Why Employees Leave: Q&A with Author Leigh Branham

December 6, 2012 Thad Peterson

Retaining employees. It’s perhaps the most fundamental and critical challenge of effective human capital management. Yet few companies are able to get their turnover rates as low as they’d like. When employees do leave, managers often chalk it up to people chasing jobs that pay more. But according to Leigh Branham, they’ve got it entirely wrong.

In his recently updated book, The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, Branham analyzes 20,700 exit interviews and boils the results down to the top reasons employees make the decision to take their talents elsewhere.

So how did you come to write this book?

Leigh Branham: I saw a survey in the Harvard Management Update that cited a survey of managers reporting that 89% of them believe employees quit their jobs mainly for more pay. I knew that pay wasn’t the root cause for the vast majority of departing employees. Most simply say it is about pay in the exit interview because 1) it’s an answer that doesn’t burn a bridge and 2) it happens to be true that most exiting employees get pay increases when they accept a job elsewhere.

I wanted to find a consulting firm or association that had collected third-party exit survey data that would offer a more trustworthy view into the real reasons employees were leaving. After about two months of searching, I finally contacted the Saratoga Institute, which had conducted 19,700 third-part exit surveys with companies from 17 different industries. Fortunately, they were willing to let me analyze the data and publish the findings in a book if the publisher (AMACOM Books) was willing to put the Saratoga name of the front cover, which they were.
So, the first edition was released in 2005 and, because so much has changed in the economy since then, I updated the book in 2012 based on my analysis of another 1,000+ surveys that visitors to my website have completed since then.

Do you think turnover continues to be a problem companies are contending with?

Leigh Branham: Turnover is always a problem when people you most want to keep are the ones leaving. And, because the best performers always have the most options, that danger is always there.  Turnover disrupts customer relationships, reduces service quality, productivity, and safety, negatively impacts coworker morale, and costs 50% to 100% of pay depending on position level. In many industries that can’t find enough qualified or educated workers to fill more technically demanding positions, turnover is even more costly because of the vacancy costs involved.

Tell me a bit about the title… 7 Hidden Reasons. Why do you say these reasons are “hidden”?

Leigh Branham: They are hidden only to the degree that the manager thinks turnover is mostly about pay, so if the majority of managers believe that, then the real reasons are truly hidden from their field of vision. The seven reasons are actually hiding in plain sight.

Without giving away the whole thing, what are the seven reasons?

Leigh Branham: They are, in no particular order:

1) Lack of trust and confidence in senior leaders
2) Not feeling valued (which has the most dimensions, including pay, recognition, having your voice heard, being in the loop, having the right resources, and the like)
3) Insufficient opportunity for personal career growth and learning
4) Stress/burnout/work-life imbalance
5) Ineffective manager, particularly lack of coaching and feedback
6) Job-person mismatch/talent underutilization, and
7) Disillusionment due to unrealistic expectations

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