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Leigh Branham on why good employees leave

25 Jul

My colleague and friend Leigh Branham has reported his latest findings on why good employees leave. The full report can be found today at our web site

The summary clearly shows that the vast majority of employee turnover is largely within the control of company leadership and direct line supervisor. Leigh summarizes the study:

  • Most Turnover is Avoidable. The vast majority of respondents–94%– report leaving for push reasons than for pull reasons–only 6%. These percentages are almost exactly the same as those reported in my analysis of post-exit data from the Saratoga Institute in The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave (AMACOM, 2005). These more recent findings add still more evidence that most turnover is at least potentially preventable if there is a commitment to re-engage and keep the individual. Of course, we may not care to avoid some turnover, though it may be avoidable.
  • Trust in Senior Leaders: The #1 Reason…But Why? The most-cited reason for leaving was lack of trust in senior leaders. This may surprise some and certainly runs counter to conventional wisdom that employees leave managers–usually interpreted as one’s immediate boss. However, this finding confirms the conclusion Mark Hirschfeld and I presented in our analysis of 2.1 million engagement surveys from 10,000 employers, as described in Re-Engage (McGraw-Hill, 2010)–that caring, competent, and trustworthy senior leadership is the number one driver of employee engagement. We believe this may be related to the events of the past 10 years–the fall from grace of many CEO found guilty of malfeasance, reports of disproportionate CEO compensation, and the greed of Wall Street senior executives before and after the financial collapse of 2008. CEOs, who were considered innocent until proven guilty, are now considered by many guilty until proven innocent. This generalized distrust may be having a dual and counterintuitive effect–increasing employee cynicism while at the same time raising expectations of CEO behavior at our own employers.
  • Pay is A Significant Push Factor For Some. Insufficient pay was the second most-cited reason for leaving and continues to be a “dissatisfier” that causes some employees to move on. Actually, as you may have noticed, three of the 39 reasons are pay-related. When we add reasons #17 (Pay not based on performance) and #19 (Unfair pay practices), the percentage that selected pay-related reasons becomes 10.4%, still second to senior leadership, but a significant root cause for many. Note that reasons #17 and #19 have more to do with dissatisfaction with the way pay is determined, not the amount of pay per se–an important distinction.  Keep in mind also that respondents were asked to cite up to five reasons for leaving, so that pay may not be the number one reason, but one among a handful of others.
  • Leaders and Managers Can Prevent the Push Factors. Reason #3–Unhealthy/undesirable culture–is mostly influenced by the values, mindsets, and standards of senior leaders, but also by managers who must be counted on to uphold the cultural values and people practices. Most of the remaining push factors in the list can be influenced and prevented by the actions of both senior leaders, managers, and supervisors. “Lack of work/life balance”, for example, is influenced by staffing/budget decisions and work/life policies made at the most senior levels, but also by the daily decisions of direct managers about granting time off to care for sick children and family emergencies, etc.

For additional information, please check out Leigh’s web site: Keeping The People.

“I’m Not Good at Cutting”: A Lesson about Talents

2 Aug

The pre-school teacher had a goal that day– to have each student draw a character on construction paper, cut it out, and finish it so it could go home that afternoon with each child. On face value that seems like an innocent enough task that should be easily accomplished by each kid, right?

For our daughter Jill, it wasn’t quite so easy.

Jill is twenty-one now, will soon start her senior year at the University of Nebraska, and is considering options for graduate school. She is a delightful person with a great passion for life and promising career. But on this fateful day some seventeen years ago Jill ran into a teacher who was more interested in seeing her agenda accomplished than helping our daughter discover and develop her talents.

Jill is a meticulous person. She likes to have things “just so”, and when working on a task she deems important will take the necessary time to perform it to her exacting standards. She’s that way now, and was that way seventeen years ago. So when it came time for her to color and cut out the character at pre-school she was doing the job with the kind of attention that is part of her DNA, her basic character.

Some teachers might note her approach and even encourage the development of that behavior. But on this day, in the eyes of this so-called teacher, Jill was lagging behind the rest of the kids. She was not keeping up with the class and was in danger of not having her character cut out by the end of the day to take home. So as the school day neared its end and Jill wasn’t done what did the teacher do? She finished cutting the character out herself. Because Jill was careful, but slow, the task was taken away from her.

She came home that day in tears. Asked why she was crying, she said: “Mom, I’m not a good cutter.”

That’s what the teacher told her. I’m not kidding.

Why am I telling you a story from seventeen years ago about cutting figures out of construction paper? Because every day there are employees who are suffering the same fate, the fate of a workplace that doesn’t recognize their talents and tries to arrange the workplace to best nurture them.  Employees who should be using and developing their talents are doing work in conditions that don’t suit them, and because they are “slow cutters”—doing work that is not a good fit for them– their productivity and the productivity of their employer suffers.

Think about Jill for a moment. She was “slow” when it came to cutting, but look at the other side of equation. Do you know of work where attention to detail is important, where being meticulous is a valued asset? I can think of many companies who pay big bucks for people who have that kind of personality, who love doing detail-oriented work, who don’t seem to tire of it and look forward to the next time they get to use that talent. I can think of a gaggle of such jobs.

In fact, Jill holds one of those jobs right now. She works for a group home for adults with developmental disabilities. Most of the residents have needs that require numerous medicines be distributed accurately and on time. The supervisor of the home actually changed the schedule, including volunteering for part of a shift himself, so that Jill could perform the weekly medicine review as drugs were shipped to the home from the pharmacy. You see, Jill has a talent that is of significant value to her employer and the clients she serves. She may “cut slow”, but her boss doesn’t care about that. He cares about making sure that the correct medicines are administered at the right time at the right dosage to the vulnerable clients the agency has been entrusted to serve. Kudos to her boss for recognizing and utilizing that talent.

The companies we profile in Re-Engage do a far better job of helping their employees find roles that fit their strengths and where they see opportunities to grow and develop. It is one of the six universal drivers our research says contributes to highly engaged workplaces. One employee at a winning Best-Places-to-Work said:

“This is a great place to work, a place where an individual can utilize their talents and move freely amongst department to pursue their work interests and passions.”

Let’s help each and every employee with whom we work utilize their talents. Let’s get the meticulous folks doing jobs that fit them, the more creative folks doing creative stuff, and if you need a cutting job done quickly I’m sure there are people who are exceptional at that too.

Want to re-engage your staff? Stop ignoring their talents and start putting them to work.

Good and Bad Ways to Retain Employees

3 Sep

Cute video scenes on good and bad ways to retain employees. The “bad” are supposed to be spoofs, but sadly they are more real than we would like to admit.

Your High Potentials May Be On Their Way Out The Door

30 Aug


From Talent Management, a study that reports high potential employees may still change jobs in spite of the recession:

High-potential employees aren’t afraid to strike out for greater opportunities despite the continuing recession, according to a study of how the best and brightest of high-potential talent have weathered the global recession over the past 18 months. The report released by Catalyst, “Opportunity or Setback? High Potential Women and Men During Economic Crisis,” offers an overview of the current workplace and recommends that even during international economic instability, employee retention must remain a foremost concern for businesses.

The article continues:

Overall, this study demonstrated that high potential women and men are successfully working through the recession with continued choices in employment and prospects for growth. Talent managers who view the economy as an opportunity to scale down on retention efforts should seriously reconsider in light of these surprising findings.

Our research confirms this point. We see many talented employees who are “sullen and near mutinous”, who are not being led in a way that gives them confidence in their current employer. Many are willing to take the calculated risk to find a place where they can grow and be recognized for contributing to a business that won’t ignore them.

A fews years from now we will fondly remember some businesses who hit the scrap heap and say “too bad they couldn’t hang on to their best and brightest– it might have made a difference.

Don’t Forget About WHY Good Employees Leave

5 Aug

I’m pleased so see that my co-author, Leigh Branham, is still getting press about his book on employee retention. A recent citation was from shares the results of his extensive research into this area, which is still timely today:

Employees leave organizations for many reasons; oftentimes these reasons are unknown to their employers. Employers need to listen to employees’ needs and implement retention strategies to make employees feel valued and engaged in order to keep them. These retention methods can have a significant and positive impact on an organization’s turnover rate. Here we’ll take a look at some of these strategies.

According to strategic planning consultant Leigh Branham, SPHR, 88% of employees leave their jobs for reasons other than pay: However, 70% of managers think employees leave mainly for pay-related reasons. Branham says there are seven main reasons why employees leave a company:

  1. Employees feel the job or workplace is not what they expected.
  2. There is a mismatch between the job and person.
  3. There is too little coaching and feedback.
  4. There are too few growth and advancement opportunities.
  5. Employees feel devalued and unrecognized.
  6. Employees feel stress from overwork and have a work/life imbalance.
  7. There is a loss of trust and confidence in senior leaders.

The book, The Seven Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, is terrific. Worth looking at now– even in the midst of an economic crisis– because keeping our best is more important right now.

Onboarding– Even More Important Than Ever

15 Feb


According to a study published at CNN/Money.Com, getting employees off to a great start is even more important than ever:

Engaging employees early in their career with a new company is essential to employee satisfaction, retention, and performance, says data from the latest Human Capital Management benchmark report from Aberdeen Group, a Harte-Hanks Company (NYSE: HHS). Effective onboarding of new employees is so crucial that 50% of more than 600 human resources, talent management, and line of business executives surveyed and interviewed by Aberdeen in December 2008 and January 2009 for this study indicate that the current state of the economy will increase the importance their organization places on onboarding in 2009.

Aberdeen’s research found that the percentage of organizations with a formal onboarding process has grown from 62% to 68% over the past year. In addition, two-thirds of Best-in-Class organizations are now beginning the onboarding process before the new employee’s start date, nearly one-half of which are starting the process as soon as the employment offer is extended. “Best-in-Class organizations are utilizing a formal onboarding process to drive positive impact in the pre-hire and through the new employee’s first year with the company,” said Kevin Martin, vice president and principal analyst, Human Capital Management at Aberdeen. “In fact, at the majority of Best-in-Class organizations, onboarding is seamlessly integrated with both recruitment and performance management.”

I continue to be amazed at how many employers, who desparately want an engaged workforce, do such a rotten job of assimilating new employees. Let’s committ to starting the engagement process the day a person applies for a job at our company, and continue  that effort relentlessly– our survival may depend on it.

(Image courtesy

Business Advice From Those Who Have Survived Tough Times

3 Feb
In yesterday’s New York Times author Paul B. Brown presents advice from business owners who have survived past economic downturns. Here’s the counsel from one leader:

1. Continue marketing. “Being consistently visible demonstrates to both existing and potential customers that you are stable and in for the long haul.”

2. “Take advantage of the trickle-down effect in hiring great talent. Unfortunately, there are many people out of work right now. But the larger talent pool means opportunities for small businesses that do have the means to bring on new employees.”

3. Give back to the community. It is “a great way to keep employee morale strong during hard times, stay busy when business is slow, and get your name out by donating time. Aside from all that, it’s the right thing to do.”

In an earlier post about a potential Silver Lining I mentioned that from a talent perspective this could be a time when companies will be able to hire individuals who may not have been on the market a few months ago. I encourage any leader to consider the advice in this column– there will be opportunities out there for those who are willing to see them.