Keeping the People Report
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E-Letter Volume 23, July 2011
Leigh Branham
In this Issue: "Why You Left" Survey Report

Since it went up in 2004, almost 800 visitors to the Keeping the People website, representing all major industries, position levels, functions, and age groupings, have taken the time to complete our "Decision to Leave" post-exit survey. (If you haven't taken it and would like to, go to and click on Resources, then Surveys). Respondents are asked to think of a job they quit in the past and respond to survey questions as they recall the reasons and circumstances of their departure.

Now it is time to report the results so far.

Leigh Branham, Founder,
Keeping the People, Inc

The survey presents respondents with a list of 39 possible reasons for leaving and asks them to select up to five that entered into their decision to leave their employer. (Exact wording: From the list below, please check up to, but no more than, five factors that first caused you to start thinking seriously about leaving your organization.) The question was worded this way in order to surface the root cause of the turnover, not necessarily the same reason the employee might give during an on-site exit interview. Of the 39 reasons, 29 are "Push" factors related to an issue within the workplace and 11 are "Pull" factors indicating an external motivation. Here then, in order, are the reasons with the percentages of respondents who selected them:

Reported Reasons for Leaving:

1. Lack of trust in senior leaders (10.6%) Push
2. Insufficient pay (5.7%) Push
3. Unhealthy/undesirable culture (5.5%) Push
4. Lack of concern for development (5.1%) Push
5. Lack of honesty/integrity/ethics (4.9%) Push
6. Unfair treatment (4.8%) Push
7. Lack of open communication (4.6%) Push
8. Lack of encouragement of input or ideas (4.6%) Push
9. Lack of teamwork among co-workers (4.5%) Push
10. Excessive workload (4.4%) Push
11. Lack of opportunity for training and development (3.9%) Push
12. Lack of recognition (3.9%) Push
13. Lack of clear expectations (3.8%) Push
14. Uncertainty about future of company (3.8%) Push
15. Uninteresting or unchallenging work (3.6%) Push
16. Not having needed resources (3.2%) Push
17. Pay not based on performance (2.6%) Push
18. Lack of encouragement of input or ideas (2.3%) Push
19. Unfair pay practices (2.1%) Push
20. Uncertainty about job security (2.0%) Push
21. Lack of work-life balance (1.9%) Push
22. Negative relationship with coworker (1.7%) Push
23. Decision to change careers (1.7%) Pull
24. Unexpected job/career opportunity (1.6%) Pull
25. Lack of focus on quality (1.5%) Push
26. Lack of feedback (1.5%) Push
27. Inflexible work arrangements (1.3%) Push
28. Lack of focus on productivity (1.2%) Push
29. Unsatisfactory benefits (1.0%) Push
30. Spend more time with family (.09%) Push
31. Excessive travel demands (.08%) Push
32 . Desire to relocate (.07%) Pull
33. Start a business (.05%) Pull
34. Desire to return to school (.05%) Pull
35. Start a family (.04%) Pull
36. Family emergency/illness (.04%) Pull
37. Spouse/partner relocation (.03%) Pull
38. Retirement (.03%) Pull
39. Inheritance/monetary windfall (.005%) Pull

  • Most Turnover is Avoidable. The vast majority of respondents--94%-- report leaving more for push reasons than for pull reasons--only 6%. These percentages are almost exactly the same as those reported in my analysis of post-exit data from the Saratoga Institute in The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave (AMACOM, 2005). These more recent findings add still more evidence that most turnover is at least potentially preventable if there is a commitment to re-engage and keep the individual. Of course, we may not care to avoid some turnover, though it may be avoidable.

    Toward the end of the survey, we ask respondents to choose the one of the following that best describes their motivation to leave their employer. Here are the results to date:
    A. Motivated more by my dissatisfaction or desire to leave than by the attraction or availability of an outside opportunity. (Selected by 55%)
    B. Motivated more by the attraction or availability of an outside opportunity than by my dissatisfaction or desire to leave. (Selected by 12%)
    C. Equally motivated by my dissatisfaction or desire to leave and the attraction or availability of an outside opportunity. (Selected by 33%)
    The finding that people are more than four times more likely to leave a job based on an internal issue than an outside opportunity would still come as a surprise to significant numbers of managers.
  • Trust in Senior Leaders: The #1 Reason...But Why? The most-cited reason for leaving was "lack of trust in senior leaders". This may surprise some and certainly runs counter to the conventional wisdom that employees leave managers--usually interpreted as one's immediate boss. However, this finding confirms the conclusion Mark Hirschfeld and I presented in our analysis of 2.1 million engagement surveys from 10,000 employers, as described in our book, Re-Engage (McGraw-Hill, 2010)--that caring, competent, and trustworthy senior leadership is the number one driver of employee engagement.

    We believe this may be related to the events of the past 10 years--the fall from grace of CEOs found guilty of malfeasance, reports of disproportionate CEO compensation, and the greed of Wall Street senior executives before and after the financial collapse of 2008. Sadly, many employees now consider CEOs guilty until proven innocent instead of innocent until proven guilty. This generalized distrust may be having a dual and counterintuitive effect--increasing employee cynicism while at the same time raising expectations of CEO behavior at our own employers.
  • Pay is A Significant Push Factor For Some. Insufficient pay was the second most-cited reason for leaving and continues to be a "dissatisfier" that causes some employees to move on. Actually, as you may have noticed, three of the 39 reasons are pay-related. When we add reasons #17 (Pay not based on performance) and #19 (Unfair pay practices), the percentage that selected pay-related reasons becomes 10.4%, still second to senior leadership, but a significant root cause for many.

    Note that reasons #17 and #19 have more to do with dissatisfaction with the way pay is determined, not the amount of pay per se--an important distinction. Keep in mind also that respondents were asked to cite up to five reasons for leaving, so that pay may not be the number one reason, but one among a handful of others.
  • Leaders and Managers Can Prevent the Push Factors. Reason #3--Unhealthy/undesirable culture--is mostly influenced by the values, mindsets, and standards of senior leaders, but also by managers who must be counted on to uphold the cultural values and people practices. Most of the remaining push factors in the list can be influenced and prevented by the actions of both senior leaders, managers, and supervisors. "Lack of work/life balance", for example, is influenced by staffing/budget decisions and work/life policies made at the most senior levels, but also by the daily decisions of direct managers about granting time off to care for sick children and family emergencies, etc.
  • The Push factors still fall easily into the seven major categories as initially described in The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave:
    1. Not Feeling Valued
    2. Lack of Career Growth or Opportunity
    3. Lack of Trust and Confidence in Senior Leaders
    4. Low Job Interest/Challenge
    5. Stress, Burnout, and Work-Life Imbalance
    6. Poor or Insufficient Manager Coaching and Feedback
    7. Unrealistic Short-term Expectations


Most of the reasons employees disengage and leave are avoidable, given the desire to retain, and the willingness to invest the time to take preventive or corrective actions. This is good news, since most don't require significant monetary investment. Time is money, yes; but the cost of disengagement and turnover is greater.

Thanks to all of you who have completed the survey and to all of you who will do so in the future. I will continue to update readers on survey results, and will incorporate your responses into my update and revision of The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave (2nd edition).

Have a thought on what you've read here? I'd love to hear from you.

In our next issue: How you made the decision to leave, including:

  • Turning points in the decision to leave,
  • How long before you finally left,
  • The effect of on your personal productivity of looking while employed,
  • Whether you told the truth about the real reason for leaving, and
  • What attracted you to your next employer.
Re-EnageThe Seven Hidden Reasons Employees Leave: How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act Before It's Too Late, by Leigh Branham (AMACOM Books, 2005).

Re-Engage: How America’s Best Places to Work Inpire Extra Effort Through Extraordinary Engagements, by Leigh Branham, Mark Hirschfeld
(AMACOM Books, 2010).

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.

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  • Employee Engagement Surveying and Reporting
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Copyright, Keeping the People, Inc. 2011. Keeping the People Report is written and edited by Leigh Branham.