If 1 in 3 Workers Wants to Quit, HR Had Better Figure Out Why

Survey shows top reasons for jumping ship are a toxic workplace environment, poor work/life balance, low compensation

By Dana Wilkie Oct 21, 2015
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If a new survey is true—that 1 of every 3 U.S. workers hopes to change jobs in the next six months—then companies had best brace for big turnover, and HR departments had best take a hard look at why employees plan to jump ship.

WorkplaceTrends.com, an HR research membership service, found in a study of 2,000 U.S and U.K. employees and HR leaders published Sept. 29, 2015, that nearly one-third of U.S. workers plan to leave their jobs in the next six months.

In collaboration with Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Saba, which offers cloud-based talent management solutions, WorkplaceTrends.com asked employees: “How likely is it that you'll be looking for a new position/opportunity in the next six months?” Thirty-one percent responded that this was “likely” or “very likely.” Additionally, 41 percent said they’d leave their company for better career options, while about one-third said they felt their skills and talents weren’t being recognized.

Toxic workplaces, conflicts with managers, lack of work/life balance and inadequate compensation are among the top reasons that employees are leaving their jobs, according to a separate survey by Montreal-based PsychTests. The psychological-assessment company collected responses from 871 employees from around the world who took a Turnover Probability Test between January 2014 and July 2015.

Compare the findings from these two surveys with a CareerBuilder survey in 2014 that found that 20 percent of workers planned to change jobs that year.

“Workers are constantly looking for better opportunities, while companies are in search for better talent to fill their changing needs,” said Dan Schawbel, founder of WorkplaceTrends.com. “As the economy comes back, employees have more choices and companies have more competition for talent. The Internet makes it easy to access talent, and it's becoming easier to find work and easier for companies to find and connect with candidates.”

The survey demonstrated that “HR leaders want to know what inspires and motivates the workforce, but they don’t seem to be asking” employees how best to do that, said Adrienne Whitten, vice president of product marketing at Saba. “The problem could be a lack of the right tools or experience for gathering [this] data.”

The reasons workers want to leave their current jobs appear to be manifold. According to the PsychTests survey, those reasons include:

Greener pastures: 43 percent of respondents would feel compelled to quit their job if a better opportunity arose—one that allowed them to advance their career and expand their professional skills. In fact, 28 percent said they have already quit a job, or several jobs, for this reason.

A toxic work environment: 42 percent said they would leave their job if they found themselves dealing with office politics, like having to flatter the boss, gossip, favoritism, nepotism or backstabbing. Eighteen percent have already quit a job for this reason. Another 42 percent would feel compelled to quit if they were being bullied by colleagues or management. Eleven percent have quit a job because of psychological harassment.

Lack of work/life balance: 31 percent would quit if they were working too many hours too often and didn’t have enough leisure or family time; 18 percent have quit for this reason. An August 2015 survey of 1,700 North American workers by Softchoice, which provides IT solutions and management services, found that 70 percent of respondents said they would quit their job for one that offers more flexibility, and about 3 in 4 would quit for a job that lets them work remotely more often.

Money issues: 30 percent would quit if they felt they were inadequately compensated; 18 percent said they have quit a job for this reason.

Boredom: 30 percent would quit if their work wasn't challenging or stimulating enough; 17 percent said they have quit a job for this reason.

Limited opportunities for advancement: 30 percent would quit if they weren’t able to advance to a more prestigious position; 19 percent said they have quit a job for this reason.

Family or personal issues: 30 percent would quit for personal reasons like parental leave or family illness; 14 percent said they have left a job for at least one of these reasons.

Practicality: 29 percent would quit for matters of convenience—for example, if their commute was too long or they didn’t like the area where the company was located; 17 percent said they have quit a job for this reason.

Ethical dilemmas: 29 percent would leave if their work or the company’s practices went against their ethics and values; 11 percent have quit for this reason.

Conflicts with managers: Nearly 1 in 4 would leave if they couldn’t get along with a supervisor; 14 percent said they have left a job for this reason. Another 20 percent would quit if their boss micromanaged them; 11 percent said they have quit a job because their boss couldn’t relinquish control.

These findings are bolstered by other research. According to a recent Randstad U.S. Employee Engagement Study, 28 percent of employees would rather have a better boss than a $5,000 raise. And a September 2015 survey by Achievers, an employee recognition company, found that only 45 percent of employees trust their company’s leadership, while half don’t expect to be in their current job one year from now.

“Lack of transparency, unclear expectations and inadequate feedback continue to feed into the relentless cycle that ultimately leads to distrust,” the company wrote in a press release.

“Some of the reasons people cited for quitting, or wanting to quit, are justifiable … like wanting to jump on an opportunity to grow professionally, leaving to deal with personal issues, or to avoid being stuck in traffic for hours every morning and evening,” said Ilona Jerabek, president of PsychTests. “Turnover is a costly problem, but there is little that management can do in [some] situations. However, of the top 10 reasons, there are at least four—toxic work environment, lack of work/life balance, ethical dilemmas and conflict with management—that are preventable.”

To help prevent employees from leaving, Jerabek suggested implementing zero-tolerance policies for bullying or harassment, conducting emotional intelligence training for managers, administering pre-employment assessments to ensure a candidate’s values match those of the company, and encouraging HR to get more involved when disagreements arise between managers and staff. 

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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