Why People Leave their Jobs

Updated in 2020 to include thoughts inspired by Daniel Pink’s book Drive.

The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave asserts that most managers think their employees switch jobs for better pay, but that better pay is rarely the primary reason people switch jobs.  Most people want to feel Trust, Hope, Worth, Competent. When they have trouble finding these things, they will often seek new opportunities.  The seven reasons listed in the book are:

  1. Unmet expectations
  2. Mismatch skills
  3. lack of coaching and feedback
  4. Limited growth opportunities
  5. Feeling unrecognized or devalued
  6. Overworked 
  7. Loss of confidence in senior leaders

The subtitle of this book is “How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act Before It’s Too Late”.  Most of the book focuses on how to recognize that someone is struggling in these areas and then how to engage the individual before they decide it is time to move on. If someone has decided that it’s time to go, it’s very hard to retain them for an extended period of time. It’s important to address these issues before someone is so demotivated they they start to think about leaving.

I think Daniel Pink’s book Drive is even more clear explorations of the topic. He suggests that there are three (I would say four) intrinsic motivators.

  1. Autonomy
  2. Mastery
  3. Mission
  4. Team/Community (he lumps this in with mission)

If people feel these are violated, they become demotivated and you are at risk of losing them.

  • Autonomy is destroyed by micro-management, where people are given tasks from above without explanation. As much as possible you want to ask open ended questions, not tell people what to do.
  • Mastery is destroyed by asking people to spend all their time working on mundane tasks or tasks which are way beyond their capabilities. You want to find tasks which stretch people, and help people learn from their failures.
  • Mission is destroyed when people believe the company can’t make their objective or when they decide the objective isn’t worthwhile. The solution here is often to increase transparency so people can see the factors that can lead to success and what is being achieved. Objectivity is key which means you have to face head on the challenged and acknowledge problems.
  • Team/community is broken when people are isolated, or when the feel their trust has been violated. Rebuilding trust which has been broken is very difficult. It starts with acknowledgement of the problem and a re-engagement. It will also require the person who has lost trust to extend forgiveness. Learning to forgive is one of the most important skills for someone to develop. People aren’t perfect and we will be disappointed. The inability to repair will lead to isolation.

Drive also points out a final issue which motivates people to leave. Ineffective extrinsic motivation. In creative jobs, financial motivation (pay, benefits, stock) rarely bring about effective motivation, but the perception that these aren’t fair can kill someone’s motivation. In other words, if you comp is more than fair (among people, against the market) you take comp off the table as an issue. Note: this means you don’t need to have the best comp, just good comp. If comp is not competitive you will lose people, and if it is being used as a tool to motivate and retain people, you will likely hold on to people, but not get their best performance.

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