Staff Retention – Most Common Reasons Employees Leave

Staff Retention – Most common reasons employees leave

 10 Dec 2020

We all know that employees are a massive value add to our business and replacing staff who leave is both costly and a drain on our time. We’d all prefer to run a happy ship – happy staff means happy clients, right?

There are a myriad of reasons why people leave and it’s not always for the reasons we might think. If we understand the major factors, we can consider ways within our control to mitigate any potential exodus. Of course, sometimes the reasons can be complex and there is nothing we can do to make someone stay. However, there are plenty of strategies we can employ if we know what we are looking for.


Feeling undervalued

Some employees will leave if they don’t think you recognise their true worth and the value of their contribution. This can be about position or a monetary consideration, but it can also be far less tangible.

Addressing this can be as simple as giving regular praise for a job well done and making the employee feel that what they do matters, and moreover, that they matter.  

Perhaps think about ways in which you can make your staff feel part of the bigger picture, part of the future success of the firm. Give updates on the strategic direction of the firm and be specific about where they fit in to that. Could you give them a project that they can really buy into? They might welcome involvement in initiatives to raise their visibility or give them access to more senior members of staff.

Of course, not everyone wants visibility; some prefer to do a great job, but under the radar. It’s important not to forget this type of employee. Everyone has a contribution to make and should be made to feel a valuable member of the team.

There are many different personality types, and we all make the world go round in our own way. As such, we will all assess feeling valued in a different way. It is worth considering investing in some training for staff in a leadership position on how to approach staff management at an individual level so they can tailor their approach accordingly.

You could also consider offering incentives to employees that will reward them for a particular achievement. It doesn’t have to be anything hugely expensive. It’s more about the gesture and recognition than the reward, although the reward will undoubtedly be appreciated too.


Working pattern

As our personal circumstances change throughout the course of our lives, so might our requirements for different working arrangements, be that part time, flexible hours, or remote working. If you can be open to your employee’s changing needs and work with them to find a solution that works for both parties, you will boost your chances of retaining an employee that you are unlikely to want to lose.

If, for whatever reason, no mutually acceptable solution can be found, take pains to ensure that there are no hard feelings. A sweet but sorrowful parting is always better than an acrimonious one. If your employee knows you have really tried to come up with a viable solution but couldn’t, then you will retain goodwill, reputation and even leave the door open for a potential return in the future.


Change of scene

A change is as good as a rest, as they say. As comforting as feeling part of a work “family” can be on one hand, a perceived lack of challenge or the hunt for a new one can be compelling. Discuss with your employee what it is that they are looking for and consider if that’s something you can somehow offer in your own organisation. This is a trickier scenario as you will need to convince your employee that your suggestions are possible, will be actioned, and divert their attention away from the potentially greener grass.

If you make it practice to offer your employees the chance to work on things outside their normal day-to-day where possible, or involve them in more challenging projects within the department / firm, it keeps interest and challenge levels up and potentially lessens the desire to look elsewhere. For example, is there an internal committee they could be part of (especially on a subject they feel passionate about), or firm wide initiatives in the community that they could be active in, etc.

This reason for leaving is more difficult to argue against, particularly where a new opportunity offers something you aren’t able to give, for example, greater experience in a particular area, or a different working environment. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there is an issue with the current employer. Sometimes it just feels right to the employee to move on and there is simply nothing you can do to counter that. The best you can do is accept the situation graciously and don’t take it personally. If you can do that, then inevitably the departure will be smoother and the more likely you are to preserve the relationship.


Dissatisfaction with employer

There are any number of reasons why an employee might be dissatisfied with their employer, some personal, some practical. Some examples include:

  • Lack of interesting work
  • Lack of trust or respect
  • Toxic working environment, either due to culture or other members of staff
  • Rigid practices – initiative not welcome
  • Staff not treated well or equally
  • No work life balance
  • Lack of transparency or communication
  • Staff working competitively rather than collegiately
  • Personality clashes that the employer hasn’t sought to address or solved
  • No opportunity for professional growth
  • Dislike of the way the employer handled the COVID-19 pandemic and any fallout
  • Personal grievance

These issues can run deep and be difficult to overcome, particularly when resentment has built up. In these circumstances, if you cannot rectify the situation, the best you can do is handle the departure with open communication, integrity, and grace.


Company Culture

A company usually defines itself by its values. They are often detailed on the company website and on recruitment and marketing materials. But does the firm truly live them internally? Are they evident in the workplace at ground level?

Many jobseekers now make a firm’s culture a key deciding factor on whether to accept a job offer or not. For existing employees, this is an equally compelling reason to stay or go.

Just being a good employer simply isn’t enough anymore. Employers need to evidence their social conscience, their commitment to Diversity & Inclusion and be actively attempting to reduce their carbon footprint.

Any firm that is not addressing key issues in the world will be on the back foot and could lose valued team members because of it.


Pay and Promotion

Perhaps the most obvious of the reasons.

If someone thinks they are already operating at the grade above, or has the necessary skills to do so, they will expect to be promoted. That may or may not be possible given the current confines of your team or organisation. If you are unable to promote as expected, make sure you are clear with your employee as to the reasons why, and give them a timeframe and roadmap as to how that might be achieved in future, if possible. If your employee understands your reasoning, the situation may be salvageable.

For some people however, achieving a particular title is part of their career mission and often linked to their sense of success or failure, and even their own self-worth. Thus, it is vitally important to them. No amount of interesting work, great culture or fabulous colleagues will dampen their quest for that recognition, and if it is not achievable in their current organisation in a deemed acceptable timeframe, they will simply look elsewhere.

Remuneration always has the potential to be a thorny issue. There can often be a disconnect between what an employee feels they deserve and what an employer thinks they’re worth.

Most people can usually move for at least a modest salary increase. It will depend on the employee’s personal circumstances as to whether or not they deem this compelling enough.

Some employers try to address retention by having a policy of paying above market rate. This can be very successful, as long as employees are otherwise content with their employment. However, consistently paying at market rate should keep you out of the danger zone, other factors permitting.


The reasons people choose to move on are often as much about their own personal psyche as anything else, which makes it impossible to have a complete handle on every situation.

Sometimes it’s the big things that will make a difference, although these can be trickier to manage or implement. But often it’s the small things, well within your control, that matter to your employees, and these can change everything. As long as you are genuine in your good intentions.

Employees leave for a whole host of reasons, but it’s not always about money or status. It’s about what gives them a sense of fulfilment and makes them happy. This will mean different things to different people, so you’ll never be able to please everybody all of the time. What you can do however is review the most common reasons employees leave and see what you can do internally now that might address those issues. Your retention rates will thank you for it.


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