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Why They Leave:

What the Research Reveals

Sometimes if we cut

through the brain and

get to the gut, we learn

the truth.

If you compiled an alphabetical list of all the reasons for leaving voluntarily

from the exit surveys of dozens of organizations, it would look something

like this:

Advancement opportunity

Benefits

Better-paying job

Bureaucracy

Career change

Commuting time or distance

Concerns about organization’s future

Conflict with coworker

Discrimination based on race, gender, religion, etc.

Dishonest or unethical leaders or managers

Distrust of, or loss of confidence in, senior leaders

Excessive workload

Favoritism

Fear of job elimination

Geographic location of the job

Health concerns

Ideas not welcomed

Immediate supervisor

Inability to master the job

Inflexible work hours

Insufficient challenge

Insufficient or inappropriate training

Insufficient resources to do the job

Job elimination

Job itself

Job responsibilities

Job security

Limited earnings potential

Little or no bonus

Little or no empowerment

Little or no growth or developmental opportunity

Little or no performance feedback

Negative work environment

No authority to do the job

No career path

No consequences for nonperformers

No way to voice concerns

Not allowed to complete the job

Not allowed to do the job my own way

Not paid competitively

Not paid in proportion to contributions

Not recognized for contributions

Organization culture

Organization instability or turmoil

Organization politics

Outdated or inadequate equipment

Physical facility noisy, dirty, hot, or cramped

Poor communication

Poor teamwork

Retirement

Return to school

Self-employment

Sexual harassment

Spouse relocation

Stress

Timeliness of pay increases

Too many changes

Treated poorly

Uncaring leadership

Unfair pay increases

Unfair performance appraisal process

Unfair promotion practices

Unfair rules, policies, or procedures

Unwanted change in job duties

Unwanted relocation

Vacation policy

Work-life imbalance

These 67 reasons were, in fact, taken from exit survey responses

completed by thousands of exiting employees. When you take away the

unpreventable reasons (though some may have preventable origins)—

advancement opportunity, better-paying job, career change, commuting

time/distance, geographic location of job, job elimination, retirement, return

to school, self-employment, and spouse relocation—you are still left

with 57 preventable reasons for voluntary turnover.

While reading and categorizing the comments from among 3,149 employees

who voluntarily left their employers, as surveyed by Saratoga,1 I

could not help being touched by the emotions expressed in them—

disappointment, frustration, anger, disillusionment, resentment, betrayal, to

name the most common. It occurred to me that very few of the ‘‘reasons’’

for turnover were based on reasoned thinking—they were mostly rooted

in strong feelings.

As I analyzed and grouped the reasons for leaving, looking for common

denominators, and peeling off layers from the onion in search of root

causes, it became clear that employees begin to disengage and think about

leaving when one or more of four fundamental human needs are not being

met:

1. The Need for Trust: Expecting the company and management to

deliver on its promises, to be honest and open in all communications

with you, to invest in you, to treat you fairly, and to compensate

you fairly and on time.

2. The Need to Have Hope: Believing that you will be able to grow,

develop your skills on the job and through training, and have the

opportunity for advancement or career progress leading to higher

earnings.

3. The Need to Feel a Sense of Worth: Feeling confident that if you

work hard, do your best, demonstrate commitment, and make

meaningful contributions, you will be recognized and rewarded

accordingly. Feeling worthy also means that you will be shown

respect and regarded as a valued asset, not as a cost, to the organization.

4. The Need to Feel Competent: Expecting that you will be matched

to a job that makes good use of your talents and is challenging,

receive the necessary training to perform the job capably, see the

end results of your work, and obtain regular feedback on your

performance.