Saturday, 22 September 2012

Employee Retention: 5 Reasons Why I Would Leave Your Company

I am going to take a different approach with this topic.

Rather than concentrate on theoretical frameworks aggressively promoted by well-meaning but often out-of-touch academia, I am going to address this issue from a 'practical' point of view -  based on observations, ongoing trends and quite frankly, with common sense.

I was once employed and I am now 'self-employed'. (If you consider managing my blog and having the freedom to produce articles of interest as 'work' but without the financial rewards, then I suppose I could be thus labelled). I also have friends, acquaintances and networks of people who are currently employed. What may come as a surprise to some is this - beneath the surface a lot of people are unhappy about many elements of their jobs.

Now for those job-hunting, the overwhelming desire to get hired, (for a variety of reasons, top among which would be financial independence), may supersede the undesirable alternative: not being employed and thereby not enjoying the relative 'security' of a salary. To such people, this post might seem irrelevant. However, it is worth considering certain facts so as to be better equipped to make decisions for the time you do get hired and when, (at some point in your career), you do become disillusioned with the organisation for which you work, dissatisfied with your job, or both.

I realise that there are a variety of factors that would determine if an employee will stay in an organisation or if he will exit. Reasons could range from the effect of economics, (high inflation and an economic downturn could mean a creeping rise in unemployment), to a personal propensity towards commitment. Commitment is a crucial factor of employee retention. Simply put, if I am not committed to your organisation for whatever reasons - exacerbated if I perceive you, as my employer or immediate supervisor, to be lacking in organisational support - then I am likely to leave your organisation.

It is also fair to point out however, that some employees may actually continue to stay in the organisation even in the face of consistent stress, threats/intimidation and cuts to their salaries, simply because there are no immediate alternatives. People who fall into this category, especially in Nigeria, tend to be those with family obligations or those with huge financial pressures. Here again, economics becomes the deciding factor.  

In order thus to address the issue of employee retention, we actually need to consider the reasons why employees leave in the first instance. Excluding the option of what I would term ‘natural progression’ – for instance, leaving an often lucrative job to follow one’s passion,  or to champion a worthy cause or to become an entrepreneur/innovator - below are the five most common reasons:

1) Endemic inter-personal grievances

Netscape reports about this  Gallup poll  which was taken of more than 1 million employed U.S. workers. It was concluded that the foremost reason why people quit their jobs, (surprise, surprise), was because of a bad boss or immediate supervisor.

People also tended to leave managers rather than the companies. More importantly, (and managers should take heed), poorly-managed work groupswere on average, 50% less productive and 44% less profitable than well-managed groups.

In my opinion, an explanation for this development  may  not be  because the immediate supervisors or bosses lacked crucial inter-personal skills leading to disrespect, verbal abuse, harassment and/or the indiscriminate use of power, but really because of two reasons:

A) Ineffective avenues for checking unacceptable attitudes and behaviours.

B) Absence of specific penalties and consequences for perpetrators.

It also does not help if supervisors use 'scare tactics', thinking that via threats and intimidation, they could get results.

The Employee speaks:

Supposing that  I work  in   a company, whereby despite attestations to the contrary, there is no strong work ethic about dealing with inter-personal conflicts, (especially those involving discrimination and harassment); or  there only exists a system whereby grievances are recorded but not thoroughly investigated; my worth in  that company is diminished. I have a right to be treated with professional courtesy and if I do not receive the respect due to me, I would leave your organisation. 

If my grievances are serious, cutting deep and leading to emotional or psychological  problems, even after my exit, I may resort to legal means in order to get your organisation to admit guilt, negligence or both. Recalling that during my stint in your organisation, that there were whispers of this endemic problem, I may have a strong case. Given also the fact that your organisation, (fortunately or unfortunately), operates in the United States, where there is a 'thriving' litigation culture, I may investigate further and locate previous victims. Armed with our lawyers, we may launch a class action suit against your organisation. Should the lawsuit become publicised, leading to unrelenting media frenzy and an almost instantaneous drop in the value of  your company's stock, (costing you million of dollars), you can be assured that your corporate reputation will not escape unscathed, whatever the outcome of the legal drama.

2) Economics, economics, economics!

The Employee speaks:


The shifting employment patterns, effects of globalisation, capitalism or whatever, would mean that I am my first priority. Gone are the days of lifetime employment. Employees and organisations are becoming more self-seeking in their approaches to the employment relationship. So, as is echoed by many researchers, Coyle-Shapiro (2000), being one of them: I will be retained to the extent that I add value to your organisation.

On the flip side, if another company offers me more favourable terms - a more enticing compensation package; additional benefits and holidays; a healthy work-life balance and perceived organisational support - then I am leaving your organisation.

It is not personal and no, I would not be emotionally blackmailed by you telling me that I "owe" you. I have paid my debt by working for you for X years to the best of my ability, and more often than not, with high stress levels. Besides, giving you the mandatory notice allows you to quickly replace me, which is what you would do anyway.

3) Slow career progression

This is often the concern of the experienced, ambitious employee and is applicable to such workers around the globe. Whilst recent graduates might not discriminate against the choice of their first job and might not be concerned about performing the same duties for three consecutive years, (because they believe that amassing 'experience' would be more important to their careers in the future), seasoned professionals are motivated by rapid career progression.

The Employee speaks:

So if I, as an ambitious and competent geologist, with over twenty years of experience in the oil industry, am hired to a senior position and not given an opportunity to head the exploration unit - even after my expressed interest and after four years of exemplary service and of raving performance reviews -  then I am leaving your organisation. I have already gained the experience and knowledge in the industry and would be readily sought after by other companies.

Furthermore, I have a string of accomplishments to my name, so why should I be stuck in your organisation, conceptualising and making useful inferences from numerous geo-physical data, (which by the way I could do, even in a sleep-deprived state), with no foreseeable advancement in my career?

Besides you as my employer, have reneged on the perceived obligation of rapid career advancement which was formed during the hiring/socialisation stage*. If I had known that you had no intentions of providing me with opportunities for career growth by X period, I would not have accepted your offer in the first place.

4) Weak or non-existent corporate structure

This ranges from a lack of operational structure to arbitrary decision-making processes and may be manifested in certain local companies whereby 'absolute power' is reserved for the CEO. This may not be immediately evident to the employee when he begins work but over time, the lack of an effective structure increases stress levels. Moreover, arbitrary decisions threaten the employee's peace of mind. A notable absence of appropriate training and development programmes also reduces performance levels.

The Employee speaks:


Now in such a situation whereby you, as my employer, do not supply the necessary tools, training and support for me to be efficient in my role, I would leave your organisation for your competitors which provide me with the desirables: mentoring, training and development, company resources to perform my duties etc.

It is unfair that you would expect me to use personal resources to train myself, to buy official stationery, to use my car for company-related duties, (with little or inconsistent reimbursements), or to perform other official duties, when the goal is to increase profitability levels for your company.

I also do not appreciate arbitrary decisions which cannot be appealed, such as stripping me of my benefits or sudden cuts to my salary, because my unit did not meet a certain target, when all suggestions made to you, the Management, for improvement of my unit's Key Performance Indicators have never been addressed nor implemented. I cannot be expected to work miracles in such an environment and I refuse to use unethical or even criminal means to get the results you demand.

Due to the weak corporate structure, I have become unhappy in my job even from the first day. Consequently, I may not even bother to hand over my notice because I feel you are not worth that consideration. I may simply quit.


5) Lack of overall perceived organisational support

This point is actually inherent in almost all the reasons employees list for exiting organisations. It is also a well-documented theme which researchers use in their various studies. Perceived organisational support, (POS), refers to the way the organisation cares (or not) about the well-being of its employees. In my opinion, POS could mean the little things: creating and enforcing a 'listening' culture for employee concerns;  paying the employee for overtime hours during specific projects; or setting up in-house day care centres; (thereby allowing new mothers access to their infants throughout the work day, which helps to reduce  anxiety or guilt). It could also include compassionate gestures such as supporting the employee during times of personal loss/tragedies by arranging the funeral rites of family members, or offering programmes to help employees overcome destructive addictions etc.

The lack of POS however, does not endear the organisation to the employee.

The Employee speaks:

I may get the distinct feeling, (from your actions and cues at the workplace), that you, as my employer, are not truly concerned about my well-being and that our relationship is simply 'transactional'; (based on a basic principle of financial awards being exchanged for execution of duties); and not 'relational', (which also includes an inter-personal element). I may thus consider myself  'expendable'  in your company.

Because of the notion of  'every man for himself', I would not trust that in times of a major organisational change, that I would be automatically retained, despite my contributions  to your company.

Since  I am also not convinced that you would consider my unique circumstances, and given that I have no emotional attachment to you, I may readily leave your organisation as a precautionary action against outright retrenchment and sacks, or simply because I have received a better offer elsewhere.


Like I stated earlier, it is important to know the main reasons why employees leave organisations. Insights therein should help in formulating employee retention systems. Simply put - knowing what is 'broken' is crucial to building a stronger plan.  So in this sense, the title of this post is not self-contradictory.

The five reasons given are in no way exhaustive as it is sometimes difficult to ascertain why one employee would leave a company and another, in similar circumstances, would stay. However, considering the reasons from an employee's viewpoint could be interesting to employers who are sometimes 'out of touch' with reality.

Furthermore, the points raised in this post provide implications for more effective communications between the organisation and employee. This is because poor communication actually impedes dialogue which is necessary in times of conflict. Unresolved conflict easily leads to negative outcomes for the company such as high turnover and embittered workers, whose unfavourable assessment of the organisation might halt its attraction of future high-calibre professionals.

In this age whereby corporate reputations could be negatively impacted in a few hours by social media platforms, or whereby YouTube contents could wreck havoc on perceptions or GoPro’s dynamic footage could cause privacy concerns, it is in the organisation's best interest to ensure that the number of 'aggrieved' employees exiting is kept to the barest minimum. Employee retention programmes should thus be accorded greater importance in the organisation's business strategy for better organisational effectiveness.


*Implications of the 'psychological contract' as coined in organisational behavioural science. It is an unwritten and perceptual agreement which emerges when an employee believes that his contributions oblige the organisation to reciprocate in some similar fashion.   

N.B- Images courtesy of Animations courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and