk, people start leaving.”
According to Julie Bauke, career strategist, president of The Bauke Group, and author of Stop Peeing on our Shoes: Avoiding the 7 Mistakes that Screw Up your Job Search, one of the biggest mistakes CEOs or leaders can make is to treat their employees as if they don’t know any better or worse yet they are simply too stupid to get it, which can be a form of workplace bullying. Not only does that kill morale, but also productivity because the fed up employees end up spending a lot of time complaining about their boss. “People watch and listen for clues and cues. If people do not believe in what the leader is saying, or if the walk doesn’t match the talk, it really can come across as he or she thinks we are too stupid to notice,” says Bauke.
For many employees, career development and advancement are the main reasons they take a job and the motivation for staying at a company. But if the CEO doesn’t create a culture that enables people to move up, it will quickly be seen by the employees, resulting in a high turnover rate. “In most companies the success of the CEO and company is directly dependent on the caliber of talent it is able to attract and retain,” says Winum. “If a CEO wants to hold on to people and attract people he or she has to make a demonstrable commitment to talent development.” Winum says that not only does the CEO has to make sure there is on-the-book development and career paths, but he or she also has to let workers know the company cares about them and appreciates their contributions. “If the CEO conveys the view that employees are interchangeable cogs in some wheel…people are more likely to leave to get a better opportunity,” he says.
Change is inevitable regardless of the company, but how a CEO conveys that change will make all the difference between retaining employees and losing them at a fast clip. According to Christine Comaford, author of the book SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together, since people inherently resist change, even if it’s for the better, the CEO has to frame the change in a way that that shows the new direction is simply an improvement on what the company is already doing instead of a complete overhaul of the business. “Leaders need to present the change…as the bad stuff is being removed and good stuff is being added,” she says.
Nobody wants to work for a wishy-washy boss, which is why the CEOs who are unable to make hard decisions, especially when it comes to people within an organization, can have co-workers heading for the door. Understandably, it’s hard to fire someone, but if the CEO hangs on to an executive that everyone within the company thinks is incompetent, a bully or who is hard to work with, they will lose respect for their leader. “It has such a wide reaching effect throughout the organization,” says Bauke. “You are really are telling people what you value.”
Contradictions can be fatal, especially if the CEO is pounding the table about how important his or her people are but the actions convey the exact opposite message. A classic example of that is the CEO who thinks he or she is smarter than everyone and ignores or dismisses any input, says Bauke, who once worked in a small organization where the owner liked to tell the very smart and capable team that was assembled that he knew none of them has been as successful as him. “Everyone wants to be heard and acknowledged, not patted on the head,” says Bauke.