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Why people leave their jobs…the evidence!

I recently read a white paper about why people leave their jobs. Their research concluded that managers are not the reason people leave. And, of course most of us have heard the phrase, “people don’t leave their job, they leave their manager.”

Two researchers with Ph.D.s drew several conclusions to debunk that phrase and conclude that from the data they collected in their IBM Smarter Workforce Institute, Thought Leadership Whitepaper (Whitepaper link). This study also had, as a contributor, the Editor in Chief of the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute. To begin with its key findings revealed that job attractors can vary with “high potentials being more likely than other workers to be attracted to new jobs by opportunities to learn new skills, for more job responsibilities and to try something new.”

This made perfect sense to me. In fact, it seems to me that any employee (not just high potentials) would be more engaged in their career and accomplishing team and organizational goals, in addition to individual goals, in this scenario. The more people are challenged, the more people are engaged and the more productive they become. The study seems to conclude that high potentials are only born and can’t be made but compassion, encouragement and engagement go a long way to save the extreme costs of turnover.

They also pointed out (based on the statistics) that others attractors with diminishing appeal were career development opportunities, great employer brands, and flexibility at work. Their conclusion that “managers are not the reason people leave” an organization were perplexing for me. They were as follows: Contrary to many media reports, only 14 percent of people left their last job because they were unhappy with their managers; This was directly attributable to their relationship with their manager, but we owe it to ourselves to dig deeper and find out why they are unhappy with their manager. Read on for more insights.

The biggest work-related reason (cited by 40 percent of respondents) for leaving is because employees are not happy with their jobs; Now, here is where I have to be the devil’s advocate and ask the question…why aren’t they happy with their jobs? Could that have to do with poor management skills by their direct supervisor? If they were properly engaged like the high potentials mentioned earlier wouldn’t they be happier with their jobs. Perhaps they are not a good fit in their job or with the team or culture. Have they been moved to different positions, allowed some flexibility on the job or just reassigned some different duties? Delegation comes to mind but mentoring programs can help with this too. Has Human Resources trained the supervisors to manage people (not just manage numbers to get the job done and achieve their goals)?

Almost as many people (39 percent) left their last job for personal reasons such as spouse relocation, child care or health issues; Well, this one may be unavoidable…but maybe it isn’t. Have supervisors done their best to listen, be compassionate to what might be going on and how they might be able to help? Based on all the studies that have shown employees feel like managers don’t communicate regularly and are not open to feedback as much as they should be I would suggest this number could be lower and retention could be higher, again saving money on turnover.

One in five (20 percent) workers left because they were not happy with their organization; These questions are too vague and leave a lot open to interpretation. Once again, I have to ask the question “what has been done to engage these employees and once again, that question leads back to their direct supervisor for engaging them, challenging them, keeping them motivated and ultimately reaching their goals through people that have a desire to help them accomplish the team goals and organizational goals. Does that culture even exist as strongly as it could?

Eighteen percent left due to organizational changes which had caused a great deal of uncertainty. Lastly, were these 18 percent clearly communicated to what the changes would be? Were they empowered to be a part of the change and contribute to it? Were they prepared for the organizational changes so they knew exactly what to expect, how it would affect them, their team members, their department and the organization as a whole? Did they know what success would look like before during and after the change? Were any concerns answered and stressors about the changes eased by their direct supervisors?

I want to commend the researchers and the editor of the report that they do offer some solutions and recommendations to the results of the study and for retaining talent. They obviously understand the issues that the research shows. I just think they need to take two steps back and look at the bigger picture. The whitepaper makes a lot of good points and draws some very concerning conclusions specifically about IBM’s workforce. The do suggest that employees need to be listened too more. I agree. They also suggest using the right assessment to assure job fit and culture fit within the organization and point out that “employees who feel their ideas and suggestions matter are more than twice as likely to report a positive employee experience”. These are very important aspects which I commend them for pointing out.

While all these reasons seem to relate right back to good direct supervisory skills I question the overall conclusion of this report that “managers are not the reason people leave”. With the cost of turnover being as much as a person’s annual salary I would be concerned with how well my supervisors are trained to be good people managers. Most are promoted to a supervisory position because they were good at their previous job and showed promise. That does nothing to account for how they will manage people. A manager’s job is to get their job done through other people. Most managers don’t know the best way to do that. Just sending them to training does not change behavior. It might enlighten them and start them in the right direction but most times it will only send them back to the job and to the status quo.


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