The real reasons people leave, and how to make them stay

Rachael Brown, HRM Online


written on January 18, 2016

New year new you, as the saying goes. This is the time when people resolve to change their lives for the better. For some, that means quitting their current job and finding a new one.

The numbers speak for themselves: A recent LinkedIn report states that during January 2015, 74,000 Australians and New Zealanders made the jump. What’s more, the per cent of people open to changing jobs has spiked for the first time in four years: active job seekers grew by 36 per cent while the number of individuals who don’t want to move jobs decreased by 55 per cent since 2011. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way, says Jason Laufer, director of talent solutions, LinkedIn, ANZ. “December and January are times when people really reflect on their careers, and the data reflects that,” Laufer says. “Whats fascinating is understanding why and whats behind the data; once you understand that, you can implement programs that retain and engage employees.”

More than 10,500 job changers were surveyed to answer the big questions: Why do people change jobs? And what can businesses do to keep employees? The responses are telling.

Nearly half of those surveyed said concern for lack of career advancement was the primary reason for leaving, followed by poor leadership and management, and unsatisfactory work culture or environment. Inadequate compensation and benefits, the typical response, barely cracked the top five.

“As you look at the data, 45 per cent move for career opportunities over financial gain,” Laufer says. “More money is secondary to other things.

Some industries fared better than others. Technology and software, healthcare, and oil and energy saw the largest influx of workers joining from another industry. Unfortunately for many, professional services, education, government and not-for-profits, and retail and consumer products industries haemorrhaged employees.

The reasons for the success of some sectors and the struggle of others show how national and international labour markets continue to shift. Employees cited lack of advancement and challenge, poor work-life balance, and no intersection between personal and company values as reasons for leaving professional services, government and NGO work, and retail and consumer industries. Clearly, more people want jobs where they can balance life and work in equal measure. 

These trends are likely to continue as more baby boomers exit work and millennials and Gen Xers take their place, says Laufer. Half of millennial respondents were concerned about lack of advancement opportunities and feeling challenged at work, whereas only 28 per cent of baby boomers said the same. Additionally, younger generations want more recognition for their contributions from leadership and better workplace culture, which are areas where many workplaces miss the mark.

“42 per cent of respondents were unsatisfied with senior management and the relationship there,” Laufer says. “Great leadership and recognition is pertinent to peoples happiness at a company.”

What to do about it

There are some quick fixes to keep employees from looking for greener pastures, though. As the new year gets underway, businesses should set some resolutions of their own to retain and engage employees. Laufer lists five pain points for organisations to address in the coming year:

  1. Get to know your employees better: Laufer says that when managers know a bit more about the lives – personal and professional – of employees, they can better meet their needs. It’s safe to say that few people want to be a cog in a machine, so leaders should have regular check-ins with workers, have a conversation and do more listening than talking. “Ask open-ended questions to learn more about workers, and be genuine about it; people can tell when you’re asking about them but not really paying attention to what they say.”
  2. Create an inspiring culture: Don’t let any more of the new year slip by without getting workers re-engaged with the workplace. According to the survey, 39 per cent of respondents didn’t like their work culture, and thus were less attached to the people and the business. “Culture is a quick win. Employees should feel good about coming to work and being included in the workplace.”
  3. Recognise and reward great work: This is another easy thing to do for workers, says Laufer, and social media and other similar platforms mean there is no excuse for employers to let employee efforts go unnoticed. He says short posts, virtual ‘pats on the back’, are great, but managers need to write long-form posts and communicate accomplishment company-wide as well.
  4. Give employees a voice: Benefits are important, but empowerment gives people a sense of importance within the organisation. Let people know how they can contribute to an organisation’s success, and then let them do their job.
  5. Align your company with their values: More employees, especially those from Gen X and millennials, want to work for a company that shares their values. “Create opportunities for employees to give back,” Laufer says. This can be through company-wide philanthropy or sustainability initiatives, or individual benefits such as time-off for volunteering.  

Implementing one or all of these can increase engagement and stymy the outflow of valuable employees. However, Laufer stresses that companies should work year-round to engage employees and give them a voice at work. “This should be on-going, real-time recognition and feedback,” he says.

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2 thoughts on “The real reasons people leave, and how to make them stay

  1. Great article. Nails it.
    I reckon we can add one more point to ‘what to do about it’ which is..
    Become ‘the keeper of the fire’ In other words, rather than lighting the fire of inspiration and motivation beneath your people, find what drives them and then focus on keeping the fire burning. It derives from many indigenous and nomadic cultures where the fire keeper is vital to the community.

  2. Cool data and great article. But I’m not sure how culture is a “quick win”. It’s certainly a big win when you get it right, but it’s probably better not to expect any quick fixes when it comes to culture!
    Agree completely with Jason’s suggestions 3, 4 and 5 though – and they’re also great ways to start building that more engaging culture.

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