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Why Do Employees Really Resign?


They may give initial answers like “more money and benefits”, “better work-life balance”, etc. but those may not be their real answers.

Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman say in First, Break all the Rules:  what the world’s greatest managers do differently that “the frontline manager is key to attracting and retaining talented employees”.  Their challenge is to:

  • Select an employee for talent rather than skills or experience
  • Set expectations and define the right outcomes rather than the right steps
  • Motivate people by building on their strengths rather than fixing their weaknesses
  • Find the right fit for each person not the next rung on the ladder

But Managers have a particularly tough role these days.  They’re squeezed from above (so much emphasis is put on “leadership”) and from below (the focus is usually “employee engagement”).  Further, multi-generational workforces are more challengting to manage given each generation has a unique style and different expectations, e.g.

  • Gen Y-Z are spending less time in roles (2-3 years in a role, 4-6 years in an organization is more typical if they have full-time roles;  they contribute to and learn from a role and then move on)
  • Boomers are not necessarily retiring at age 65 (the average retirement age is now 68 with a number of people working well into their 70′s)

No wonder some mid managers may feel that day to day management isn’t given the recognition it deserves!

Exit interviews are one technique for finding out the real reasons why employees do resign.  They should be facilitated by someone other than the immediate manager for objectivity and consistency;  often HR facilitates the interviews or an outsourced resource is retained.  The interviewer should drill down beyond the initial answers cited above.  The 12 questions in the Gallup Organization’s Employee Engagement Survey can be helpful:

  • What do I get?
    • I know what is expected of me at work
    • I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right
  • What do I give?
    • At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day
    • In the last 7 days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work
    • My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person
    • Someone at work encourages my development
  • Do I belong here?
    • At work, my opinions seem to count
    • The mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important
    • My co-workers are committed to doing quality work
    • I have a best friend at work
  • How can we all grow?
    • In the last 6 months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress
    • This last year, I’ve had opportunities at work to learn and grow

It’s important, once overall themes are determined by business unit as well as across the organization to do something about them!  And, of course, regularly checking Employee Engagement can head off problems at the pass…before people resign.

These days, I’m noticing that fewer employees are resigning.  The external market is tough so those in full-time roles may wait to be severed in the hopes of receiving a package.  However, if they’re unhappy and/or dis-engaged, they can wreak havoc on productivity, client loyalty and organizational profitability-sustainability until they leave!