Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Vivamus convallis sem tellus, vitae egestas felis vestibule ut.

Error message details.

Reuse Permissions

Request permission to republish or redistribute SHRM content and materials.

Workers Are Quitting Because of Work/Life Imbalance, Lack of Career Development

Increasing personalization makes retention more challenging

unhappy woman

About 27 percent of U.S. workers quit their jobs in 2023, costing employers nearly a trillion dollars to replace them, according to a common turnover calculation. And turnover is expected to climb as labor market experts are predicting a Great Resignation 2.0 in the near future.  

“The retention and engagement of employees has never been more important,” said Danny Nelms, the CEO of Work Institute, a research and consulting firm in Franklin, Tenn. “In historical terms we remain in an employee retention crisis,” he said, citing that the national quit rate has increased 37 percent since 2014.

Work Institute’s analysis of over 21,000 exit interviews across 175 companies from a range of industries in 2023 reveals workers’ preferences and expectations about work.

The top three reasons for leaving a job are lack of career opportunities or development, health and family issues, and a work/life imbalance.

“When you think about it from an employee’s perspective, if you’re in a role where you don’t feel like you’re growing, you feel like you can’t take a break when you need it, and work is taking up an outsized amount of your personal time, it makes sense that that would be the time to look for another job,” said Adam Weber, the chief evangelist at 15Five, a performance management platform based in San Francisco.

Meghan Stettler, director of the O.C. Tanner Institute in Salt Lake City, added that employees leave an organization because a critical need is not being met and a level of trust has been broken. “Are managers really listening to their people?” she asked. “Are they understanding their circumstances, and supporting and valuing people in actionable ways that will help them strive to do their best work?”

Nelms said what makes the current workforce so challenging to retain is the emergence of an expectation of personalization. Flexibility, benefits, and career pathways mean different things to different people, and organizationwide policies may not be the solution to turnover anymore.  

“Gone are the days when employers can seek to retain and engage their workforce with enterprise actions,” he said. “Today’s employee requires much more. They require to be treated as an individual, and they feel empowered to demand certain preferences and expectations based on their priorities.”

Stettler is encouraged by this personalized focus. “Creating a people-centric culture requires that we know, trust, and value our people as individual human beings and not just units of labor working under a blanket approach,” she said.

Weber noted that there is still a place for organizationwide strategies. “Companies need to equip managers with the skills and resources to manage and inspire each employee uniquely, but also align the individual’s goals to the company’s priorities,” he said. “That can be done by keeping a pulse on the employee’s personalized needs and preferences through continuous feedback and frequent engagement surveys to proactively get ahead of retention issues.”

Ways to Reduce Employee Turnover 

Career development issues have been the most cited reason for leaving an employer every year since Work Institute began tracking turnover metrics in 2010.

“It’s incumbent upon employers to provide a strong sense of career future, and for them to understand that their employees are looking for ways to develop and grow,” said Kim Nowell, an HR consultant and founder of KWaN Partners in Nashville. “Career pathways may be horizontal or even developmental rather than just upward,” she said, adding that “lattice” opportunities such as cross-training, mentoring, and lateral moves are just as important as “ladder” opportunities like promotions.

Stettler said workers will in many cases choose to build skills that relate to their career, but that there is also a strong appeal to cultivate “hobby skills” that boost well-being and morale.  

“When employers reimburse for photography or gardening classes, we see retention increases,” she said. “By providing a variety of options to satisfy a range of employee interests both inside and outside of work, that helps employees feel cared for and invested in as people and boosts feelings of inclusion.”

Career pathing is another critical retention tactic, experts agreed. “Too often companies create management-based growth paths that lead to a manager role, but that’s not for everyone,” Weber said. “Career paths that celebrate and recognize individual contributors is a great way to increase retention and drive engagement.”

Employees are more likely to picture long-term engagement with an organization that has a clear understanding of the road ahead, Nowell said. “Again, not solely focusing on upward movement but creating an outline for a person to follow that clearly depicts specific career goals, details core experiences, maps the skills enhancements needed, and yes, highlights key promotional opportunities.”

When it comes to work/life balance, employees are largely seeking more flexibility, autonomy, and respect for boundaries, Nelms said.

“Flexibility in the workplace, including options such as remote work and flexible hours, reduces stress by allowing employees to integrate personal and professional responsibilities, boosts morale, and enhances job satisfaction,” he said. “Employers in manufacturing, hospitality, certain service providers, and certainly health care have flexibility limitations, however, being more creative in finding ways to offer some level of flexibility is likely to be appreciated by employees.”

Nelms added that granting autonomy over one’s work schedule and tasks fosters a sense of ownership and control, while also promoting creativity and innovation, as people feel trusted and empowered to make decisions independently.

“HR has a responsibility to take the lead on policies that have flexibility associated with them,” Weber said. “HR should be driving the conversation about work/life balance within the organization; putting systems in place that offer flexible options; ensuring that the ways to take time off are clear, simple, and guilt-free; and creating a culture that acknowledges one’s life outside work.”

Stettler said what is ultimately needed to stem the tide of attrition is practicing actionable empathy.

“Managers have to go beyond connecting emotionally with people to taking real action—within boundaries—so employees can get what they need in career development or work/life balance,” she said. “That requires organizations to empower managers with the resources and training to care for their employees with a sense of confidence. Managers—who are often caught in the middle between employee needs and business demands—must be authorized and equipped to help employees advance their career, ease health and family issues, and create a fulfilling balance between life and work.”


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.