By Tim Gould

It may be a cliche, but it’s true: People don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad managers. And in today’s uncertain employment atmosphere, supervisors need to perform a new level of “due diligence” to uncover what makes each of his or her employees tick.

Here are a few exercises that can help:

Cataloging motivation

Pinpointing what motivates each individual is the key part of the puzzle.

First step: Managers should compose a checklist of the things they think motivate employees.

Then supervisors check off the items that motivate them personally, and distribute the checklist to each of their employees.

Analysis of the overall results often reveals a number of things that are common to most workers – recognition, perks, interesting and fulfilling work, etc. – but it can also reveal some special tweaks that might boost the engagement levels of specific individuals.

This analysis is valuable in another way – it often indicates to managers how different their own motivators are from their employees’.

Finally, the manager meets with each employee to discuss the worker’s specific responses to the checklist – and then devises a plan tailored to meet his or her motivational factors.

Reality check: No, managers won’t be able to make every employee’s job perfect.

But it is possible to adjust job duties and assignments to better fit employee needs. And specific motivators – like more flexible schedules for those with family responsibilities – can be worked into reward programs. For example, their jobs might be redesigned to be more fulfilling.

You might find more means to provide recognition, if that is important to them. You might develop a personnel policy that rewards employees with more family time, etc.

Make it personal

Employees who feel their manager genuinely cares about them as a human being tend to be a lot more loyal than those who work for a supervisor who’s distant and aloof.

Managers should make a genuine effort to know employees’ backgrounds, family information, their interests outside of work … a well-rounded picture of their lives.

It’s not a matter of sitting the person down and giving them the third degree – the smart manager will pick up most of the information in informal day-to-day conversation, and can gently probe for details in an appropriate moment.

Recognizing blind spots

Managers and supervisors are people, too. Sometimes, employees’ and managers’ personalities clash. This is a tricky area for managers – they must guard against treating the disliked employee differently than his peers.

The best practice in this scenario is for the manager to recognize his or her blind spot in this particular case, and discuss it with a trusted supervisor.

The objective is to figure out a way to establish a positive working relationship with the employee.

Admitting that the blind spot’s a problem and then talking it out with a trusted colleague often goes a long way toward defusing the situation.