One reason that exit interviews have become so important is that they allow you to spot certain trends – such as why employees are leaving. No company wants to lose good employees (especially to a competitor), so use your exit interviews to piece together any issues that may be pushing workers away. Here are seven of the top common causes.
1. Problems with Management
When employees complain about past jobs, there's one thing they commiserate on – bad bosses. That's not a coincidence, either: Managers have a direct impact on employee emotional states and thoughts about the job. Managers also tend to get blamed for things beyond their control or the private opinions of their direct reports, and that combines to make them one of the number one reasons listed by those who leave the company. Note that even a good employee will refuse to work under a bad manager if the pressure grows too much.
Two general dangers wait here. The first is too much micromanagement, which frustrates employees and leaves them angry, unfulfilled, and stuck with a backlog of work. The second is no management at all, or bosses that "let" employees do all their work while they are out of the office or off on their own pet projects. Avoid either extreme to improve retention.
2. No Way to Move Forward or Earn More
This is frequently the bane of entry-level employees, especially in today's work world. They know what they want to be doing, and frequently have a position they would like to work towards – but zero opportunity to get there. Maybe there's no way to get recognized. Maybe hiring practices are particularly poor and based on factors beyond their control. Maybe the company just isn't hiring or raising wages, and doesn't intend to for the foreseeable future.
It's tough to deal with this issue, especially if your industry has naturally high turnover and managers really have stopped caring. But it's important to foster a healthy workplace, opportunities for mentoring and advancement, and ways to improve or earn more. Give employees personal goals as well as company goals, and retention rates will improve.
3. Another Job Opportunity
This is the other side of the coin from the second point. When employees have no way to move forward in the company, they easily leave for new job opportunities. Note that these don't have to be better job opportunities, just new ones. For employees who are feeling stuck, moving sideways or even backwards may well feel like an improvement. They are eager to try something else.
It's tough to keep employees already in this headspace. The best solution is to prevent this attitude in the first place by allowing more flexibility in the job, and more opportunities for employees to try out different roles and apply for more positions within the company. Oh, and always keep track of what your competitors are offering and how they are encouraging employees – because you can bet dissatisfied workers are watching.
4. No Recognition
Recognition isn't necessarily a hiring concern, and may not even be on HR's radar – which is what makes it so important, and so frequently the cause of bewildering employee disappearances. Yes, employees absolutely will leave a job if they feel they aren't getting any recognition for their work.
This ties back into that "boss who's never there" reason, but it's also a broader workplace problem. Compensation is largely intangible, and employees doing tangible, day-to-day work do not see it as recognition. That means that more emotionally focused recognition is needed, and should a regular part of the workplace. That includes praise, awards, positive language, and calling out people for doing a reliably good job. It's not rocket science – any experienced parent or teacher could tell you the same thing. But businesses find it hard to grasp the concept, so it's important to lock it down in guidelines.
5. Peer Issues
Sometimes the boss is the problem – but sometimes peers are the problem, too. This happens a lot in more cutthroat industries where a toxic workplace leads to an utter lack of trust until the most skilled employees can't wait to get out. It also happens in industries with high turnover, where poor workplace motivation makes it seem like no one cares. And yes, it can even happen in customer service positions, where those peers are an endless stream of angry customers. In most cases indicates a serious, endemic workplace problem that needs to be addressed by top leadership.
6. A Poor Work Schedule or Too Much Work
Employees are coming to expect a certain amount of work flexibility. When they don't get that flexibility, they may look for it elsewhere, especially younger employees who are starting families or exploring other interests. Work schedules that demand too much or that are too inflexible are becoming a problem. So balance out schedules and foster flexible and at-home work arrangements.
7. Not Much of a Work/Life Balance
There are two mistakes here, so let's unpack them. The first mistake is to ignore the work/life balance completely and focusing only on work hours: It's a problem because that's no longer a best practice. Employees now have experience in workplaces that address the work/life balance and offer benefits that make it easier, like distance work, flexible schedules (again), stress relief, aid with common financial/transportation issues, and much more. If a workplace doesn't provide that perspective, it will drive employees away.
The second mistake is a little more insidious – the company acknowledges the work/life balance, but uses it against the employee to make them do more work in the off-hours. This is surprisingly common – survey results show that 36% of workers get after hours emails from bosses, and some even get weekend or vacation emails. That shows that a lot of companies don't quite get it, yet – and need to adopt new guidelines about contacting employees after work.