Keeping the People Report
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E-Letter Volume 14 Summer Issue, 2008

In this issue:

  • Website Manager Survey of Why They Think Employees Leave
  • Harvard Business Review Commentary
  • Chicago HRPS Forum Presentation
In the last issue, we reported the results of our "Decision to Leave" post-exit website survey in which 256 visitors to our website reported on the real reasons they had left a previous job. In this issue, we compare those results with our "sister" web survey--the "Manager Survey on Motivations for Employee Turnover". Our goal in putting these two surveys on our website was to compare why employees leave their jobs with what managers believe about why employees leave.

Highlights of the Manager Survey Results:

First of all, a few words about those of you who responded:

  • 246 people completed the survey on why they think employees leave
  • Respondents represented a wide spectrum of ages, job levels, functions, company sizes, and industries.
  • 89% of respondents were in supervisory, managerial, or executive positions.
  • Human resource professionals were well represented, comprising 43% of respondents.

Root Causes of Your Decisions to Leave:

Survey respondents were asked to check from a list of 39 possible reasons for leaving (or write in) as many as five factors that they consider the greatest contributors to voluntary turnover in their organization. In the Decision to Leave survey we had asked respondents to chose from the same list of 39 reasons the five that had caused them to start thinking about leaving a previous job they actually later left. We were curious to see how similar the reasons given by departing employees on the first survey were to the perceptions of managers, HR or otherwise who completed the related survey.

In the chart below, the red bar graph denotes the Managers' ranking of reasons for employee turnover based on their perceptions and beliefs while the blue line denotes the ranking of respondents based on the actual reasons they left previous jobs (because several items were tied in the rankings, it appears that there were only 33 reasons instead of the actual 39). The first five bar graph comparisons shown were those reasons ("insufficient pay" through "unexpected job/career opportunity") that managers ranked as the top five. The additional bar graph comparisons are those that reflect the most noteworthy differences in managers' perceptions and employee reality.

Reason                Ranking


  • There were remarkably similar rankings on the first four items, which reinforces our understanding that pay, senior leadership, workload, and work/life balance, remain central issues for engaging and retaining employees.

  • Still, there were some noteworthy differences:

  • Managers ranked "unexpected job/career opportunity" as the fourth highest reason employees leave, while employees ranked this reason much farther down--19th on their list. This is consistent with our previous finding (Saratoga Institute data cited in The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave) that managers believe erroneously that most employees leave for "pull' rather than "push" reasons. This belief is understandable in light of the fact that in last-day, on-site exit interviews, most departing employees say they are leaving for a "better opportunity", but decline to cite the "push" reason that nudged them to start looking in the first place. It was noteworthy that of the top three "pull" reasons listed on the survey--unexpected job/career opportunity (4th vs. 19th), spouse/partner relocation (12th vs. 29th), and start a business (13th vs. 31st)--managers' rankings were significantly higher than those of employee respondents.

  • Managers' ranking of "unsatisfactory benefits" 8th, when compared to employee's ranking of 26th as a reason for leaving, is a matter of some concern. We can only ask whether this means line and HR managers are giving too much attention to this tangible factor and not enough to other intangible factors (such as "Unhealthy/undesirable culture--14th vs. 5th) that appear to be driving employees' decisions to leave.

  • It was surprising to see how much higher managers ranked "Inflexible work arrangements" (11th vs. 23rd). Could it be that managers overrate the importance of this item to employees in general when the importance of flexibility of time and place varies from one employee to the next?

  • Managers completing the survey appear to be underestimating the importance of "Uninteresting or unchallenging work" as a motivator to leave or stay. Employees ranked this reason 8th while managers ranked it 27th!

  • The discrepancy is even more dramatic for "Lack of honesty/integrity/ethics"--managers ranked it 28th as a motivator while employees ranked it 4th!

Taken together, these discrepancies may signal significant differences in perceptions of reality as viewed through the lenses of line/HR managers and employees. Fortunately, such gaps can be corrected by conducting a good third-party employee survey and making the commitment to act on what you learn.

"Push vs. Pull" Revisited

We also asked managers and employees the "Push vs. Pull" in a more direct way. We asked managers to choose which one of three choices best describes the motivation of most departing employees when they decide to leave. Choice A indicates a belief that employees are mostly "pushed" out by a negative internal factor, B indicates employees are mostly "pulled" out by a better opportunity, and C indicates a belief an equal combination of the two. Here are the percentages of managers that chose each of the three options:

Managers' Belief re: Turnover Motivation

A. Employees' motivated more by their dissatisfaction or desire to leave than by the attraction or availability of an outside opportunity.

B. Motivated more by the attraction or availability of an outside opportunity than by their dissatisfaction or desire to leave.

C. Equally motivated by their dissatisfaction or desire to leave and the attraction or availability of an outside opportunity.

When we asked employees on the "Decision-to-Leave" survey which of these same these same three choices best described the true motivation for their actual departures, their responses were dramatically different:

Employees' Actual Reasons for Leaving

A. Employees' motivated more by their dissatisfaction or desire to leave than by the attraction or availability of an outside opportunity.

B. Motivated more by the attraction or availability of an outside opportunity than by their dissatisfaction or desire to leave.

C. Equally motivated by their dissatisfaction or desire to leave and the attraction or availability of an outside opportunity.

Once again, the differences between perceptions of Push vs. Pull motivation as the root cause of turnover are significant and should be a source of some concern among company leaders. It appears that many managers and HR professionals need to be better educated about the dynamics of employee disengagement and turnover.

Finally, we asked HR and line managers/executives:

"How big a problem is voluntary employee turnover for your organization?"

Here's how they responded:

In other words, 71% said employee turnover was a problem to some degree, with almost 30% indicating it was a serious problem with significant business impact. Obviously, turnover is a perennial issue that varies in degree and urgency from industry to industry and from year to year as the economy cycles up and down.

If turnover of key talent is an issue in your company and you have not identified push-factor root causes, we strongly recommend you take action to do so, either through a survey of current employees or through third-party post exit interviews with your recent "regrettable departures."

To find out more about services available though Keeping the People, Inc., contact: Leigh Branham at or visit


Harvard Business Review Commentary

If you are interested in receiving a copy of Leigh Branham's commentary on the case study, "Why Are We Losing All Our Good People?" which appeared in the June, 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review, please send your request to


Sneak Preview of "Best-Places-to-Work" Research
at HRPS Fall Executive Forum

At the upcoming Human Resource Planning Society Fall Executive Forum in Chicago October 19-21, Leigh Branham will unveil results of his analysis of 1.8 million employee engagement surveys completed by employees of 3,000 companies that applied in "Best-Place-to-Work" competitions in 40 U.S. cities. The title of Leigh's session is "Why Employees Say: 'Lucky to Work Here'". To find out more about the conference, go to:


The Seven Hidden Reasons Employees Leave: How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act Before It's Too Late, by Leigh Branham (AMACOM Books, 2005).

Keeping the People Who Keep You in Business: 24 Ways to Hang On to Your Most Valuable Talent, by Leigh Branham
(AMACOM Books, 2000).

To order either of these books click here.

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.

For more information, contact Leigh Branham directly at (913) 620-4645, or by e-mail at Also visit the Web site:

Copyright, Keeping The People, Inc, 2008

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Keeping the People Report

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"Engaging & Retaining All Four Generations"...

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