Why employees quit: 11 evidence-based reasons
High employee churn is a costly issue for any business. Some estimates place the price of fully replacing an employee towards $40,000, including advertising, recruitment fees, the time it takes to train a new staff member to full working capacity – and the lost productivity in between.
We also know if the best and brightest are constantly jumping ship, the damage to and negativity surrounding a company, can go way beyond the eye-watering $40,000.
According to a 2018 study by Mercer, a whopping third of all employees plan on quitting their job in the next 12 months. Obviously, that data was captured in a coronavirus-free world and the situation for everyone has changed. Whilst better pay packets and loftier job titles did account for many resignation letters, so did seeking benefits such as the opportunity to work remotely. For many, the latter is now a reality. Beyond these factors though, research into employee turnover has unearthed a host of additional subtle and emotional factors that play a key role in employees deciding to seek pastures new.
These include:– A lack of appreciation
– Feeling burnt out
– Lack of flexible work options
– Wanting to work remotely
– Poor mental health
– Relationship with management
– Corporate culture
– Lack of engagement
– Unhappy at work
– Lack of career growth
A lack of appreciation
One of the primary reasons why employees quit is because they feel underappreciated and undervalued. This study from Office Team looked to uncover the power of appreciation and found that 66% of the employees would quit if they didn’t feel appreciated.
That number is even higher for younger workers, with nearly 8 in 10 millennials in the same study saying they’d be looking for new opportunities should they not feel appreciated by their colleagues or leaders.
Companies that have taken a strategic approach to employee recognition have seen improvements in this area. This study from Bersin & Associates indicated a clear link with recognition-rich cultures achieving a 31% lower voluntary turnover rate.
Feeling burnt out
Kronos and Future Workplace carried out research into what they perceive to be ‘the employee burnout crisis’ and found that burnout was seriously undermining workforce retention. Published in 2017, their report found almost all (95%) of the HR leaders they quizzed reported that burnout was negatively affecting turnover. In larger organizations there was also a reported ‘burn and churn’, with 15% of HR professionals at firms of over 2,500 employees saying burnout caused more than half of their annual turnover.
One of the reasons burnout is a tricky issue to tackle is that the contributing factors are varied, with responsibility often sitting across different departmental desks.
Whilst the three primary causes were identified as unfair compensation, unreasonable workload and too much overtime, other factors such as poor management, lack of clear alignment between work and corporate goals, and a negative workplace culture also contributed.
Lack of flexible work options
To attract and retain the best talent, many companies have begun to incorporate some degree of flexible working as part of their core employee offering, with initiatives ranging from compressed hours to flexitime and remote working (which we’ll come on to shortly).
XpertHR’s survey on workplace flexibility found that more than half of organizations had seen a rise in employee requests to work more flexibly, and three-quarters of companies had approved the majority of those requests.
Whilst 70% of millennials have considered leaving a job, to one boasting flexible work options, it’s a perk that all age groups would appreciate. In fact, less than 10% of those at either end of the generational spectrum said they would choose the office as their preferred place to get important work done.
Wanting to work remotely
The desire to work remotely has been a growing employee trend over the last decade, popular especially in the tech and digital sectors where a laptop with stable wi-fi connection can complete most of the day’s tasks. Falling under the flexibility umbrella but dealing specifically with contact time in an office setting, Gallup’s research into the impact of various benefits and perks found that 37% of workers would switch to a job that allowed them to work off-site at least part of the time.
At Atlassian, an internal survey of their employees found that 95% would be willing to change the way they work to enable more remote work. This led to the development of a dedicated remote work program, offering employees the choice to work from home or in the office, based on an assessment of their personality, role, and team.
Read more: 10 companies leading the way on engaging remote employees
The remote-working conversation typically aligns with a desire to achieve a greater work-life balance or, as Arianna Huffington terms it, work-life integration, which benefits employees by helping to alleviate stress, afford more time to spend with family and ultimately support greater wellbeing and mental health.
Poor mental health
The impact that poor mental health has on employee performance and the economy has been understood for some time. Studies from Deloitte and Business in the Community have shown mental health issues cost UK employers upwards of £42 billion each year – £8 billion specifically spent replacing staff who leave their jobs because of their mental health.
With three in five employees experiencing work-related mental health issues at some time in their career, it should be no surprise that this is a key reason why many workers quit.
Poor mental health is an issue that transcends age and gender. A survey of 2,000 employees by CV-Library found that six in 10 men want to quit their jobs because of their mental health, with a culture of working long hours pinpointed as the primary contributing factor.
Read our nine research-backed ideas on better supporting mental health at work for #WorldMentalHealthDay here.
Relationship with management
Research tells us that the business adage of employees working for a boss, not a company, are probably true – especially when it comes to handing in a resignation letter.
A poll of over one million workers in the US by Gallup found that leaving a bad manager was the number one reason why workers quit, with 75% of those who left voluntarily doing so because of their boss and not the job itself.
The relationship with a direct line manager is critical to several employee success factors including productivity, morale and engagement. But a breakdown of that relationship, for whatever reason, can lead to mistrust, anxiety and job dissatisfaction. A more recent study released this year by CareerAddict of 1,000 workers, found that 79% would consider bad leadership as a factor in deciding to quit. Four in ten went so far as to say they would return to their old job if their former boss was replaced.
This survey of 2,000 employees by recruitment firm Hays discovered almost half are looking for a new job – and corporate culture was the main reason.
Hays US president Dan Rodriguez perfectly summarised why this is, saying of the results that: “Workers today expect more than just a paycheck from their jobs, and they are willing to compromise on base salary to find the right fit.
“We hear every day from candidates looking for a company culture that fits with their core values. Strong leadership, open communication, work-life balance and career development are only going to become more important for attraction and retention.”
Whilst this research summarises the macro-view of the effects of a poor culture, there are more specific reasons within a workplace that may prompt a resignation letter. For example, this report by Deloitte found that 72% of employees in the US would leave their current company for one with a more inclusive culture.
Lack of engagement
The focus on employee engagement has been steadily increasing over the last 20 years, as its importance in the workplace and influence on business results has become more widely understood. And a lack of engagement has a role to play in employee turnover, too. Gallup found that engaged employees are 59% less likely to seek out a new job or career in the next 12 months.
This extensive survey of 34 million workers worldwide, analyzed net promotor scores and responses to survey questions regarding loyalty as a measure of engagement, to find a correlation with voluntary turnover, hinting at a nine-month trend from disengagement to separation.
Unhappy at work
It should come as no surprise that unhappy employees are more likely to quit than happy ones, and research shows that this is indeed the case.
This study of over 1,000 UK workers found a positive overall picture of employee morale with responders giving an average 6.8/10 rating. However, one in three reported that they would consider quitting if they became unhappy.
Unhappy workers don’t only cause a performance dip on an individual level. Studies have shown how contagious emotions can negatively impact entire teams – without them necessarily realizing. Organizations such as Zappos and Amazon have recognized this, and even offer cash for employees to quit if they become unhappy in the understanding that it’s better for everyone if they move on.
Lack of career growth
A survey carried out last year by research company The Harris Poll found a lack of career growth and development was a key reason why employees left their previous job.
One in three workers reported that they quit their last position because they didn’t learn new skills or better their performance – despite nearly all the 310 workplaces involved in the study providing career development tools. In fact, only 26% of employees rated their employers’ development tools as delivering for them.
Additional research into the link between career development and employee attrition by Global Talent Monitor found a stronger correlation, with 40% of departing employees saying they were dissatisfied with the lack of future career development. The study also found 28% are actively seeking new employment whilst 42% were open to new opportunities should they arise.
However, things aren’t quite as gloomy as this research in isolation would suggest. For example, Gartner reports that, on average, employees stay in the same role 50% longer than before the financial crisis in 2008.