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Over Decision to Leave


Voluntary departures where Voluntary departures where
employer actions may employer actions are unlikely
prevent/delay turnover. to prevent/delay turnover


Employer initiated Employee initiated departures
mostly unavoidable by
departures. employer or employee.

either growth (and career growth opportunities) or stagnation. For proof
of the pervasive power of the senior executive, we need look no further
than to companies like Southwest Airlines and the SAS Institute, where
committed and caring CEOs”Herb Kelleher and Jim Goodnight”have
built the two of the most remarkable ˜˜employer-of-choice™™ cultures in
America today.
In upcoming chapters, it will become clear how managers, senior lead-
ers, human resource executives, and yes, the employees themselves, can
partner to create reciprocal commitment.

The Next Seven Chapters:
Hidden Reasons and Practical Actions
It is not a na±ve platitude to point out that complaints are just negatively
stated solutions. People complain of poor management when what they
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want is good management. They complain of favoritism when what they
prefer is an even playing ¬eld. And so, in describing the seven main reasons
employees leave, we come ever closer to pinpointing what it will take
to make them want to stay and be more fully engaged. Delivering those
engagement and retention best practices is the real purpose of this book.
Considering all the possible reasons that employees give for leaving, as
presented in this chapter, you may wonder how I winnowed them down
to a select seven. The truth is that this has not been that dif¬cult, because
the Saratoga ¬ndings generally con¬rm my own research and the ¬ndings
of dozens of other studies on the causes of employee turnover.
Based on my desire to present root cause reasons that are simultane-
ously best-known and most-hidden, that are supported by the research
¬ndings, that are precisely identi¬able and separable from one another, that
managers or senior leaders can prevent or address, and that are few enough
in number to be manageable, these are the ones I have chosen to dissect:

1. The job or workplace not living up to expectations
2. The mismatch between job and person
3. Too little coaching and feedback
4. Too few growth and advancement opportunities
5. Feeling devalued and unrecognized
6. Stress from overwork and work-life imbalance
7. Loss of trust and con¬dence in senior leaders

Each of the next seven chapters begins with selected survey comments
that illustrate each hidden reason and also convey the depth of emotion
surrounding it. Next, we will look at the visible signs that one or more of
your employees may be disengaging for that reason. We will also take a
look at predictable obstacles that stand in the way of preventing or correct-
ing these root causes.
Most importantly, we will review 54 innovative ideas and practical,
proven engagement practices that you and your organization can use to
address each one. We will also focus on what employees can and must
do to assume their own share of the responsibility for keeping themselves
committed and engaged. As we know, sometimes the real reason employ-
ees leave”but one they rarely admit”is, ˜˜I left before they ¬red me.™™
It is also important to keep in mind that whether a company uses most,
or only a handful of these engagement practices, the ones it does use need
to be aligned with its strategic business objectives. In the ¬nal chapter, we
will consider the process for building a comprehensive talent management
The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave

strategy based on identifying the kinds of talent needed to execute the
business strategy. A company may not be able, or even want, to implement
all 54 of the engagement practices presented, but will want to select and
apply the ones that will have the biggest impact on business success.

1. Unpublished Saratoga Institute research of employee commitment, sat-
isfaction, and turnover conducted from 1996 to 2003, involving current
and former employees in eighteen different organizations.
2. Ibid.
3. ˜˜Retention Management,™™ a study released by The Saratoga Institute,
Santa Clara, California, authored by Barbara Davidson and Jac Fitz-enz,
and published by the American Management Association, 1997.
4. W. Michael Kelly, interview, March 17, 2004.
5. John Putzier, Get Weird! 101 Innovative Ways to Make Your Company a
Great Place to Work (New York: AMACOM, 2001).
6. W. Michael Kelly, ˜˜Saratoga™s Findings,™™ unpublished report, Septem-
ber 2003.
7. Paul R. Ahr and Thomas B. Ahr, Overturn Turnover: Why Some Employ-
ees Leave, Why Some Employees Stay, and Ways to Keep the Ones You Want
to Stay˜˜ (St. Louis: Causeway Publishing Company, 2000), p. 6.


Reason 1:
The Job or Workplace Was
Not as Expected
Between the idea
and the reality
Between the motion
and the act
Falls the Shadow.

— ”T.S. E¬©

Years ago when I was an employee career counselor at Disneyland™s onsite ca-
reer center, a young woman walked into my of¬ce one day, sat down
almost in tears, and blurted out, ˜˜This is not the happiest place on earth.™™
I couldn™t help being amused, but her disappointment was deep and
sincere, almost as if she had truly expected that her work experience in the
Magic Kingdom would be as carefree as that of a ¬ve-year old visiting the
park for the ¬rst time. But alas, she had become disillusioned. She was
having a con¬‚ict with her boss, who she believed had shown favoritism in
promoting a coworker instead of her.
Disappointment about promotions was not uncommon at Disneyland,
especially among summer workers, ride operators, and other entry-level
and part-time employees. The fact was, the organization had an ˜˜Eiffel
Tower™™ organizational structure”wide at the bottom but much taller and
narrower at the top than a pyramid”and there were relatively fewer rungs
on the promotional ladder to which younger workers could realistically
What this employee, and many others at Disneyland, needed to under-
stand and accept was that there would come a time when it was best for
them to let go of their illusions of long-term employment at ˜˜the happiest
The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave

place on earth™™ and move on. That was a key reason that Disney had
created the career center in the ¬rst place”to help these employees assess
their talents, develop new goals, even prepare new resumes, and make a
successful transition to other employers. It was a smart strategy because it
recognized that these young, disillusioned workers had become disengaged,
and that disengaged workers cannot deliver the kind of world-class cus-
tomer experience for which Disney had become famous.
Every day, new hires enter organizations with a wide range of illusions
and unrealistic expectations. Some stay and adapt, some disengage and stay,
and many disengage and leave. From Saratoga™s surveys, here are a few
word-for-word comments of some who had chosen to stay, but were less
than fully engaged:

• ˜˜HR personnel lied to me about a wage increase and the bonus
program just to get me there, then they never followed through with
the wage increase! The rotating hours were never discussed.™™
• ˜˜Improper representation of job description and hours of work.™™
• ˜˜They do not deliver promises made as far as advancement, of poten-
tial growth with in the corporate ladder. This forces one to make
some very hard internal choices on the reasons for staying.™™
• ˜˜Thing are not explained well by HR when you are hired.™™
• ˜˜When I hired on, it was with the clear understanding that I would
be working three days a week for what I was being paid. Then, after
I started the job, my manager said no, that we agreed to ¬ve days a
week. He acted like we had never had the conversation. That made
me really angry. I agreed to stay on full time because I needed the
job, but I™m still looking for another part-time job.™™
• ˜˜Our manager makes a lot of promises that are not kept.™™
• ˜˜Supervisors do not keep their promises in terms of promoting em-
• ˜˜I was not at all satis¬ed with the training I received when I started
working for ABC Company. I was sitting at my desk for three or
four hours a day for the ¬rst three weeks, and as a result I began
looking for another job. I felt that management didn™t care.™™
• ˜˜XYZ Company does not provide a training program course for any
new employee. You are thrown into a new position and are expected
to do all things that are required of your position immediately.™™

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• ˜˜ABC Company is very good at lying to prospective employees dur-
ing interviews. They deliberately misrepresent the position in order
to get more quali¬ed candidates than necessary for the position.™™
• ˜˜Length of time from interview to hiring was totally unacceptable.
When you are told in the interview you will be hired pending check
of references and drug test, six weeks is too long to wait.™™
• ˜˜They do not give to employees. For example, on my ¬rst day of
work I was not able to take a lunch. Another example”I am not
able to spend any money on my employees to show appreciation for
a job well done.™™

At the root of all these comments is an expectation that was not met.
In some cases, the employee™s expectations may have been unrealistic, and
in some cases they, no doubt, were not. In the big picture, it doesn™t matter.
The point is, unrealistic and unmet expectations cost a business untold
millions of dollars. The cost of losing one professional is generally accepted
to be one times annual salary. If the average salary is $50,000, then losing
twenty employees over the course of a year because of unmet expectations
adds up to a tidy total of $1 million.
You may never see an exit survey with a checklist of reasons for leaving
that includes the choice ˜˜unmet expectations,™™ but it may well be the
number one reason most employees leave. It is the main reason 4 percent
of employees walk off the job on the ¬rst day.1 It is most certainly the main
reason that more than 50 percent of American workers quit in the ¬rst six
months.2 And it is probably a key factor in the failure of 40 percent of new
executives to last more than eighteen months in their new positions.3

A Disastrous First Day
˜˜I™d said at the interview that I planned to take a holiday the follow-
ing month, and my manager said that would be ¬ne and to give him
the dates when I™d booked it. On my ¬rst day, when I told him the
week I planned to be away, he went bright red, slammed his ¬st on
the desk, and barked that I clearly had no commitment to the com-
pany, and what message was it sending out to my team if I went away
so soon? I survived another day and another showdown before I took
one long permanent holiday.™™4

The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave

Hidden Mutual Expectations: The Psychological
In his classic article, ˜˜The Psychological Contract: Managing the Joining-
Up Process,™™ John Paul Kotter de¬ned the psychological contract as ˜˜an
implicit contract between an individual and the organization which speci-
¬es what each expects to give and receive from each other in the relation-
ship.™™5 As shown in Figure 4-1, matches and mismatches can occur based
on the four sets of expectations in this hidden contract.
For example, when a new hire expects to receive a promotion after
one year on the job, and the employer is not prepared to give a promotion
that quickly, there is a mismatch. When the employer can and does pro-
mote the new employee after a year, there is a match. Kotter™s research
con¬rmed what most of us would expect”that the greater the matching
of mutual expectations, the greater the probability of job satisfaction, pro-
ductivity, and reduced turnover.
Figure 4-1.
The psychological contract: two parties, four sets of expectations.


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