People don’t leave their jobs, they leave their managers - or do they?

2 minute read

Every now and again I come across this “pearl of wisdom” (in slightly different variations):

People don’t leave bad jobs / companies, they leave because of bad bosses / managers

Whilst I’m sure this is true in some/many cases, I always hear an internal voice of protest.

I’ve been in the industry for close to 15 years. I went through a number of different bosses/projects (a lot of them contracts). In all of my career, I left due to my management exactly once.

All the other times?

  • it was always supposed to be a short-term engagement (early in career - internships etc.)
  • a (small) company lost a client I was at, so was forced to change my role and I prefered to stay a developer
  • I wanted to travel more and my job-at-the-time couldn’t offer enough flexibility (switched from perm to contracts)
  • the project has reached a maintenance phase, a big part of the team was leaving, plus I wanted to go on a long holiday
  • a different offer, “too good to pass”, came my way - I wasn’t looking at the time, but I decided I had to take it
  • the project was coming to a slow, uncertain phase (lack of funding), my contract was up for renewal and I decided not to
  • I decided to work on my own startup

Vast majority of cases where I stopped working for my managers, it was one of two reasons (sometimes both at the same time):

  • the project was winding down anyway (dev complete, or funding cut) and it was time to move on. As a contractor you always take into account that after the active phase, the contract might not be renewed
  • other circumstances completely outside of control of my manager (my travel-bug, or another amazing offer)

In all these cases I always made an effort to explain my reasons to my boss. In all cases I found understanding, we split our ways with no hard feelings, and in fact some of my ex-bosses became my again-bosses later on.

I really wish this quote stopped doing rounds, because I feel it might be putting an unnecessary feeling of “what did I do wrong / what could I have done better” on many perfectly good managers out there.

So to all of the “good ones”, take my word: Sometimes a person handing in their notice is really not your fault, and there is absolutely nothing you could have done to prevent this.

What were your reasons for leaving your role? What’s your ratio of bad-boss-vs-other-reasons? Was I very lucky - or are “bad bosses” not that common after all?