Why Employees Say They Leave

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When we look at the reasons employees give for leaving in Saratoga’s confidential

third-party exit surveys,2 it becomes obvious that these basic psychic

needs are not being met. As we see in the pie chart of reasons for

leaving (Figure 3-1), the responses to the question ‘‘Why did you leave?’’

were classified into the following groups:

1. Limited Career Growth or Promotional Opportunity (16 percent), indicating

a lack of hope.

2. Lack of Respect from or Support by Supervisor (13 percent), indicating

a lack of trust or confidence.

3. Compensation (12 percent), indicating an issue of worth or value.

4. Job Duties Boring or Unchallenging (11 percent), indicating a lack of

competence and fulfillment in the work itself.

5. Supervisor’s Lack of Leadership Skills (9 percent), indicating a lack of

trust and confidence.

6. Work Hours (6 percent), including comments ranging from undesirable

work schedule, to inflexibility, to overtime (too much or

too little), to undesirable shift—reasons indicating a lack of worth,

inasmuch as the organization, in their minds, did not view their

satisfaction as important enough to warrant a change.

7. Unavoidable Reasons (5 percent), generally considered unpreventable

by the organization and including excessive commuting distance,

retirement, birth of a child, child-care issues, relocation,

other family issues, career change, too much travel, return to

school, and death or illness in the family.

Why they left. Source: Previously unpublished Saratoga Institute research.

Limited Career / P romotion

Opportunities, 16%

Supervisor—Lacked Respect /

Support, 13%

Compensation, 12%

Job Duties Boring / No Challenge,

11%

Supervisor—Lacked Leadership

Skills, 9%

Work Hours, 6%

Unavoidable Reasons, 5%

Not Recognized for My

Contribution, 4%

Coworkers' Attitudes, 1%

Benefits, 1%

Supervisor—Displayed Favoritism,

4%

Discrimination, 1% Harassment, 1% Supervisor—Lacked technical

skills, 1%

Poor Senior Leadership, 2%

Supervisor—incompetent, 2%

Training, 3%

Poor Working Conditions, 3%

Supervisor—Poor employee

Relations, 4%

8. Lack of Recognition (4 percent), indicating a lack of worth.

9. Favoritism by Supervisor (4 percent), indicating a lack of trust.

10. Supervisor’s Poor Employee Relations (4 percent), indicating a lack of

trust.

11. Poor Working Conditions (3 percent), pertaining mostly to undesirable

physical conditions, indicating a lack of worth.

12. Training (3 percent), pertaining mostly to insufficient offerings,

poorly conducted training, or the denial of permission to attend

training—all indicating the lack of perceived worth.

13. Supervisor’s Incompetence (2 percent), indicating a lack of trust and

confidence.

14. Poor Senior Leadership (2 percent), same reasons as those given for

next level management, plus lack of clear vision or direction—

indicating a lack of trust or confidence.

15. Supervisor’s Lack of Technical Skills (1 percent), indicating a lack of

trust and confidence.

16. Discrimination (1 percent), indicating a lack of trust and hope.

17. Harassment (1 percent), indicating a lack of trust.

18. Benefits (1 percent), indicating a lack of worth.

19. Coworkers’ Attitude (1 percent), indicating a lack of trust.

To get below the surface of the exit survey responses, Saratoga conducted

focus groups with respondents to probe further into their reasons

for leaving, and analyzed the content of written survey comments. When

employees are asked to give open-ended feedback, either in writing or

open discussion, they are no longer just responding to prefabricated questions—

they are speaking from their hearts about the needs that were not

met.

Here are the ten most frequently mentioned issues identified in departed

employees’ responses to the question, ‘‘What did ABC Company

(former employer) do poorly?’’

1. Poor Management: The comments were mostly about uncaring, incompetent,

and unprofessional managers, but also complaints

about managers overworking them, not showing respect, not listening

to their ideas, putting them in the wrong jobs, making no

effort to retain them, emphasizing speed over quality, and being

abusive. There were also many comments about poor or nonexistent

methods of selecting managers.

(Issues: Trust, Worth, Hope, and Competence)

2. Lack of Career Growth and Advancement Opportunity: Comments

were mainly about having no perceivable career path, but also

about the company’s failure to post jobs or fill jobs from within,

and unfair promotions or favoritism.

(Issues: Hope and Trust)

3. Poor Communications: Comments were mostly about top-down

communication from managers and senior leaders (particularly the

lack of openness with information) but also about miscommunication

between departments, from the human resources department,

from corporate offices to field offices, and following mergers.

(Issues: Trust and Worth)

4. Pay: Comments were mostly about not being paid fair-market

value or not being paid in proportion to their contributions and

hard work, but also complaints about pay inequities, slow pay

raises, favoritism in giving raises and bonuses, and ineffective performance

appraisals.

(Issues: Trust and Worth)

5. Lack of Recognition: This issue is connected to issues of pay and

workload, but there were many comments about the organization’s

culture not being one that encourages recognition.

(Issue: Worth)

6. Poor Senior Leadership: The comments were mostly about lack of

caring about, listening to, or investing in employees, but also about

executives being isolated, remote, and unresponsive, providing no

inspiring vision or direction, sending mixed messages, making too

many changes in direction and organizational structure.

(Issues: Trust and Worth)

7. Lack of Training: Comments were mainly about not receiving

enough training to do their current jobs properly, but also citing

poor quality of training, being rushed through superficial training,

lack of new hire training, poor management training, and lack of

training for future advancement.

(Issues: Worth, Hope, and Competence)

8. Excessive Workload: The comments were mainly about being asked

to do more with fewer staff, but also about sacrificing quality and

customer service to make the numbers.

 (Issues: Worth and Competence)

9. Lack of Tools and Resources: Comments cited a range of issues, including

inadequate office supplies, malfunctioning computers,

poor phone system support, outdated technology, and lack of

human resources to relieve overwork.

(Issues: Worth, Hope, and Competence)

10. Lack of Teamwork: Comments were mainly about lack of coworker

cooperation and commitment to get the job done, but also mentioning

lack of coordination between departments or different locations.

(Issues: Trust and Competence)

What Caused Their Initial Dissatisfaction?

As noted in Chapter Two, employees often experience an initial shock or

disappointment that may ultimately result in their leaving the organization.

At one time, Saratoga Institute included the question, ‘‘What caused your

initial dissatisfaction?’’ in its post-exit survey, but dropped the question after

reviewing the first 950 responses. As it turned out, the nineteen reasons for

leaving shown in the pie chart in Figure 3-1 were identical to the reasons

for initial dissatisfaction and in the same order from top to bottom!

This lends added weight to the conclusion that most people ultimately

leave for a reason that had as its genesis an event that may have occurred

weeks or months earlier. Again, the key reminder and good news in this

for managers is that there is a built-in period of ‘‘rescue time’’ during which

they have the opportunity to identify the employee’s dissatisfaction and try

to correct it.