Great employees quit for a multitude of reasons, and no company can expect to keep all of their employees forever. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to retain your top talent as much as you can. Voluntary turnover can have a major bottom-line impact on an organization; it's estimated that the cost to replace an employee can be as high as 30% of that employee’s salary. Even worse, employees who leave voluntarily are often your best employees, making the loss in productivity that much higher.
Clearly it pays to put the effort in to your retain your top performers. Here are 5 of the biggest reasons employees quit, and ways that you can prevent them.
1. They got a better salary offer at another company
This is one of the simplest and most common reasons an employee might quit. 49% of employees feel they have to switch companies in order to get a meaningful change in salary, and many of them are willing to act on it if the right offer presents itself.
How to prevent it:
The signs that an employee might leave for compensation reasons can be easy to spot. First, if an employee outright asks for a raise and is turned down, you shouldn’t be too surprised if they put in their 2 weeks a few months later. Any time an employee asks for a raise, take the request seriously and do some research on their market value, and whether they could command a higher rate at another company. More importantly, take the time to evaluate the salary you’d have to offer someone in order to replace this employee. If it’s higher, consider offering that pay increase. Remember, that money is going towards retaining a good employee, and it’s ultimately saving you from the costs of hiring and training their replacement.
Remember, it’s a candidate-driven market, and job seekers have a lot of options. Hold on to good employees by taking raise requests seriously, and even proactively evaluating each individual’s market value to see if they deserve a raise before they ask.
2. They feel like they aren’t learning anymore
Many of your best employees possess qualities that could also make them more likely to leave: they are often ambitious, driven, hard-working, and eager to learn and grow on the job. Career stagnation could be the reason you’re losing some of your best talent.
How to prevent it:
There are a number of ways to provide ongoing career development for your employees. One of the simplest is to provide access to online courses, through sites like Udemy or Lynda, that they can pursue during work hours. Encourage them (and offer to pay for) any industry-related conferences they may want to attend. These investments don't just benefit your employees; your staff will ideally be able to apply these growing skills to improve their productivity in their current roles.
However, these first two suggestions are very self-driven, and many of your eager employees want to see their efforts translate into meaningful career advancement. If an employee is eager to learn, create opportunities to expand their job responsibilities. Expanding their ownership of more projects leads to greater job satisfaction and empowerment. Create tangible promotion tracks that they can follow to both increase their responsibilities and to increase their salary, combat reason #1 above at the same time. This may be harder for smaller companies or companies with relatively flat hierarchical structures, but there are ways to incorporate these types of advancement opportunities even if the room for growth doesn’t quite compare to that of a Fortune 500.
3. They’re burnt out
This reason is a lot harder to spot, but can result in general dissatisfaction to the point that the employee feels they can no longer stay in that role. Again, this reason is particularly insidious because it often impacts your most productive employees.
How to prevent it:
There are little warning signs that an employee may be feeling burnt out. The clearest is if the employee outright tells you how they are feeling. But unfortunately many people will not volunteer this information, for fear of having their work performance viewed negatively. It is ultimately the role of the manager to be cognizant of what is going on with their team to be able to spot burn-out preemptively.
One simple fix is to implement weekly or monthly check-ins with your employees to get a better sense of their workload. If you already have these meetings, it helps to directly ask your employees how they feel about their workload. Chances are some of them might even tell you they’d like MORE work to do, so this question is a win-win!
Try to also get a sense of the workload balance within your team. You may not care how the work is getting done as long as it's getting done, but it’s possible that one teammate is taking on too much of the workload and carrying the rest of the team.
It’s also possible that this teammate but would be willing to work extra hard if they felt they were being fairly compensated for it, which takes us back to reason #1. If an employee is feeling a little overworked but doesn’t want to delegate or reduce their responsibilities, it’s possible that re-evaluating their compensation could increase their overall job satisfaction and prevent them from quitting.
4. They want a better work-life balance
Work-life balance is top of mind, particularly for newer generations entering the workforce, like Millennials and Gen Z. More and more workers are searching for ways to accommodate their lifestyles, and they may be willing to jump ship if they find a better opportunity to do so, even if it means doing freelance or joining the gig economy!
How to prevent it:
There are a number of common ways that companies are starting to support the growing desire for work-life balance. One of the simplest is to offer flexible work hours. Allowing employees to come in 1-2 hours early or late enables them to do things like pick up their kids from school, run important errands, go to doctor’s appointments, or even pursue a particular hobby. This flexibility obviously may not work for certain businesses that need to maintain regular “business hours” but has worked for a lot of office environments. Another option that’s been gaining traction is the 4-day workweek, another variation of a more flexible work schedule.
Providing the option for employees to work remotely from home, either every day or a few times a week, is another popular option. This can help ease the burden of long commutes, for instance, or it could even help you expand your applicant pool by enabling you to source employees from outside your typical geographic zone.
Finally, there are a number of ways to support employees who have (or are planning to have) families. Obviously generous parental leave is a great perk, but other perks include things that simply make their lives easier, freeing them up to focus better when they are at work. Some examples include daycare reimbursement or even on-site daycare for companies with greater means. And again, flexible work schedules can go a long way in supporting the work-life needs of employees with families.
5. They don’t like the work culture, their coworkers, or their managers
This reason is a little harder to contend with, because it falls under the umbrella of personal problems. Not every work environment is going to complement every worker, but there are little ways you can help make every employee feel included and heard.
How to prevent it:
Preventing employees from quitting due to interpersonal problems at work isn’t easy. If the work culture is generally toxic to the point that you are experiencing high turnover company-wide, then it’s time to take a hard look at why that is. It could even be a perfect storm of the previous four reasons combined (low compensation + no career growth + feeling overworked + poor work-life balance = toxic work culture). Fixing an entire company’s culture is far beyond what any single manager can fix, and is certainly beyond the scope of this article.
But quitting due to interpersonal disputes with individual coworkers or managers can be prevented with proper intervention. Pay attention to any complaints you receive about particular employees. If those complaints aren’t addressed properly, or if the aggrieved employee doesn’t feel that the complaint has been appropriately addressed, you may end up losing a great employee who has lost faith in management’s ability to quell bad behavior. In this case, not acting can have the biggest impact on the likelihood that an employee will quit. It's management's responsibility to make sure that the organization is providing a productive and supportive environment for everyone.
One of the bigger questions is, how do you know WHY any given employee quits? The simplest answer is to simply ask. Exit interviews are a critical way to gain feedback and to improve over time so that you don’t lose any other great employees.
And while exit interviews can feel a bit “too little too late,” you can always conduct regular employee experience surveys to indicate any problems preemptively and to help you address them early. Similarly, regular check-ins or one-on-one meetings with your employees also helps them feel heard and helps you identify problems ahead of time. Realistically, you can’t prevent everyone from quitting, but there are tangible ways to retain your best talent.