Why Are Your Employees Leaving The Organization (And How to Make Them Stay)

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Lindsay Kolowich Cox
Lindsay Kolowich Cox



Whenever someone quits their job, it can really shake up a team's dynamics. Remaining employees might find themselves scrambling to cover the extra work for weeks or months until someone new gets hired. Even then, the onboarding process can take months.

And yet a lot of managers don't understand -- and don't make the effort to understand -- the reasons behind why their employees leave; so their employees keep quitting.Get discovered by clients with a free listing on HubSpot's Agency Directory

It's those very same managers that have both the power and the responsibility for correcting and preventing the root causes of employee disengagement that lead to people quitting their jobs and high turnover rates.

Reasons Employees Want to Leave Their Jobs, and Tips for How You Can Get Them to Stay

The first step to increasing employee retention? Digging into why people have resigned from your company in the past, and making sure you're doing what you can to make the situation better for the people who still work for you.

Here are some of the top reasons people leave their jobs, according to several recent statistics from surveys and studies. 

1) The job wasn't what they'd expected

A little over 40% of all American workers quit within the first six months of starting a new job. In the business services industry specifically, that number is even higher at 51.39%. The main reason? Employees want to quit simply because they didn't realize what the job would actually be like.

Maybe they didn't fully understand the expectations for the job. Or, perhaps they were deliberately misled by hiring managers -- like when an employer suddenly switches your boss on you. At the end of the day, many job turnovers start with some kind of "post-hire shock,"  as Leigh Branham calls it in her book The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave: How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act Before It's Too Late.

Tips for Fixing It

To decrease the chances a new hire will call it quits within the first six months, be sure you're giving all your candidates a realistic preview of what their job will be like.

For example, Wells-Fargo Bank has historically shown teller applicants videos showing angry customers making unreasonable demands. Hiring managers would follow up by asking those applicants how they would handle the situation. Not only does this give people a preview of what they might have to deal with, but it also tests their customer service skills.

2) Lack of coaching or feedback

It should come as no surprise that your employees want to know how they're doing -- and they want to know it often. What are their strengths? Where can they improve? What do they need to do to eventually move up in your organization?

As it turns out, four out of ten workers report feeling actively disengaged when they get little or no feedback at work. On the flip side, companies that implement regular employee feedback have 14.9% lower turnover rates than companies that don't.

Giving feedback at performance reviews every six months to a year isn't enough. Branham compares that to a basketball coach telling his players at the beginning of the season that he'll evaluate their performance after they play 30 games.

Tips for Fixing It

Employees that are highly engaged at work receive employee feedback at least once a week. This is especially true for younger employees who are looking for more guidance as they navigate their careers.

Nervous you're going to offend your team members with constructive criticism? Here are some helpful tips for how to give negative feedback without sounding like a jerk.

Another way to engage your employees is to set specific job priorities and goals. In a recent survey of 7,200 U.S. adults, market research firm Gallup found that 12% of workers reported that their managers help set work priorities -- and that same 12% tend to be much happier at work than those who reported their bosses didn't help them much with setting goals.

"Clarity of expectations is perhaps the most basic of employee needs and is vital to performance," Gallup wrote in the report.

3) They didn't get along with their boss

Another main reason for employee turnover is that people want to leave their manager. Gallup found that, of the 7,200 of adults they surveyed, a whopping 50% have left a job "to get away from their manager." 

There are countless reasons an employee would have trouble getting along with their boss. Maybe they don't feel comfortable bringing up questions and issues. Or perhaps they don't feel like their boss is an advocate of theirs. Human resources consultant Carly Guthrie told the First Round Review that, in her experience, employees who leave because of their boss leave from a lack of confidence, not from any sort of personality mismatch.

Whatever the reason, the key takeaway is that there's a correlation between an employee's comfort level with their boss and how engaged they are at work. Some 54% of U.S. workers reported they felt most comfortable approaching their managers with "any type of question" -- and that same 54% also reported feeling actively engaged at work. That proportion quickly falls to 24% for those who gave the next-highest rating.

In another study of 7,712 U.S. adults, Gallup asked respondents to rate their manager on specific behaviors related to communication, performance management, and strengths. They found that the ratings on these behaviors "strongly link to employee engagement and give organizations better insights into developing their managers and raising the overall level of performance of the business."

Tips for Fixing It

Admittedly, it's hard to know whether two people will really get along until they've spent some time working together. But you should do what you can to showcase to candidates what their boss is like during the interview process so you can address any red flags -- like a personality mismatch -- early in the process.

Alternatively, if several people under one manager have left the company, there's a chance that manager was a bad hire in the first place, says Guthrie.

But Gallup warns us that it's not enough to simply label a manager as "bad" or "good." Instead, you need to dig in to what managers are doing to create or destroy engagement in your organization.

For many workers, the thought of openly giving feedback to your own manager can be intimidating. But a study by Forbes found that employees are significantly more engaged (74% versus 34%) when their managers ask for feedback on their performance. That's why it's important to implement formal opportunities for people to give feedback on their managers, just like most companies already give managers formal opportunities to give feedback on their team members. 

4) They didn't see much opportunity for career advancement

A survey conducted by LinkedIn of 7,350 members across five countries found that the number one reason workers quit their jobs was because they sought greater opportunities for advancement.

While it'd be nice to keep your most effective employees in their same roles forever, that's not realistic. Your best employees will want to move up -- and if your company doesn't offer opportunities for them to do that internally, then those good employees are going to quit and find a company with an intenal growth program they feel will reward them. In fact, the higher an employee's degree level, the more they'll seek additional assignments that challenge them to grow.

Tips for Fixing It

The best way to help your employees grow while staying at your company is to ensure they're well aware of the opportunities for career advancement within their own company. LinkedIn found a possible discrepancy in perception versus reality: In one survey, LinkedIn found that 69% of HR managers in the U.S. claimed employees at their companies knew about "internal mobility" programs at their workplaces, though only 25% of U.S. employees in LinkedIn's exit survey said they knew of them.

Of the survey respondents who changed jobs within their same companies, more than two-thirds reported they found out about the job through informal chats with coworkers, such as meeting up for coffee.

Your own employees can be the best sources of talent to tap when you have new openings at your company. Ideally, your employees should be finding out about these opportunities through your leadership team and by chatting openly with their managers about their career goals.

5) They didn't have a good work-life balance

Although it's not necessarily popular opinion, it really shouldn't come as a surprise that people are happier at their jobs when they're allowed more flexible work schedules and have lives of their own outside of work.

One of the top reported reasons for job satisfaction is being allowed flexible work arrangements, according to a report by the Sloan Center for Aging and Work at Boston College; making them more likely to stay at their current company.

Flexible benefits are helpful to employees because it gives them freedom and responsibility, and creates a healthy environment for them to work in where they will be more comfortable and willing to stay.

Jody Thompson, an HR employee at Best Buy, told the folks at Slack in a recent podcast episode that she's a proponent of a results-only work environment. In other words, employees are given full control over their time in exchange for full accountability of the results.

"Here's what happens to you as a business," Thompson said. "First, everybody wants to work for your business. Number two: People, once they start working in this environment, never want to leave it. Three: Every single person knows exactly what they're supposed to deliver for the organization. People are truly happy."

If employees aren't satisfied with their work-life balance, Guthrie has found employees will usually follow up with recruiters and outside job offers even if they're only a little bit "angry, bored, or dissatisfied."

“Usually the hours are wearing on them or their spouse is on their case because they’re never home,” she says. “A really good CEO thinks about the bigger picture and realizes people have lives outside of work."

Interestingly, beginning at age 45, U.S. workers find it substantially more acceptable to be expected to do work on weekends, vacations, and after-hours.

Tips for Fixing It

Offering a flexible work-life balance can help your company cultivate a culture of trust and respect.

"Everybody has a community outside of the office," said Guthrie. "So few employers respect that. If you make it a point to, that will bind your employees closer to you.”

Respect your employees' time outside the office, and embrace that they have fun and fulfilling lives of their own. If you've hired well, your people will want to work the extra hours you may occasionally require. 

6) They didn't feel supported or appreciated

Feeling appreciated at work could be the hardest thing for a company to measure of its employees. But it's also one of the most important things to gauge. A whopping 39% of employees report that they don't feel appreciated at work. Of 30-to-44-year-old employees, 80% find it "considerably annoying" or "a deal breaker" when their boss doesn’t trust or empower them.

What would make someone not feel valued? It could be as simple as not being acknowledged for a job well done. It could be as obvious as being treated disrespectfully or being required to work in a poor physical environment. It could also be things that are more behind the scenes, such as unequal pay for similar work or not receiving the right resources.

Another reason ties back to the manager-employee relationship. "The best managers make a concerted effort to get to know their employees and help them feel comfortable talking about any subject, whether it is work related or not," Gallup reported. "A productive workplace is one in which people feel safe -- safe enough to experiment, to challenge, to share information, and to support one another.

Tips for Fixing It

Your employees will actually do better work when you show them you value, support, and appreciate them. In fact, 78% of workers say being recognized motivates them in their job.

There are many different ways you can show your employees you care and appreciate them, such as showing them that you care about their personal lives, being transparent in conversations, and making time to listen to their opinions and concerns. 

Another, more specific way? To challenge the old command-and-control management style, said Thompson. "When people are autonomous and accountable, they need someone to help guide and mentor them against the results they're expected to achieve," she said. "A manager's job is to support and elevate employees."

7) They weren't getting paid enough

If this last one surprises you, then you're kidding yourself. One of the best ways to show your employees you care about them is to provide them with competitive salary and benefits.

The Society for Human Resources Management surveyed almost 300 U.S. office workers and found that 38% said they'd be most likely to quit their jobs because of inadequate salary and benefits. A separate survey of more than 2,100 CFOs from companies in more than 20 of the largest U.S. markets agreed that inadequate salary and benefits is the most likely cause of employee turnover.

Interestingly, gripes about salary tend to gradually decrease as U.S. workers age. Employees over 60 care less about compensation -- in fact, only 8% of people in that age group reported they would quit because of unfair salary.

low salary age differences

Image Credit: BambooHR

Tips for Fixing It

Paying your employees more than they can get from a comparable job will certainly help with retention. But we know money doesn't grow on trees ... so how can you justify paying your employees more?

One way is to understand the cost of employee turnover. It costs time and money to recruit, hire, and train new employees. You'll also need to factor in lost opportunity costs. What does that look like in numbers? Here's how Karyn Borysenko breaks it down:

  • For entry-level employees, it costs between 30-50% of their annual salary to replace them.
  • For mid-level employees, it costs upwards of 150% of their annual salary to replace them.
  • For high-level or highly specialized employees, you’re looking at 400% of their annual salary.

The steeper the learning curve, the more that paying efficiency wages can help. 

In January 2015, almost 2.8 million U.S. employees voluntarily quit their jobs -- up 17% from the year before. The U.S. government's "quit rate," which measures the number of quits as a percent of total employment, increased from 1.7% to 2% during that time.

When more people quit their jobs at their own will, it means the job market is strengthening. But it's also bad news for employers. To keep people working for you, be sure you and other members of your management team proactively keep an eye out for signs your employees are disengaged, and make changes to improve employee retention rates where needed.

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