Keeping the People Report
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E-Letter Volume 24, September 2011
Leigh Branham

In this Issue:

Part 2: Events That Trigger

The Decision to Leave

As promised, this is the second installment in my ongoing report of the results from our Decision to Leave survey at More than 800 people have completed the post-exit survey to date, responding to the questions regarding a job they have left in their past. In our last e-letter, I reported on the reasons employees left. In this issue, I report on some of the kinds of events that trigger the decision to depart.

The Turning Point

In his distinguished lifetime of research on employee turnover, University of Washington professor, Dr. Thomas Lee has reported that there is a precipitating event or turning point in 66% of all employee turnover. I was curious to confirm this finding, so I included this question in our web survey:

Q:  Was there a turning point in your final decision to leave your employer?

The results so far confirm Dr. Lee's research:

Yes:  64%  No:  36%

The triggering events cited fall into two major categories--push factors (such as abusive boss) and pull factors (such as an outside job offer), with the push factors outnumbering the pull factors almost four to one. Here's a sampling of the comments describing "the last straw", starting with those about respondents' immediate managers:

  • Being told that my best skills (organization and time management) were the ones I needed to work on.
  • When my boss unfairly required me to arrange doctor's appointments on evenings and weekends.
  • Promotion denied; found out that boss did not even show up to meeting to discuss it.
  • My employer didn't want to "offend" two inefficient coworkers, tried to be a buddy to everyone.
  • I couldn't go get my son from daycare when he was sick without getting reprimanded
  • Got negative reaction when I took time off to care for a terminally sick family member.
  • Was denied a benefit which was given to another employee in the same position.
  • The coworker the boss was sleeping with got promoted over me.
  • Public recognition for someone who was not a team player/did not carry her weight.

Many comments refer to actions taken by more senior leaders:
  • Seeing an unethical manager be promoted.
  • Company owner swearing at a customer in an open internet forum.
  • The arbitrary termination of half of the employees within one week.
  • Announcement that WorldCom was buying MCI -- Bernie Ebbers was just too sleazy for me.
  • Significant staff turnover without a change in governance from the Board.
  • Management treating professional staff like imbeciles, top-down communication only.
  • They began to push the founder out, then fired her friends, it was not a good place to be.
  • Was berated by an SVP who made me feel incompetent for making a small mistake.
  • I saw the owner taking money from the till, and I quit the next morning.
  • When my employer groped me to see if I was wearing underwear.
  • Workload was excessive and the senior HR mgt were not listening to the concerns.
  • Fell back on promise to pay me back for my Real Estate Course which they asked me to take.
  • They moved me for my "protection" instead of removing the bullying manager and her minions.

Among the triggering event comments, there were slightly more comments about higher-ups than about the direct manager, providing a bit more evidence to our finding in our recent book, Re-Engage (co-authored with Mark Hirschfeld and based on our analysis of 2.1 million employee engagement surveys) that senior leadership plays slightly more heavily than direct manager in the employee engagement equation.

Other turning points mentioned in the survey were less specific as to the root cause, but no less emotional:

  • I couldn't sleep at night thinking of having to go back in.
  • I realized my job was literally making me sick!
  • Realization that co-workers were not the people I wanted to be with professionally.
  • Had a heart attack at work.

Pull-factor triggers/turning points were diverse:

  • My Dream Job opened up at my professional society.
  • New opportunity to work in a creative environment.
  • Was accepted to grad school.
  • We had our first child and decided we wanted to be closer to our parents and siblings.
  • Received a $7,000 annual increase in pay with guaranteed work-from-home opportunity.
  • Mental health issues
  • The end of a 3-year $400 million project
  • Paying my tuition

Sometimes the push and pull turning points coincided:

  • Opportunity to spend more time with family as the company was quickly failing.
  • Resolve that nothing would change and I needed to leave. Exciting new opportunity presented.

The bottom line for leaders and managers:  keeping employees engaged is just as much about avoiding the triggers of disengagement as it is about doing the proactive things that spark engagement.  We cannot prevent all turnover, nor do we want to, but being alert to the kinds of events that precipitate thoughts of leaving and other behavioral warning signs, we may be able to re-engage before it's too late.

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 Inspire Extra Effort Through Extraordinary Engagement,
by Leigh Branham, Mark Hirschfeld
(McGraw-Hill, 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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  • Exit Surveying and Reporting
  • Keynotes and Presentations on Employee Engagement and Retention

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Copyright, Keeping the People, Inc. 2011. Keeping the People Report is written and edited by Leigh Branham.