There are a lot of reasons why people quit their jobs, and most of the time it’s not because of salaries, as many people (and managers) have been led to erroneously believe. Sometimes people have very different reasons for leaving, like to get married and change locations; an unlikable boss; goals changing and employees leaving due to inadequate motivation or vision; or quitting in order to acquire an advanced degree. Because these are life events and they are different for every individual, they are issues that are quite difficult to address as a manager.
That notwithstanding, employee retention is squarely in the domain of managers, and the majority of reasons employees quit their jobs are under the control of managers. In every workplace, managers are in control of elements such as clarity of vision, culture and environment, employee perception of their roles and responsibilities, and providing tools to increase employee success. In this manner, managers can be one reason employees decide to leave their jobs. When managers stay in touch with their staff through communication, problem-solving, feedback, and recognition, they can affect and reduce turnover rates.
As managers, you can prevent issues with employee retention by creating systems, processes, and requirements that will make employees stay and work productively in your company longer. It is critical for managers to put these systems in place in order to support the needs of employees, generate meaningful work, increase market compensation and benefits, and have a meaningful and significant effect on their individual work and in the workplace.
But are managers the main reason why people leave their jobs as the old saying “People leave managers, not companies” claims?
It was around June 2005 when I was working as a recruiter that I read an article titled “Main Reasons Why People Leave Their Job”. In the article, they stated managers as the main reason and a lack of better salaries as the second. And as a recruiter, I was always interested in this topic because if you know the main reasons employees leave their job for other opportunities you can make your offers more irresistible to prospective workers. If one person is not happy at work and you have the right data, you can help them and their team members switch companies too.
That article made me question whether those two things were the real reasons why people leave their jobs. During that time, I had been a recruiter for more than a year, and I had already heard lots of reasons from candidates about why they wanted to leave their jobs. Some people were really looking for more money, others did have terrible bosses, yet many cited other reasons. However, I wasn’t able to compare my findings with those of the article because I didn’t have any data. It was in that moment that I decided to start my own research. I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea or not, but the only way to find out was to start, so I did.
How My Curiosity Turned into a Long-Term Hobby
Starting something is easy, but if you want to collect data and generate some good results with it, then you need a plan. I thought I would never say this, but my sociology studies came in handy. I had an idea for how to collect the data as well as what to do with it. So dating back to 2005, I started collecting the reasons why people left their jobs. During every single interview (over the phone and on-site) I always asked, “What is the main reason you are leaving your current job?” or a variation of this question. If the answer was “Because of the boss”, I added a point to the set of data representing this reason in my excel spreadsheet. If the answer was different, I just added a new row in the spreadsheet and started a new count.
In that year alone, I interviewed 679 people from various fields (IT, engineering, finance, marketing, sales, etc.), and my spreadsheet was full of reasons as to why people left their jobs. But then I asked myself whether data from one year was enough to cover every possible reason, I knew that the test group was not big enough. I was also curious as to whether the reasons would change over the years, so I continued to collect data, unsure of how long I would have to continue.
This curiosity turned into a hobby, and I continued collecting data for the next ten years from 8,509 people (I didn’t add reasons from all the people that I interviewed). My results came from people with various levels of seniority, and from different fields, cities, and locations. Because I collected answers for many years, I was able to see how the reasons changed over the years and how some are still a part of the top three reasons why people leave their jobs.
Seven Top Reasons Why People Change Jobs
Based on my findings, here are the seven main reasons employees quit their jobs:
Lack of Opportunities to Use skills and abilities
When people are able put their skills and abilities to use in the jobs they are doing, they tend to feel a sense of usefulness, accomplishment, and self-confidence. By engaging in activities that they are good at and that exercise their skills and abilities even further, workers tend to be happier. When people work they want to develop their skills, and if a job does not give them the ability to do that, then they look for one that can. This also applies to opportunities; if a workplace does not prove to be a haven for opportunities, then people will go elsewhere when they can.
Most people would like to apply their knowledge and be better in what they are doing. They are looking for a challenge, and if they feel that their skills are not being used, they will feel unfulfilled. It’s like being an aircraft pilot who loves flying and not being able to fly.
In the article from 2005, the managers were the main reason driving employees to leave. During my research, I found that managers remain among the top three reasons as to why people leave their jobs. Because a managerial position is usually a step up on a company’s ladder, and any worker can be promoted irrespective of their skill level, many organizations make the mistake of appointing the wrong people to managerial positions. This is a mistake because being a manager is indeed a leadership position and requires skills such as interpersonal communication apart from the technical skills that are required of them for the job.
Yet, not all managers have these skills or have had the right training to acquire them. Many organizations have managers that do not give feedback or coaching and instead resort to screaming and yelling at the employees they are supposed to guide. Unclear expectations can leave employees frustrated and make them want to leave an organization.
If leaders in the company are not helping managers become leaders, they will start losing employees and in the end the managers themselves. The effect on hiring activities will remain for a longer time though, because people who already left due to a bad manager will not be sharing any positive news about that company.
Toxic Workplace/Company Culture
In an ideal workplace, everyone would behave with courtesy and colleagues would complement one another. Bosses would even check up on staff occasionally and be interested in what’s going on in their lives. But there is no ideal workplace, and personalities do not always blend together so easily. There will be occasional clashes, interpersonal conflicts, office gossip, cunning workers, sly bosses, attention-seeking colleagues, and inconsiderate coworkers that can make workers think about leaving a workplace.
Another problem could be inter-office competition: even if it is possible that a workplace is generous, providing flexible hours and vacation, a workplace filled with competition might actually hinder workers from making full use of the benefits available to them as they may feel that making use of them (such as scheduling vacations) can get them penalized, causing them to feel dissatisfied. It has been shown that going on vacation can improve production and benefit everyone by encouraging a workplace culture where people can unplug and relax.
Company culture can vary from department to department, even from manager to manager, so leaders of every company need to be consistent in building the same culture throughout the whole company. Company culture and a good company environment are playing a much bigger role for people than it did years before.
Many people leave their jobs when they realize that they are not moving up the ladder. If they find out that despite how hard they work or how well they are doing at their job they will not be promoted to a high-paying and more demanding position, then they will leave. In the same vein, if a less qualified or capable member of the team gets a juicy position that they want, they may want to look elsewhere.
Excessive Work or Too Little of it
Good employees are often asked to take on a lot of tasks primarily because they may have, at one time or another, used their initiative to do more work than they were initially asked to do. These extra tasks can cause a good employee to work long hours, causing frustration, lack of motivation, and ultimately a total burnout. In the same vein, a very good worker might encounter roadblocks when they are asked to take on new tasks, which can result in boredom and a lack of fulfillment.
With more work or projects come more responsibilities. Adding more tasks and not giving employees the right level of guidance or ownership only leads to frustration. Nobody likes micromanagers.
Higher Salary and Financial Stability
During his most notable monologues, the brilliant British philosopher Alan Watts often asked, “What if money was no object?”. During the monologue, Watts would try to encourage people to ignore the trappings of money and to follow their heart and passion as if money was indeed no object. And if they truly committed to that pursuit, then the money would come. But let’s face it, money matters. After all, everyone has to think about their personal finance when they decide which organization they want to work in. And yes, one of the reasons why employees leave their jobs is because of money. If the raise is small, people don’t care; if you offer them a significantly higher wage, you will get their attention. Employees who are worried about their future tend to look for opportunities with better pay, so working for a stable company can also give them some financial stability.
Inadequate or Lack of Rewards and Benefits
No one wants to work eight hours a day on full throttle without being recognized or compensated. When an organization engages in miserly raises and employees go unrecognized, reduced loyalty may result among employees and would definitely not encourage them to make any extra efforts or work extra hours as needed. For any company to encourage workers to stay, they should recognize and encourage their employees financially and publicly, or else, they will be forced to look elsewhere.
Celebrate their wins, and be there for them if they need your support. Employees who feel appreciated and like their efforts have been noticed become more productive.
What could be the next game changer?
My belief is that more people will be interested in companies that offer private medical services so that employees don’t have to wait hours or days to see the doctor. And companies offering advanced programs of professional training, even private career coaching, could gain an advantage against their competitors in the market.
What did I learn during this survey? Some reasons for employees quitting have changed over the years. Most of the people during 2008-2011 preferred job security instead of cool benefits, an amazing office, or the environment. Years before 2008, a higher salary was the main motivation. After 2011, the main reasons started shifting toward things like benefits and the environment. From 2014 and on, more people started leaving their jobs for better job opportunities that provided advancements, a more supportive culture, and where managers gave them more responsibility to decide things for themselves than their current managers did (less sense of ownership).
If employees don’t trust management to lead them in the right direction, they lose respect for them and will eventually leave. If you want happy employees, I strongly urge you to recognize their work, pay them fairly and invest in them. They could still leave for any number of reasons, but if you are not investing in them, they will leave for sure. Our reasons for leaving can vary wildly, but sometimes our reason for leaving is pretty simple. There are times where another offer somewhere else is so tempting that we are not able to say no to it.
What was the weirdest reasons candidates have given you for leaving their job?
I’m pretty sure that the reasons you were told won’t beat: “My boss told me that I can’t bring my turtle to work anymore, so I’m looking for a new job.” I’m still not sure if that lady was joking or not, but she sounded pretty serious. 🙂