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However, available evidence suggests that in most organizations, HR
departments and senior leaders are not providing the kind of meaningful
data managers need about the root causes of employee turnover. A compre-
hensive Saratoga Institute study found that although 95 percent of organi-
zations say they conduct exit interviews, only 32 percent report the data to

W C Aµ W T L?

managers, and only 30 percent follow up with some kind of action. Forty-
two percent of HR departments surveyed admitted that their exit interview
programs were not effective.13
To make sure that post-exit interviews or surveys are done and done
effectively, HR professionals can play an important role by reporting ¬nd-
ings to management, and by partnering with all managers to provide
needed resources to assure that corrective actions are taken. For detailed
guidelines on exit interviewing, see Appendix B.
What must not happen is for line managers to foist off on HR their
own responsibility for keeping and engaging valued talent. HR is their
partner in this process, but not the accountable party. The key is for the
entire organization, beginning with the senior management team, to adopt
a new mindset about managing all talent.
We have seen that the old mindset results in super¬cial understanding
of employee turnover, leading to spiraling wage wars, and borrowing other
companies™ practices”usually tangible, but off-target quick ¬xes”which
may not be the right aspirin required for the kind of headache the next war
for talent will bring.

1. Marie Gendron, ˜˜Keys to Retaining Your Best Managers in a Tight
Job Market,™™ Harvard Management Update, June 1998, pp. 1“4.
2. Unpublished Saratoga Institute research of employee commitment,
satisfaction, and turnover, conducted from 1996 to 2003, and involv-
ing 19,500 current and former employees in eighteen different organi-
3. Barbara Davidson and Jac Fitz-enz, ˜˜Retention Management,™™ study
released by The Saratoga Institute, Santa Clara, California (New York:
American Management Association, 1997).
4. Curt Coffman and Gabriel Gonzalez-Molina, Follow This Path: How
the World™s Greatest Organizations Drive Growth by Unleashing Human
Potential (New York: Warner Business Books, 2002).
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Hal F. Rosenbluth and Diane McFerrin Peters, The Customer Comes
Second: And Other Secrets of Exceptional Service (New York: Quill, 1992).

The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave

8. Coffman and Gonzalez-Molina, Follow This Path.
9. Charles Fishman, ˜˜The War for Talent,™™ Fast Company, August 1998.
10. Leigh Branham, Keeping the People Who Keep You in Business: 24 Ways
to Hang Onto Your Most Valuable Talent (New York: AMACOM, 2001).
11. Geoffrey Colvin, ˜˜The War for Talent is Over . . . Talent Lost,™™ For-
tune, October 2002.
12. ˜˜Labor Market and Job Growth Outlook,™™ U.S. Department of Labor,
13. Davidson and Fitz-enz, ˜˜Retention Management.™™


How They Disengage and Quit
Some quit and leave . . .
others quit and stay.

— ”A®®µ

it is important to
Before we identify the main reasons employees disengage,
understand the dynamics of how they go through the disengagement proc-
ess. Understanding the unfolding nature of employee disengagement helps
us see how we can interrupt the process and salvage key talent at many
points along the decision path.

The Disengagement Process
The ¬rst thing to realize is that employee turnover is not an event”it is
really a process of disengagement that can take days, weeks, months, or
even years until the actual decision to leave occurs (if it ever does). Here™s
what David, an accountant, told me three weeks after resigning:
˜˜The very ¬rst day I started thinking of leaving. I was given an assign-
ment and I realized very quickly that I was not going to receive any men-
toring or support.™™
For Dave, it was all downhill from day one. Even though it was several
months before he resigned, the ¬rst day was the turning point.
As the stair-step graphic in Figure 2-1 shows, there are actually several
sequential and predictable steps that can unfold in the employee™s journey
from disengagement to departure. Of course, many managers are so busy
or preoccupied that they wouldn™t even notice if their employees walked
around wearing sandwich boards saying, ˜˜Trying to Change Things!™™ or
˜˜Staying and Becoming Less Engaged Every Day!™™”or whatever step in
the disengagement process they happen to be on at the time. Not that it™s
only the manager™s responsibility to take the initiative in this process”
The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave

Figure 2-1.
Thirteen steps in the engagement-to-departure process.
Start the new job with enthusiasm.
Question the decision
to accept the job.

Think seriously about quitting.

Try to change things.

Resolve to quit.

Consider the cost of quitting.

Passively seek another job.

Prepare to actively seek.

Actively seek.

Get new job offer.
Quit to accept new job, or

Quit without a job, or

Stay and disengage.

employees also need to understand they have a singular responsibility to
¬nd ways of addressing their concerns and re-engaging themselves in the
workplace. But many managers are just 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. It
is also useful to know that 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.
Here are some of the stimulus events that can trigger disengagement:

• Being passed over for promotion
• Realizing the job is not as promised
• Learning they may be transferred
• Hiring boss being replaced by new boss they don™t like
• Being assigned to new territory
• Being asked to do something unethical

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• Learning the company is doing something unethical
• Sudden wealth or suf¬cient savings to buy independence
• Earning enough money (grubstake)
• An incident of sexual harassment
• An incident of racial discrimination
• Learning the company is up for sale
• Learning the company has been sold
• Realizing they are underpaid compared to others doing the same job
• Realizing they are not in line for promotion for which they thought
they were in line
• Realizing that their own behavior has become unacceptable
• An unexpected outside job offer
• Being pressured to make an unreasonable family or personal sacri¬ce
• Being asked to perform a menial duty (e.g., run a personal errand for
the boss)
• Petty and unreasonable enforcement of authority
• Being denied a request for family leave
• Being denied a request for transfer
• A close colleague quitting or being ¬red
• A disagreement with the boss
• A con¬‚ict with a coworker
• An unexpectedly low performance rating
• A surprisingly low pay increase or no pay increase

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 excerpts from other post-exit interviews that illustrate the
turning-point phenomenon:

The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave

• ˜˜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
shuf¬‚ing papers and not designing anything. That™s when I started
looking elsewhere, and a coworker referred me to the company I
now work for.™™ (Dan, an engineer)
• ˜˜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 mindset. I went
to a national company meeting because my manager couldn™t at-
tend”it was 95 percent male, and no one even came up and intro-
duced themselves. That did it for me. After that, I started looking
and I had a new job in six weeks.™™ (Janine, business analyst)
• ˜˜I wasn™t being challenged. And then I came across payroll informa-
tion 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.™™ (John, ¬nancial analyst)
• ˜˜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 FedEx. 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™™ (Pamela,
technical writer)

Dr. Thomas Lee, a business professor at the University of Washington,
who has extensively researched what he calls ˜˜the unfolding model of turn-
over,™™ reports several interesting ¬ndings about how and why people dis-
engage and leave:

• The majority of voluntary turnovers”63 percent”are precipitated
by some kind of shocking event.
• Very few employees start thinking of leaving because of shocking
events related to pay.
• About 20 percent of departing employees leave without having an-
other job in hand.
• Some leave when the job offer is ˜˜likely,™™ not waiting until it is in
• Temporary, part-time, and marginal workers are more likely to quit
suddenly or impulsively after a shock rather than enter into a drawn-
out period evaluating the situation.

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• Many talented employees keep an eye out for other jobs while work-
ing, and decide to interview for outside opportunities just for prac-
tice, to create a ˜˜plan B,™™ or to test their marketability.
• Many employees leave because of ˜˜personal shocks™™ unrelated to
their workplace, such as marriage, pregnancy, inheritance, last child
leaving home, decision to relocate, becoming a caregiver for a family
member in health crisis, or paying off the mortgage.
• Exit surveying or interviewing that doesn™t uncover the shock (turn-
ing point) and get the employee to discuss the deliberation process,
if there was one, will not reveal the root cause.1

The Deliberation Process
Lee also points out that there are two distinct periods in an employee™s
process of thinking about leaving”the ¬rst period being the time between
an employee™s ¬rst thoughts of quitting and the subsequent decision to
leave. As an example, one ex-employee said:
˜˜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.™™
Another man I interviewed told me that when he was promoted, no
announcement went out, which he took as a personal slight. He ¬rst started


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