Can a bad manager make you like your job... more?

The following article is adapted from a presentation I gave at this year’s Wharton People Analytics conference titled “How to Drive Behavior Change with People Science.”

By now, you’ve likely heard the saying, “People don’t quit jobs, they quit managers.” This statement certainly feels true: Unfortunately, many of us have at one point had a manager bad enough to make us dread coming into work on Mondays.

Build complexity

But at Humu, we know that one-size-fits-all platitudes don’t capture the full complexity of the ever-changing world of work. And “People don’t quit jobs, they quit managers” is no different.

Every day, employees share their experiences on the job with our team so we can find ways to help them make work better. When we dug into that data, we found that in some cases, having a bad manager can actually make you more likely to stay at your job. How is that possible?

It’s because people who are unhappy with their managers aren’t all the same. In our analysis, we split these individuals into two groups:

• People in Group A were unhappy with their manager, and their teammates were just as disgruntled with that same manager

• People in Group B also rated their manager poorly, but their teammates, on the other hand, were quite happy with the manager

Our results when we treated these two groups separately? Employees in Group A—those whose teammates were equally unhappy with the same manager—showed a 12% increase in retention intentions (and in fact were more likely to still be at the organization 6 months later).

This finding might seem counterintuitive at first. Surely someone whose manager is universally disliked should be in a far worse situation than someone whose manager is, on average, pretty good. But people in Group A likely felt a sense of validation and social support from their teammates, making them less likely to quit. Sure their managerial relationship wasn’t going well, but they weren’t the only ones who were having issues.

At Humu we spend a lot of time thinking about how to build for this kind of complexity, because it’s our mission is to make work better for everyone, everywhere. Ensuring that our analyses account for both individual and group dynamics is what lets us figure out that if you have a top performer who is the only one on her team that dislikes her manager, you should be especially concerned.

Deliver simplicity

When it comes to motivating change, simple is best. We know that to help people achieve their goals, you need to make it as easy and straightforward as possible for them to follow through.

That’s why our most complex analyses are never seen by our users. To make change easier, Humu draws on one of behavioral science’s most effective—and simplest—tools: nudges. Nudges are small, scientifically-validated suggestions.

At Humu, we nudge people in the form of complementary reminders and notifications. For example, if we find that a team member needs to work on speaking up more, we don’t just nudge her to do so when the time is right. We also nudge her manager to help create space for her to voice her opinion.

This kind of complementary nudging increases the odds that change will happen. Even if the team member doesn’t take immediate action, she might speak up when her manager asks for her input.

By building complexity to deliver simplicity, Humu reaches every person—in any job, at any level—to help create an environment that will make them happier, healthier, and more productive.

Interested in learning more about the Humu product, and how we can help your organization? Drop us a line at

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