The Top Causes of Employee Turnover

After huge recent fluctuations in the job market--and despite ongoing downsizing, restructuring, and reengineering--unemployment is at record lows and employers are facing more severe talent shortages than any time since we at RainmakerThinking began our workplace research in 1993.

Not only must organizations fill the gaps with new hires, they must also ensure their best employees stay. Rather than seeking to reduce turnover, employers must gain control of it--prioritizing holding onto their best talent in the midst of competitive hiring.

Understanding why the best employees leave, or at least want to leave, is step one.


The top causes of early departures

There is great consistency in data over more than two decades, including the last two years, in the top causes of early voluntary departures among newly hired employees (within two years).


  1. Buyer's remorse. This comes in two varieties. First, when the employer oversells the job to potential candidates. The newly hired employee is then disappointed by the real conditions of the job as compared with representations or promises made during the hiring process. Second, when the employer is so keen to fill an open position they overlook obvious red flags in a candidate and hire them even when they shouldn't.
  2. Inadequate on-boarding and/or up-to-speed training processes. This occurs when the first days and weeks of a new hire's employment are not rigorously scheduled with interactions, experiences, and assignments designed to make a connection between them and the new organization. New employees feel they are floundering and struggle to avoid a downward spiral.
  3. Hand-off to a disengaged or unsupportive manager. This is when the manager does not provide clear expectations, regular feedback about performance, engage in resource planning/troubleshooting/problem-solving, or give credit and reward for high performance. This is immensely frustrating to employees and also can lead to performance problems which lead managers to give up on potentially successful employees.


The top causes of pent-up departure demand

Pent-up departure demand occurs when employees want to leave and are planning to leave, but haven't left just yet. They may leave 'in their head'--what we call 'leaving without leaving'. This phenomenon has been observed in our research for decades but has recently been popularized in the concept of 'quiet quitting'.

The top causes of pent-up departure demand in today's workforce are:


  1. Overcommitment syndrome for an extended period with no end in sight. Chronic overcommitment syndrome results in siege mentality: when all incoming requests, assignments, and opportunities feel like an assault. This inevitably leads to burnout.
  2. Disengaged or unsupportive manager. When someone's manager does not engage in regular, ongoing, 1:1 conversations about the work with them, they will stagnate. They may feel their manager does not provide the guidance and direction to set them up for achieving their best work. Or, they may come to resent the manager for failing to recognize the great work they do. An employee may also perceive a manager's lack of engagement as representative of how valuable they are to the organization as a whole.
  3. Limited flexibility. This may be flexibility in anything from assignment choice, to schedule, to location or workspace, or any other preferred work condition. Now that employees have seen it is possible to achieve nearly universal work-from-home conditions, they are more skeptical of employers or managers who refuse to offer sufficient flexibility.
  4. Lack of career path. The best employees will leave when there are no clear steps toward role/position growth or career advancement.
  5. Relationship conflict. This could be cliques, ringleaders, or other exclusionary social formations. Or, growing friction resulting from a lack of clear communication when it comes to collaborative work.

As hiring continues to soar to record levels even alongside waves of downsizing in the post-pandemic era, quit rates are also soaring as pent-up departure demand is released.


Download the 2023-2024 Edition of Winning the Talent Wars: Staffing & Retention for Post-Pandemic Workforce here.

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Bruce Tulgan: Founder of RainmakerThinking, Inc. and Top Expert on Leadership Development and Generational Issues in the Workplace

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