Why do people really quit their jobs?

Before you say “salary,” “benefits,” or “workload,” take a second to think about the worst boss you’ve ever had.

Were they bad at giving feedback, not helpful, or just plain mean? Did they have you feeling unmotivated, too nervous to offer ideas, or fearing that you’d lose your job with the slightest miss-step?

Once you let those memories sink in, you probably won’t second guess the statement: “People quit their managers, not their jobs.”

Over the years, this fact hasn’t changed. Study after study has emphasized that companies need good managers to retain good employees.

A 2019 survey was no exception, revealing that 49% of people have quit their job due to a bad boss. The results also show that talent between the ages of 18 to 34 is most likely to leave due to poor management than other age groups.

More young people quit their jobs because of their managers.


Nothing is more important for employee retention than good people management. But being a ‘good manager’ is much easier said than done.

At HubSpot, which was recently ranked as Glassdoor’s Best Place to Work, many of our people managers focus on employee growth rather than just their team’s ability to hit quotas or goals.

To get to the bottom of what makes a people manager effective, I consulted my colleagues to get their thoughts.

Regardless of whether you’re interested in managing a team, or just want to know if a prospective boss is actually a good manager, here are three crucial qualities of a great team leader.

3 Skills People Managers Must Master, According to HubSpot Employees

1. Great managers work for their employees, not above them.

You might be thinking, “Managers work for their employees? Isn’t it the other way around?”

Actually, a manager, like an employee, is more effective when they’re an active team player.

But, while an employee’s job is to fulfill tasks within a job description, a manager’s job is to make his or her team successful. To do this, a manager shouldn’t be afraid to chime in during meetings, assist on projects, or help their team grow or succeed in other ways.

At some companies, new employees rarely ever see — let alone speak — to the people manager that manages their own boss. This is something that’s somewhat unheard of at HubSpot, where you might be seated next to an executive or vice president on your floor or at a meeting.

This ability to get to know and work with leadership helps employees feel like they can confidently talk to someone in a much higher role. It also makes them feel confident that these managers care about their hard work.

This visibility is something Andrew Mahon, a marketing fellow, noticed immediately when he started working at HubSpot.

“In my first month working at HubSpot, my desk was situated directly outside a meeting room. Directly across from me was my manager, VP of Product Marketing Meghan Keaney Anderson. One morning, her manager, Kipp Bodnar, stepped out of the meeting room.”

Mahon says his manager greeted Kipp, who then stopped in his tracks and asked, “Hi, Meghan … Is there anything you need me to do?”

Mahon valued Kipp’s question because it could’ve been translated in multiple positive ways, including, “Are there any blockers I can remove for you?”, ‘Are you waiting on a decision from me on anything?”, “Are you working on an idea that you want to share with me,” or even, ‘Is there something going on in your world outside of work that’s competing for your time and attention?”

“I’ve been working in all sorts of businesses for over 30 years — startups, Fortune 100, fast-growing and slowly-dying. — I’ve never had a bad manager, never had to toil under a tyrant,” Mahon explains. “But, also, I had never experienced such an orientation. Kipp, and all three managers I’ve had at HubSpot, consider that their primary job is to make me successful in my projects and in my career. It’s as if they work for me, rather than me working for them.”

2. They are always aiming to improve their emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence isn’t just a sought after soft skill in general employees, — according to Emily MacIntyre, the marketing department’s Managing Team Development Manager — it’s vital for any role that involves leading people.

“To me, emotional intelligence is the foundation of being able to work well with other people,” says Emily MacIntyre. “It helps to self regulate so you can give clear directions and then it allows you to be empathetic to the needs of others.”

But, what exactly is emotional intelligence? It’s actually exactly what it sounds like. The skill requires you to understand your own emotions, learn how to manage them, and navigate how to respond to the emotions of others on your team. Traits of someone who’s emotionally intelligent include curiosity, self-awareness, self-motivation, likability, and empathetic.

So, why is emotional intelligence, or EQ, so important? Well, in a high-stress or unexpected situation, emotional intelligence will allow you to stay calm while keeping your team from panicking on deadlines. It will also prevent you from making rash decisions as a leader or responding to a slight inconvenience in a non-productive emotional way.

If you feel like you struggle with the situations noted above, check out this blog post, which offers tips on how to improve your EQ.

3. They can establish and promote psychologically safe environments.

As mentioned above, many bad bosses can have an over-aggressive or intense management style that causes employees to be scared of missing goals or even offering new ideas.

Meanwhile, great managers focus want employees to grow from mistakes and offer new insights that they might not have thought of. Supporting employees so that they can succeed at their job, confidently take initiative, and feel safe in their workplace cultivates a sense of psychological safety.

Improving psychological safety in your workplace or on your team requires emotional intelligence and empathy. While empathic leaders can identify with and recognize unspoken employee emotions, concerns, and fears, emotionally intelligent managers will also be able to respond to situations in a way that won’t make teams feel threatened.

The ability to cultivate psychological safety is a critical asset that Jennifer Stefancik, a HubSpot Academy Marketing Manager, values in her own people manager.

“Feeling supported, heard, and understood is the foundation I need to be able to come to work every day with the right mindset to do good work,” Stefancik says. “Genuine empathy and psychological safety are hard to fake, and it’s something that I think everyone should master before they consider the people management path.”

Research supports Stefancik’s thoughts on empathy and psychological safety.

According to Harvard Business Review, some of the highest performing teams have a strong sense of psychological safety.

Additionally, a 2018 study of over 6,700 managers revealed that leaders ranked as more empathic had more productive and satisfied teams working under them than those that were seen as less empathetic. However, despite the benefits of empathy, less than 50% of employees report having empathic managers.

What can we take from the research above? Obviously, psychological safety and empathy are necessary for team success and employee growth, but mastering them isn’t always easy or straightforward.

If you’re a manager or hoping to be a better leader, take time to identify aspects of your management style or overall office culture that could benefit from psychological safety.

For example, rather than using language that makes your team members feel scared of missing deadlines or goals, keep an open and supportive dialogue with them so they can confidently come to you with successes, learnings from failure, or concerns while they’re working on high pressure projects. Alternatively, if a team member is having trouble with a project, you should offer advice or assistance to help them remove blockers, rather than telling them to just get it done.

Supportive communication with team members allows them to learn from mistakes and grow as employees, rather than work tirelessly on projects because they fear that they’ll lose their jobs.

Aside from strong communication with your team, you can also host meetings or create accessible ways for any employee to pitch or brainstorm new ideas to you.

While allowing employees to pitch ideas will make shy or new teammates feel like they can contribute to a strategy, it can also be beneficial for your company overall. In fact, Pixar, which encourages “candor” and “brain trusts,” credits its success to its psychologically safe environment.

Growing Your Management Skills

Ultimately, a great people manager knows how to cultivate a psychologically safe work environment, listen to their employees, and motivate their teams to reach achievable goals.

Whether you’d like to become a people manager or a project manager who works with people, the skills above will be vital to your success and your team’s retention.

To position yourself as a leader of any kind, it can be helpful to make yourself accessible to help your team. You should also be sure to leverage crucial skills such as emotional intelligence and empathy as you continue to work with or manage people.

Aside from the three crucial skills listed above, there are also a number of additional skills you can harness as you work your way up in your company. Check out this blog post which highlights a few other skills you might want to zone in on.

More interested in project or product management than people management? You might also enjoy this blog post.