Keeping the People Report
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E-Letter Volume 5 Summer, 2005

In this issue:

- Book Excerpt: How Employees Disengage and Quit
- Self-Survey of Manager as Career Coach
- Upcoming Presentations
- Observations About China
- In the Media
- Book News

Book Excerpt: How Employees Disengage and Quit

The following was adapted from Chapter Two of The Seven Hidden Reasons Employees Leave: How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act Before It's Too Late, by F. Leigh Branham (AMACOM Books, 2005).

For more information, or to order, go to:


So...How DO Employees Disengage and Quit?


If we make it a point to know why they quit, then why do we care about how they quit? A good question deserves a good answer. Understanding the way employees gradually lose their enthusiasm and begin to disengage helps us read the signs sooner. The best news--everyone who is charged with leading people can interrupt the disengagement process NOW and salvage key talent at critical, predictable points along the decision path to departure..

Key point: employee turnover is not an event-it is really a process of progressive disengagement that can take days, weeks, months, or even years until the employee finally makes the actual decision to leave (which may never happen, and is not always good news when it does).

Here's what Dave, an accountant, told me three weeks after resigning:

    "The very first day I started thinking of leaving. I was given an assignment and I realized very quickly that I was not going to receive any mentoring or support." It was all downhill from there. Even though it was several months before Dave resigned, that first day turns out to have been the turning point.


As the stair-step graphic shows, there are actually several sequential and predictable steps that can unfold in the employee's journey from disengagement to departure. Of course, many of our so-called "leaders" are so busy doing two jobs or so obliviously self-interested that they wouldn't even notice if their employees walked around wearing sandwich boards saying "I Hate This Job!," or "Becoming Less Engaged Every Day!".


Not that it's only the manager's responsibility to take the initiative in this process-all employees also need to understand they have a singular responsibility to find ways of addressing their concerns and re-engaging themselves in the workplace. But the truth is, many managers are too slow to observe the telltale signs of employee disengagement until it's too late to do anything about it.

The obvious early warning signs of disengagement are absenteeism, tardiness, or behavior that indicates withdrawal or increased negativity. These early signs of disengagement typically start showing up after a shocking or jarring event takes place that causes the employee to question his or her commitment.

Some "shocking-event" turning points:

  • Being passed over for promotion
  • Realizing the job was not as promised
  • Learning they may be transferred
  • Hiring boss replaced by new boss they don't like
  • Being assigned to new territory
  • Being asked to do something unethical
  • Learning the company is doing something unethical
  • Earning enough money (grubstake)
  • An incident of sexual harassment or racial discrimination
  • Learning that the company has been purchased
  • Realizing they are underpaid compared to others doing the same job
  • Realizing they are not in line for the promotion they hoped for
  • Realizing that their own behavior has become unacceptable
  • A unexpected outside job offer
  • Being pressured to make an unreasonable family or personal sacrifice
  • Being asked to perform a menial duty (e.g., clean bathroom)
  • Petty and unreasonable enforcement of authority
  • Being denied a request for family leave
  • Denial of request for transfer
  • A close colleague quits or is terminated
  • Disagreement with the boss
  • Conflict with a coworker
  • An unexpectedly low performance rating
  • A lower-than-expected pay increase or no pay increase

There are countless other possible precipitating events. Sometimes, departed employees use the term "last straw" in referring to these events.

As a nurse named Karen told me,

    "I was happy there two years ago, but my manager left and my new manager was not a good mentor or coach. She was just coasting to retirement, but she was moody and unprofessional...And then one day she yelled at me. I went to her manager about it, but she just excused her behavior, saying 'that's just the way she is.' That was the last straw for me."

Here are more excerpts from 19,700 post-exit interviews from companies in 17 different industries from Saratoga Institute that illustrate the "turning-point" at work.

From Dan, an engineer:

    "The head of our department changed and I felt the new one didn't seek my input or recognize my contributions. Then, the work started becoming more administrative than technical...I felt like I was just shuffling papers and not designing anything. That's when I started looking elsewhere, and a co-worker referred me to the company I now work for."

From Janine, a business analyst:

    "My managers made it very clear they didn't want my input. They could have made such good use of my foreign language ability, but I got the cold shoulder. They had an old boy network mind set...I went to a national company meeting because my manager couldn't attend-it was 95 percent male, and no one even came up and introduced themselves. That did it for me. After that, I started looking and I had a new job in six weeks."

From, John, a financial analyst:

    "I wasn't being challenged...And then I came across payroll information while doing some project costing and discovered that I was paid 15 percent less than everyone else in my group. That was the turning point."

From Pamela, a technical writer:

    "I had a degree from a prestigious university, and my manager would take pot shots at me in front of others...Then he started giving me menial work to do, like taking things to mail and Fed-Ex. He would say, 'it's more cost-effective for you to do this than for me to do it.' I started looking for a job after only three months on the job"





What An Expert Says:

Dr. Thomas Lee, a business professor at The University of Washington, who has extensively researched what he calls "the unfolding model of employee turnover," reports several interesting findings about how and why people disengage and leave:

  • The majority of voluntary turnover--63 percent, is precipitated by some kind of shocking event.
  • Relatively few "shocking events" are pay-related.
  • About 20 percent of departing employees leave without having another job in hand.
  • Temporary, part-time and marginal workers are more likely to quit suddenly or impulsively after a shock.
  • Many employees keep an eye out for other jobs while working, and decide to interview for outside opportunities just for practice, to create a "plan B", or to test their marketability.
  • Exit surveying or interviewing that doesn't uncover the shock (turning point) and get the employee to discuss the deliberation process, if there was one, will not reveal the root cause.



The Two Distinct Phases of Employee Departure

Dr. Lee also points out that there are two distinct phases in an employee's process of thinking about leaving and the actual decision to leave.



Phase 1 is the time between an employee's first thoughts of quitting and the decision to quit.

As Doug, a high-potential retail manager, confided:

    "After the merger I gave it a year to see what the company would be like, and I tried to keep my attitude positive, but things were no different, so I started looking."

A sales manager named Jim told me that when he was promoted, no letter went out announcing the promotion, which he took as a personal slight.

    "I first started thinking seriously about leaving later, when I asked for more responsibility, but was turned down. I knew I had proved myself in my current position. What made it even tougher to take was the fact I had left my wife and family behind for a year to work abroad for the company. And I felt they owed me a new opportunity. But, instead of getting the job I wanted, I was transferred to another department. That's when I made the decision to leave."



Phase 2 in the deliberation process is the time between the employee's decision to leave and the actual leaving.

As you might expect, the chances of a manager re-recruiting and successful gaining renewed commitment from an employee are not as great during this second period. This is why it is important for managers to be alert to the signs that an employee is just starting to disengage when there is still time to do something about.

All business leaders need to keep their antennae up for signals that a valued employee may have experienced a disappointing shock Or better yet, because it is often hard to read the feelings of employees from the looks on their faces, managers should simply sit down with their direct reports on a regular basis and ask, "how are things with you?"

The employee departures described above might have been avoided if the managers had cared enough to sit down with the employees at some point in their disengagement & deliberation process and ask a simple question: "How are you feeling about things in general?" That simple question may open a discussion that could lead to a resolution of the precipitating issue.

When we consider the gradual, unfolding nature of employee disengagement, reflect on Gallup's research that reveals 75 percent of employees as disengaged, there can be but one conclusion-the need for managers to initiate discussions and actions to engage and reengage employees is urgent, and the daily opportunity to do so is ever-present.


If you have comments, you may contact Leigh Branham at, or by visiting




"Some quit and leave...others quit and stay."





The vast majority of managers believe employees leave for pay or a better opportunity. Of course they do, but is there more to the story?


Why do you think employees leave? Go to and click on Survey, then take the Manager/HR Survey on Motivations for Employee Turnover. I will reports results in future issues.







Who's Doing the Career Coaching in Your Organization?

Does your organization hold managers accountable for coaching employees about their career development? Here's a survey for managers who want to start holding themselves more accountable. For those brave enough to ask employees what they think of their career coaching, ask your direct reports to complete and return it anonymously. I know one manager who even had the fortitude to post his results on a bulletin board for all employees to see.



Directions: Read each statement below and indicate the degree to which you feel the statement is typically true of your behavior as a people manager and career coach.

5 = Highly 4 = Very 3 = Moderately 2 = Somewhat 1 = Not at all

1.Provide a thorough orientation to new associates.5 4 3 2 1
2.Teach specific job-related or technical skills. 5 4 3 2 1
3.Make sure associates understand developmental priorities and objectives5 4 3 2 1
4.Make sure associates have specific goals in key performance areas5 4 3 2 1
5.Assign work so that associates are able to use their skills. 5 4 3 2 1
6.Communicate to associates the formal and informal realities of progression in the organization. 5 4 3 2 1
7.Make sure associates have opportunities to develop. 5 4 3 2 1
8.Give associates feedback about their performance 5 4 3 2 1
9.Provide associates with guidance to improve their performance5 4 3 2 1
10.Encourage, support and counsel associates in their pursuit of job-related training.5 4 3 2 1
11.Provide opportunities to discuss performance problems5 4 3 2 1
12.Solicit input and concerns in relation to proposals and pending decisions5 4 3 2 1
13.Promote associate participation in "high visibility" activities5 4 3 2 1
14.Represent associates' interests and concerns to higher management 5 4 3 2 1
15.Hold informal career development discussions 5 4 3 2 1

For organizations interested in improving the career coaching competences of managers, e-mail us ( about: "Manager as Career Coach," a 4-Hour Career Coaching Workshop for Managers including 60-page workbook.

"When land was the scarce resource, nations battled over it.
The same is happening now for talented people."

--Stan Davis & Christopher Meyer, futureWEALTH





Upcoming Presentations

September 12, 2005: "The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Disengage & Leave", to the National Conference of Information Technology Leaders of the Federal Home Loan Bank, Indianapolis, Indiana.

October 13, 2005: "The 7 Hidden Reason Employees Disengage and Leave", sponsored by the Kansas City Compensation & Benefits Association, Westin Crown Center, 7:30 am. For more information, contact Tresia Franklin at (816) 983-8668.

October 18, 2005: "The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Disengage and Leave", sponsored by the Institute of Management Accountants, Kansas City. For more information, contact Brian Hall at 913-341-6900.

November 3, 2005: "The Best vs. the Rest: Operational Excellence in Strategic Recruiting and Retention" CEO Breakfast Forum, Newport Beach, California, with Sherry Benjamins, President, The SB Company. For more information, contact Leigh Branham at (913) 620-4645 or Sherry Benjamins at (562) 594-6426.

November 9, 2005: The Midwest WholeChild Development Group will be hosting its 3rd Annual Family Friendly Workplace Recognition Breakfast on Wednesday, November 9 at the Overland Park Marriott from 8:00 to 9:00 am with an interactive workshop immediately following from 10 am to noon. The event honors businesses with a healthy work/life balance and provides practical advice and tools to implement family friendly practices in the work environment. For more information, contact the Midwest WholeChild Development Group at (913) 341-6200, or visit the website at

November 14, 2005: "Engage & Retain!" workshop, Las Vegas, Nevada, for consulting engineering firms, sponsored by the Advanced Management Institute. For more information, contact Joe Rei, Advanced Management Institute at (816) 753-6788.

To book Leigh Branham for a speaking engagement or workshop, call (913) 620-4645.


Observations About China

In July, I was invited to speak at an "HR Talent Engagement and Retention Forum" for HR managers in Shanghai, China. Allow me to share with you the following observations:

  • The War for Talent is raging there as it was in the US in the late 1990's, as multinational and local Chinese companies compete to hire from a limited pool of professional and managerial candidates.
  • As a result, business and human resource leaders in China are hungry for information about best practices for managing and retaining talent. I found the audience of human resources professionals to whom I spoke to be eager learners, and filled with ambition for their companies and their country. This was driven home for me in a big way as I listened to an impressive young HR manager (and dedicated Communist Party member) describe why she had left a great job at Sony after 10 years to go to work for a successful fast-growing Shanghai start-up company run by an entrepreneur for who she expressed great admiration. "Too be rich is glorious," was an underlying message.
  • There are many opportunities in the PRC for management trainers who are willing to travel or live there for extended periods.
  • Only about one percent of my audience did not understand English.
  • It was a long trip--18 hours. If you go there, leave time to recover from jet lag--both going and coming. Also, go in spring or fall if you have a choice. The summers in Shanghai and Beijing can be very hot and humid.
  • And finally, I saw no overweight people during my six days in Shanghai, in the airport, hotel, or anywhere in public. Amazing.

If you have the opportunity to visit China, I recommend you do. The people are extremely gracious and hospitable. And, as you know, it's an exciting place to be, given the pace of economic growth and change.

"The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it,
but that it is too low and we reach it."



In the Media

Harvard Management Update, August, 2005, quoted in article "Dealing with the Real Reasons People Leave," To read this article, go to

Kansas City Star, July 26, 2005, article, "What Makes A Company A Great Place to Work?", Available at

"Employee Recruitment & Retention", June, 2005, "Defusing Turnover Time Bombs: Keeping Top Performers by Addressing the Hidden Reasons Employees Leave," by Frank Sennet. Available at

Web Conference featuring Leigh Branham on "The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave," sponsored by Soundview Executive Book Summaries, July 27, 2005. For transcript, contact Chris Murray at


Book News

Executive Soundview has released a condensed summary of The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave on a CD that also features a condensation of Malcolm Gladwell's best-seller-Blink. Both summary recording are narrated by the authors. To purchase this CD, visit:

For volume discount purchase of The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, contact Renita Hanfling, Director of Special Sales, AMACOM Books, at, or by calling (212) 903-8316.






Send Us Your Story About "Why I Left" or "Why I Stayed"

Do you have a story to share about why you chose to leave a former employer or why you chose to stay? Can you recall a turning point when you first started thinking of leaving and tell us about how it led to your leaving an organization? We are also interested in what an organization or a manager did to inspire your loyalty.

E-mail your story and we will publish it on our Web site. The story chosen as the best for 2005 will receive a free copy of The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave.


To send this newsletter to a friend, please click here.

Leigh Branham
Leigh Branham,
Keeping the People, Inc.
Keeping the People, Inc. helps organizations link employer-of-choice strategies with business strategies, conduct third-party post-exit interviews and surveys, conduct engagement surveys with current employees, and provides the management coaching and training needed to implement those strategies.
Keeping the People Report
LB@keepingthepeople.combullet (913) 620-4645bullet
13488 West 126th Terrace, Overland Park, Kansas 66213

Copyright, Keeping the People, Inc. 2005. Keeping the People Report is written and edited by Leigh Branham.