Do You Really Know Why Employees Leave Your Company?

By Mark C. Bolino and Anthony C. Klotz
September 30, 2019

More employees are voluntarily leaving their jobs than at almost any other time this millennium. Setbacks such as losing a valued employee can provide an important learning opportunity for organizations — as long as leaders are willing to reflect on and identify the root cause of such losses. Too often, though, managers and human resources professionals are too busy doing damage control to conduct a thorough autopsy.

Of course, many organizations have an exit interview process that should, ostensibly, provide insights to help improve employee retention. However, even when conducted well, these interviews have serious shortcomings. In cases of impulsive quitting, workers may depart before the organization has the opportunity to conduct one. And even when exit interviews take place, a large percentage of employees are not candid.

So how can organizations respond to resignations in more constructive ways? Here are three recommendations:

  1. INVESTIGATE HOW THE EMPLOYEE RESIGNED: If many employees within a firm resign by expressing gratitude and giving reasonable notice, this may signal that the organization is a healthy place to work. But if bridges tend to get burned during employee resignations, leaders should take this as a signal that they should investigate the cause of these destructive departures. The first step toward turning employee resignations into a source of organizational learning is to track and review how they took place. Is walking off the job with no notice more common in particular departments? Do the employees of certain supervisors always resign by providing more notice than is required? Closely examining resignations can help organizations clearly identify problem areas.
  2. SEE WHAT THE CO-WORKERS CLOSEST TO THE EMPLOYEE HAVE TO SAY: Although people will not always be open to divulging their true reasons for quitting, in many cases their peers may have insights and be motivated to share that information. By having informal discussions with colleagues close to the employee who resigned, companies may be able to ascertain the motives behind his departure. Of course, some colleagues may feel that the company is asking them to be disloyal to their friend. Leaders should reassure the employees that their participation is voluntary, and make it clear that the information they seek is only for improving the experience of the remaining workforce and the performance of the company.
  3. EXAMINE AND LEARN FROM WHAT THE EMPLOYEE DOES AFTER THEY LEAVE: HR professionals can do this by tracking where their alumni go. If a large proportion of quitters returns to school to pursue graduate degrees, for example, there may be an opportunity for the company to improve retention by offering discounted or free education. If several employees leave to become stay-at-home parents, perhaps more expansive work-family programs would provide employees with healthier work-life balance.

Hearing the words “I quit” is rarely pleasant, but by pushing through the discomfort, managers and HR professionals can gain valuable knowledge for their firms. The next time an employee discloses his plans to leave, take the time to reflect on the nature of the resignation.

Copyright 2019 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.

Topics: Management

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