Employee handing in resignation letter and carrying box of personal belonging

Finding and retaining staff is an ongoing challenge for business leaders everywhere. For many managers, a sudden departure can feel like a slap in the face, especially if you’ve been putting in an honest effort to build a positive culture and prevent turnover. It can be even more overwhelming when it’s one of your ‘star’ employees.

Why do people leave their job?

You’ve likely heard the adage “people leave managers, not companies” and there is certainly data to support that many do leave jobs because of their boss. However, there are a variety of other reasons someone may resign aside from poor management:

  • Seeking new challenges or growth opportunities
  • Wanting more autonomy or more structure in their role
  • Incompatibility with corporate culture, values or policies
  • Offered a higher wage, better benefits or different compensation style (i.e. commission vs. salary)
  • Stress or burnout
  • Feeling undervalued or unrecognized
  • Interpersonal conflict with coworkers
  • Changes due to a major life event (having children, family illness, getting married)
  • Moving away
  • Shifting priorities or interests
  • Wanting a different work location (i.e. shorter commute, work-from-home)
  • Needing a different schedule (i.e. flexible hours, 9-5 vs. shift work)

Some of these reasons are out of your control, but others you have a chance to address. Digging deep into the realities of your organization can be an uncomfortable exercise, but a valuable one to improve your workplace and keep your top employees.

This article by McKinsey & Company does a deeper dive into reasons employees left their jobs in 2021 and why some are returning.

Questions to ask yourself

  1. Why are they leaving?
  2. Have there been other employees who’ve departed for similar reasons?
  3. Is there something you could have done to keep them?
  4. Ultimately were they even the right fit for this job? For the organization? Is it possible their resignation was for the best?
  5. Are you hiring the right people from the start? How are you assessing ‘fit’ for your organization?
  6. What is your company good at / bad at? How is that affecting the employee experience? Is there something to change about your organization or your management style? For example:
    • If they left because your company requires 100% on-site attendance and they wanted remote/hybrid work, can you revisit this policy?
    • If they left because of team or culture issues, can these be addressed to prevent further turnover?
    • If they left because the workload was overwhelming, how can you balance that load? Do you need to replace them with two people rather than just one?

Exit interviews

Without an open conversation, you likely won’t be able to answer the questions above, so make sure someone in your organization conducts an exit interview with the departing employee.

If you find you aren’t getting useful feedback from exit interviews, ask yourself:

  1. Is the right person conducting the interviews? If it’s the direct supervisor or someone “too close” to the role, the departing employee may not be comfortable giving candid feedback.
  2. How are you phrasing your questions? Your questions should reflect your desire to have a constructive conversation, not assign blame or make the employee feel guilty about leaving.

Stay interviews

Conduct ‘stay’ interviews with your current team to learn what keeps them in your organization and what could cause them to leave. Keep in mind that what kept someone in a job three or five years ago might not be the same today—people’s lives change, their needs evolve, and our world looks very different post-pandemic.

Build the right team

Start by creating a succession plan and let it guide your staffing decisions. Use a science-backed assessment tool like our Workstyle and Performance Profile to help you evaluate candidates for the right ‘fit,’ which leads to stronger hiring decisions, better team dynamics and lower turnover. Employers who use the WPP have seen up to a 50% reduction in turnover.

If it comes down to compensation

If you discover that staff are leaving for higher salaries, you likely need to look at whether your compensation is in line with today’s market. However, salary is not the factor to consider—many employees are choosing jobs based on other priorities like work-life balance, flexibility, health benefits, vacation days, professional growth opportunities, and more. Here are 10 things you can consider offering if you can’t move on salary.

For you: Self-care and support

As a manager, ensure you have a strong peer or mentorship group. Leadership can be isolating and it’s helpful to have others to talk to who understand what you’re going through. Remember that you’re not alone; this wave of resignations is affecting businesses everywhere, even recruitment firms!


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