The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave: How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act Before It's Too Late

The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave: How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act Before It's Too Late

by Leigh Branham

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Why do most employees leave? The reasons aren’t what you’d think.See more details below


Why do most employees leave? The reasons aren’t what you’d think.

Editorial Reviews

Canadian HR Reporter
"An insightful and sobering account."
Soundview Executive Book Summaries
In The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, employee-retention expert Leigh Branham knocks down the wall that separates employee from employer — and even management from senior leadership — in an effort to forge an open discussion on employee disengagement and what organizations need to recognize and actively pursue in order to retain their best and brightest people. Using a voluminous amount of interview and survey data, Branham isolates each reason, tells companies what to look for, and translates the needs and desires of employers and employees into a common language, enabling companies and their most valued human resources to better understand one another.

The Process of Disengagement
Employee turnover is not an event — it is a process of disengagement that can take days, weeks, months or even years until the actual decision to leave occurs.

There are several sequential and predictable steps that can unfold in the employee's journey from disengagement to departure. These are:

  • Start the new job with enthusiasm.
  • Question the decision to accept the job.
  • Think seriously about quitting.
  • Try to change things.
  • Resolve to quit.
  • Consider the cost of quitting.
  • Passively seek another job.
  • Prepare to actively seek.
  • Actively seek.
  • Get new job offer.
  • Quit to accept new job, quit without a job, or stay and disengage.

Many managers are so busy or preoccupied that they wouldn't notice where their employees were in the continuum if they wore signs around their necks that proclaimed "Trying to Change Things!" or "Becoming Less Engaged Every Day!" Managers need to better understand the signs of discontent before they lose their best and brightest people.

The Deliberation Process
There are two distinct periods in an employee's thought process when he or she considers leaving a company. The first period is the time between his or her first thoughts of quitting and the subsequent decision to leave, when disappointment and even bitterness can set in due to an array of possible circumstances.

The second period of the deliberation process is the time between the employee's decision to leave and the actual leaving. The chances of a manager gaining renewed commitment from an employee in this period are not very good. This is why managers must keep their antennae up and be alert to the signs that an employee is just starting to disengage when there is still time to do something about it.

Why They Leave
Employees begin to disengage and think about leaving when one or more of four fundamental human needs are not being met. These needs are:

  • The need for trust. Expecting the company and management to deliver on its promises, to be honest and open in all communication with you, to invest in you, to treat you fairly and to compensate you in a fair and timely manner.
  • The need to have hope. Believing you will be able to grow, develop your skills and have the opportunity for advancement or career progress.
  • The need to feel a sense of worth. Feeling confident that if you work hard, do your best, demonstrate commitment and make meaningful contributions, you will be recognized and rewarded accordingly.
  • The need to feel competent. Expecting you will be matched to a job that aligns with your talents and your desire for a challenge.

Hidden Reasons and Practical Actions
People complain of poor management when what they want is good management. They complain of favoritism when what they prefer is an even playing field. Along the same line, in describing the seven main reasons employees leave, one comes ever closer to pinpointing what it will take to make employees want to stay with an organization and be more fully engaged. Those seven reasons are:

  1. The job or workplace was not as expected.
  2. The mismatch between job and person.
  3. Too little coaching and feedback.
  4. Too few growth and advancement opportunities.
  5. Feeling devalued and unrecognized.
  6. Stress from overwork and work-life imbalance.
  7. Loss of trust and confidence in senior leaders.
Copyright © 2005 Soundview Executive Book Summaries
—Soundview Summary

From the Publisher

"The editors at Elite Professionals recommend this important book for every employer, manager and supervisor – Anyone dealing with the recruitment or management of employees!" - Elite Professionals Magazine

"...provides an arsenal of innovative strategies to help business leaders and managers keep the people upon which their company depends." -- Alan Caruba's BookViews

"The book examines factors such as manager relationships, lack of trust in senior leadership, company culture and integrity, salary and benefits, and more-revealing what can be done to hold on to the people who provide the most value to the organization." -- Recognize Service Excellence blog

"I strongly recommend Branham's updated book for managers and business owners who need to address employee retention for a better bottom line." -- Quality Service Marketing

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Read an Excerpt

Why Care About Why They Leave?


The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance—

it is the illusion of knowledge.


It was almost six weeks since Anna had resigned her position with her former

employer, but it was obvious that strong feelings were still stirring inside her.

“I was thrown into the job with no training. I asked for some one-on-one

time with my manager to go over the project inside out, but he never had the

time. I sensed he didn’t really know enough to be able to thoroughly brief me,


“When I got feedback that certain work wasn’t acceptable, he wouldn’t be

specific about how to correct it in the future. . . . He actually enjoyed intimidating

people, and he had a terrible temper—he would ask me a question and,

if I didn’t know the answer, he would make fun of me in front of my coworkers.

As it turns out, he wasn’t following the right work procedures himself.

“Later, when I was working way below my skill set, I was told they

weren’t ready to give me a promotion, even though I had mastered everything.

“Finally, when I resigned, they didn’t seem interested in why I was leaving.

There was no exit interview.They never listened to me when I was there,

and they certainly didn’t care to listen when I left.”

Anna went on to say that she loved her management position with her

new employer:“I’m still doing what I love to do, but in a much more professional

environment. There’s open communication and no game playing. I

know where I stand with them at all times.”

One more thing—Anna went on to mention that she had hired away a

talented colleague from her former company.

In the post-exit interviews I do for client companies with employees they

regretted losing, these are the kinds of stories I hear. I know there are two sides

to every story and that Anna’s former manager might tell it differently. But I

also know that there is truth in Anna’s story, and in all the stories I hear—more

truth than many were willing to tell their former employers when they

checked out on their last day of employment.

The good news is that some companies do wake up and realize it’s not

too late to start listening to both former and current employees. Some grow

alarmed at the sudden departure of highly valued workers who leave over the

course of a few weeks.Others become concerned about protecting their reputation

as a desirable place to work, and most simply want to make sure they

have the talent they need to achieve their business objectives.

Why Many Managers Don’t Care

The fact is that many managers and even senior executives simply don’t care

about why their employees are leaving.Their attitude seems to be “If you don’t

like it, don’t let the door hit you in the backside on your way out!” If this

sounds familiar, it should, because it describes the prevailing mindset of most

managers in American companies today. Most are overworked, and many are

frustrated by their inability to meet the demands of the current workforce,

much less do exit interviews.And, increasingly, human resource departments

are so understaffed that they have little time to do more than ask departing

employees to complete perfunctory exit surveys on their last day.You care

about preventing turnover, or you wouldn’t be reading this book. So why do

you care? Why even take the time and effort to uncover the real reasons

employees leave? It would be much easier just to accept what most employees

say in exit interviews.You know the usual answers—“more money,” “better


There are many ways to rationalize the loss of talent:

● Who has time to stop and wonder why they left, anyway? They’re


● They didn’t want to be here, so why worry about what they think?

● They were probably just disgruntled or had the wrong attitude or

just didn’t fit.

● We can’t expect to retain everybody we hire.

● There’s nobody that isn’t replaceable.

● Let’s just get on with finding a replacement.

Of course, we cannot hope to keep all our valued talent. But good managers

care enough to try to understand why good people leave, especially

when the departure could have been prevented.There will always be managers

who are too preoccupied, self-focused, or insensitive to notice the signs that

employees are becoming disengaged and too uncaring, complacent, blaming,

in denial, insecure, or ego-defensive to find out the real reasons they left.They

too readily accept turnover as “a cost of doing business.” They are too willing

to believe the superficial reasons for leaving that employees give in exit interviews.

Why? Psychologists call it “motivated blindness”; they cannot handle

the truth—that the real reason the employee left may be linked to their own

behavior.These managers are actually choosing not to see, hear, or speak the

“evil” that plagues them.

As Brad, another employee, told me during an exit interview, “It seems

like most managers just don’t care enough to go to any effort to retain good

people.”But many managers do care enough to coach, train, develop, and keep

their direct reports engaged. Now what we need are more organizations that

make heroes of these managers, not just by praising them but also by measuring

their contributions and rewarding them with serious money.

Managers Cannot Hear What Workers Will Not Speak

As we know, when exiting employees come to the question “Why are you

leaving?,”most are not inclined to tell the whole truth.Rather than risk burning

a bridge with the former manager, whose reference they might need,

they’ll just say or write “better opportunity” or “higher pay.”Why would they

want to go into the unpleasant truth about how they never got any feedback

or recognition from the boss or were passed over for promotion?

So, it is no wonder that in one survey, 89 percent of managers said they

believe that employees leave and stay mostly for the money. Yet, my own

research, the Saratoga Institute’s surveys of almost twenty thousand workers

from eighteen industries, and the research reported in dozens of other studies

reveal that about 80 to 90 percent of employees leave for reasons related not

to the level of pay but to the job, the manager, the culture, or the work environment.

These internal reasons—also known as “push” factors, as opposed to

“pull” factors such as a better-paying outside opportunity—are within the

power of the organization and the manager to change and control. But you

can’t change what you don’t know. It is a simple case of “when you don’t know

what’s causing the problem, you can’t expect to fix it.”

This disconcerting disconnect between what managers believe and the reality—

the true root causes of employee disengagement and turnover—is costing

businesses in the billions of dollars per year. (See Figure 1.1.)

The Saratoga Institute estimated the cost of losing the average employee

to be one times annual salary. This means that a company with three hundred

employees, an average employee salary of $35,000, and a voluntary turnover

rate of 15 percent a year is losing $1,575,000 per year in turnover costs alone.

If, for the sake of illustration, 70 percent of this company’s forty-five yearly

voluntary turnovers—thirty-one employees—are avoidable, then the company,

by correcting the root causes, could be saving $1,102,500 per year.This

should be enough to make most CEOs raise their eyebrows and take action.

Just looking at turnover costs doesn’t tell the whole story, however. Long

before many employees leave, they become disengaged. Disengaged employees

are uncommitted, marginally productive, frequently absent, or, in the case

of the actively disengaged, actually working against the interests of the company.

The Gallup Organization reports that 70 percent of the American workforce

is either disengaged or actively disengaged. (See Figure 1.2.)

Actively disengaged workers can be particularly destructive to morale and

revenues, for these are the workers who seek to disrupt, complain, have accidents,

steal from the company, and occupy the time and attention of managers

that would be far better spent dealing with other workers.

The cost to the U.S. economy of disengaged employees is estimated to be

somewhere between $254 and $363 billion annually. The cost of absenteeism

alone, a signal symptom of disengagement, is estimated to be $40 billion per


Most of the mind-boggling costs accumulate from the loss of sales revenue

caused by customers’ disappointing interactions with disengaged employees,

many of whom are turnovers waiting to happen. Simply put, employee disengagement

creates customer disengagement, and employee defections create

customer defections.

Breaking it down further,Gallup found that “top-quartile workgroups (on

employee engagement surveys) have:

12 Percent Higher Customer Metrics

18 Percent Higher Productivity

16 Percent Higher Profitability

37 Percent Lower Absenteeism

25 Percent Lower Turnover (in Low-Turnover Organizations)

49 Percent Lower Turnover (in High-Turnover Organizations)

27 Percent Less Theft

49 Percent Fewer Safety Incidents

41 Percent Fewer Patient Safety Incidents

60 Percent Fewer Quality Incidents (Defects

So, the best reason to be concerned about understanding the root causes

of voluntary employee turnover and disengagement is an economic one. It’s

not about being nice to employees just to be nice, although civility is a standard

of behavior to be prized in itself. It’s about taking care of employees so

that they will then feel good about taking care of customers.9 The good news

is that engaged employees actually create happy customers. So, if we can commit

to correctly identifying the root causes of employee disengagement and if

we can address these root causes with on-target solutions that increase the

engagement of our workers,we will see tangible results in the form of reduced

turnover costs and increased revenues.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

"""In this book Leigh has turned the tables on retention. His concept of pull versus push factors is a great insight. Many people are not pulled out of an organization by a better offer. They are pushed to the door so that when a better offer comes along it is easy to take the last step across the threshold. Every one of the seven reasons Leigh cites for turnover are preventable and not expensive. From selection for fit, to on-the-job support, to being valued, the organization has the power to keep almost anyone they want. Having outlined the problem, Leigh then provides over 50 ways to engage and keep people. This is an invaluable guidebook on retention.""

-- Dr. Jac Fitz-enz, Founder & CEO, Human Capital Source; author of The ROI of Human Capital

""Any book that can give you ideas that help you retain just one employee is worth the cover price many times over. Leigh Branham's book can help you hold on to your best. It's chock full of practical examples and suggestions, best practices, and inspiring stories. Highly recommended.""

-- Robert Levering, coauthor of Fortune's ""100 Best Companies to Work for"" list; cofounder of Great Place to Work® Institute

“Branham's work will help companies better understand employee turnover's devastating impact on their culture and their bottom line. And insightful leaders will use his practical advice to help employees stay, and their companies succeed.”

Jeff Chambers, Vice President, Human Resources, SAS

""A solid and stimulating set of insights, ideas, and solutions around the ongoing challenge of engaging and retaining talent.""

-- Lou Kaucic, Chief People Officer, Applebee’s International, Inc."

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