A Culture of Accountability Improves Management and Curbs Turnover

By Candace Coleman, CultureWise Content Manager

After over a year and a half of the pandemic, people are leaving their jobs in record numbers. Widely termed the “Great Resignation,” the current employee exodus is so significant that multiple studies have been commissioned to unearth the reasons driving it.

While statistics show that many workers are exiting in search of more flexibility and better pay, another major factor surfaces in every body of research. Most people aren’t walking out because they’re dissatisfied with their organizations—they’re quitting because of poor managers.

How bad is the problem? The Predictive Index surveyed almost 2,000 employees across more than fifteen industries and found that 48 percent of workers have thought about changing their careers in the past year. And 63 percent of those with a bad manager are thinking of jumping ship in the next twelve months after the pandemic is behind us.

COVID didn’t cause the quitting trend, but lots of workers began to reflect more carefully about what they want from their jobs during the months of lock-down. At the top of many people’s lists is having managers who help them excel. They’re no longer willing to answer to bosses who are detrimental to their work and how they feel about their jobs.

The ramifications of this mass attrition are significant. Substantial turnover can upend operations; what’s more, it is wildly expensive. According to Employee Benefits News, costs associated with hiring and training replacement staff can equal 33 percent of a worker’s annual salary. Consequently, business leaders are looking for ways to bypass the Great Resignation with increasing urgency.

The Effect of Bad Managers

Some companies might define a competent manager as an authority figure who can exact deliverables from their team. But too many managers achieve this goal by inducing fear and stress in their people. For example, in a study conducted by the American Psychological Association, 75% of Americans say that their boss is the most stressful part of their workday.

Ultimately, bad managers wreak havoc on employees regardless of whether they meet deadlines or maintain production schedules.

Some of the outcomes caused by poor management are:

  • Low employee engagement
  • Burnout
  • Mental and physical health issues
Low Engagement

The first wave of fallout from a bad manager is dwindling employee engagement, which is defined as the level of attachment people feel to their employer. Workers forced to report to incompetent or disrespectful managers lose their allegiance to the company that hired them. They begin to see their jobs as merely a paycheck and not a means of personal fulfillment.

Employees with low engagement have a roving eye for “greener pastures” job opportunities and don’t feel a strong sense of loyalty to their company. They develop a sour attitude that causes many to leave—and those who stay are highly unlikely to be good company ambassadors.

Burnout

A consequence of bad management that goes beyond low engagement is burnout, a condition more prevalent today than ever before. The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies workplace burnout as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress. The organization cites three characteristics of the condition:

  • Feelings of depleted energy or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from or negativity or cynicism about one’s job
  • Reduced personal efficacy

Employees experiencing burnout develop a bleak attitude toward their jobs. They report to work because they have to, not because they want to. They become less efficient, make more mistakes, and don’t improve. Worse, a few burned-out employees can have a ripple effect on an entire team. Ironically, employers often miss this root cause of slumping performance and instruct managers to bear down harder.

Mental & Physical Health Issues

Poor managers can also lead to the depleted mental health of employees. Increased levels of anxiety and depression are some of the first indicators of the toll bad managers take on staff members. These disorders can be debilitating to workers and extremely costly for employers. According to the World Health Organization, depression and anxiety cost up to $1 trillion annually in lost productivity.

And weakened mental health frequently leads to other physical ailments. As author and Pepperdine professor Mark Allen noted in the Graziadio Business Review:

“There were 120,000 extra deaths annually in the US from harmful management practices, and that extra health-care costs were $190 billion each year. That would make the workplace the fifth leading cause of death, worse than kidney disease or Alzheimer’s.”

An increasing number of studies around the world confirm the phenomenon. For instance, Forbes cites a survey of over 3,000 Swedish employees that found that those who work for “toxic bosses” were 60 percent more likely to suffer a stroke, heart attack, or other life-threatening cardiac condition.

Are Managers Really Necessary?

With bad managers having such a rampant negative effect, some argue that a multi-tiered hierarchy is the problem and eliminating most management positions is the solution. Accordingly, many companies are “delayering” their workforce.

The authors of an article in The Economist call this thinning of managerial ranks “the pancake organigram: fewer layers of workers reporting to a smaller cadre of chieftains.”  They note that some companies who have flattened their staff claim they’ve gained agility, enabled faster decision-making, and trimmed costs. They cite Tesla’s Elon Musk as one of the proponents of this model who says delayering improves communication and sheds deadweight.  

But The Economist calls such “bosslessness” a false Utopia. They argue that informal hierarchies with petty tyrannies will replace a formal pecking order in this kind of environment. And unstructured groups tend to follow the loudest person in the room, resulting in a staff that is just as dysfunctional as one led by bad managers.

Eliminating unnecessary management positions is one thing but getting rid of most of them is counterproductive. A network of competent managers is necessary to keep employees operating in sync with the organization. As pointed out in The Economist article: “Managing others is not an ancillary task which companies do to reach other aims. It is the precondition for any of their aims to be reached.”

Perhaps even more importantly, managers comprise the staffing layer that can bring out the best in employees.

But managers need guidance and a system to be effective leaders. Ideally, this kind of managerial support should be a foundational part of their company’s culture. And one of the pillars of that culture should be accountability.

Building a Culture of Accountability

A company’s culture is reflected in the way staff members work and interact. It is a composite of multiple behaviors that can dictate whether the organization is a healthy, mediocre, or toxic place to work.

And as CultureWise CEO David Friedman points out in Culture by Design, business leaders with successful cultures don’t acquire them by chance. Instead, they intentionally develop the culture they want their company to have.

One of the premises of a strong culture is that everyone must buy into it. To achieve this goal, the organization’s leader must first define and model the behaviors they want their staff to embody. Subsequently, they need to convey the importance of the culture to managers and then give them the tools to communicate consistently and coach staff members about it. Most importantly, they need to make clear to managers that adhering to the culture is mandatory.

Everyone must be “all in” for a strong culture to take hold—there is no room for managers who opt out of leading their team in this critical area. Employees won’t respect or listen to a manager who asks them to behave one way but doesn’t follow the same rules.

Of course, there will always be managers who won’t conform. But with a clear-cut and openly communicated set of behaviors, those who continue to buck the system are easy to detect. These are the managers that should be eliminated.

David Friedman refers to this as the “ultimate accountability.” If a manager is persistently detrimental to the culture the leader wants—that individual has no place in the organization.  

Why Accountability Is So Important

When leaders identify and define the behaviors they want their staff to exemplify, they create a framework for accountability. If they then systematically reinforce those behaviors, their team will have clear expectations of how people at all levels are supposed to act.

The culture’s preferred behaviors can be leveraged as tools for all employees’ performance reviews—including managers. And they can be the basis of employee surveys to assess how they feel everyone is living up to the culture.

With accountability as a cornerstone to this systematic approach to building culture, managers are positioned to become great role models and teachers. They can become influential mentors who help their staff build the skills and confidence that lead to career growth. These managerial qualities make employees love their jobs, appreciate their bosses, and be loyal to their companies.

To learn more about creating the kind of culture that develops great managers and a thriving workforce, visit the CultureWise website. And stay informed about news relating to culture, management, and employee engagement with a complimentary subscription to the CultureWise newsletter, Culture Matters.