Why Employees Leave: It Comes Down to a Stressful Work Environment

To retain key employees, you must listen closely to what their top concerns are and not make assumptions based on your own.

“Unemployment, in real-terms, is in the double digits. I don’t need to worry about retaining my employees. They’re too scared to quit.”

Does leadership in your organization believe that statement? Do you?

If so, be prepared to watch your top talent walk out the door. Research reported in CFO Magazine (in Why Your Top Talent Wants Out) showed the critical skills shortage to be near the levels prior to the recession. At the same time, it’s easy to fill “all employee” openings. Towers Watson researcher Laury Sejen explained:

There is actually a risk when you’ve got very little pressure at the all-employee level. You can take your eye off the ball and assume there will be plenty of talent available whenever you need it, and that may not prove to be the case at that time.”

The CFO article highlighted the difference between two different studies, one reporting HR professionals’ view on why high performers would leave and the other reporting the employees’ view:

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HR’s view on why high performers would leave:

  1. Opportunities for promotion;
  2. Career development opportunity;
  3. Base pay;
  4. Relationship with the supervisor; and,
  5. Incentive pay opportunity.

Employees’ view on why they would leave:

  1. Work-related stress;
  2. Getting promoted;
  3. Base pay;
  4. Trust/confidence in management; and,
  5. Length of commute.

Notice the priorities rarely align. The number one reason employees would leave – stress – doesn’t even appear on the HR professional list. Promoting someone and increasing pay does not alleviate the day to day stress. Considering this research and the state of the job market for critical skill employees, two questions that must always be top of mind:

  1. Are you truly considering what is most concerning to your employees, not what is most concerning to you?
  2. Have you become complacent, thinking employees won’t leave because of the tough job market? That may very well be true for your low-average employees (those who have become “comfortable”), but are those the employees you are most concerned about retaining?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.


3 Comments on “Why Employees Leave: It Comes Down to a Stressful Work Environment

  1. Love this Derek. And oh so true.  We talk about this at The CARE Movement. A Lot.  Most times HR and especially the CEO don’t have a clue.  The main reason I feel is they are not Listening, and they really don’t CARE enough. CARE = Communicate, Appreciate, Respect, Encourage.

    Thanks for this post.  Take CARE.


  2. The level of stress in the typical workplace does seems to be increasingly at an increasing rate.  We continue to see a plethora of articles and scholarly research dealing with employee engagement, but less dealing with how “psychologically healthy” are our workplaces.  Wellness efforts tend to focus on the physical dimensions of our fitness – not the mental.  Lots of room for improvement in my mind.

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