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Why Do Employees Quit?

Why exactly do employees quit and what can be done to enhance recruitment efforts that may prevent some of those quitting behaviors? Turnover has been studied for 100 years, which has led to an abundance of research both on why people quit and how people quit. We now have knowledge and information on some of the specific behaviors you might see in your organization’s workforce that may tip you off to potential turnover. 

Start by thinking about all of this in terms of a “shock"; i.e. something unexpected that happens in the organization that takes employees by surprise. For example, maybe a new boss, a merger on the horizon, or a major change to the compensation and benefits program. Whether these shocks are internal or external to your organization (or both), they all can give you some clues about what's coming down the road. 



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Factors That Cause Employees to Quit

So with this idea of a shock in mind, “how” exactly do employees quit? Some have a job offer in hand, some plan to quit, some are thinking about quitting but not yet ready to pull the trigger, while others are “impulsive” quitters. The reasons “why” employees choose to quit (or stay) are more subtle and can be influenced by differing societal behaviors or expectations. For some employees, quitting is the last thing on their mind—they love their job, their work makes them feel good, and they’re attached to their manager and to the organization. Or there are those that are in a constituent feeling where they're connected to their co-workers—"Gosh, I really like the folks I work with.” Some feel an obligation to stay: "I have an agreement with my employer to finish this project so I need to complete this work.” Some are afraid to quit: “Given what’s going on in the market, could I even find another job?” Other employees know they are going to quit and are very calculating in how they do so. They will quit at the end of a contract, after finishing school, after a change in leadership, or when they are not promoted into a higher level. position. And then there are those who may want to quit but who choose to stay because they have concluded it's just too much work to look for a new job and the effort is more than they currently want to invest.

4 Types of Quitters

Merging the hows and the whys, we end up with four kinds of quitters.

  1. Impulsive quitters: they have no plan, no job, but they quit because they are neither attached to or invested in the organization.
  2. Comparison quitters: they might leave the organization because they don't think they can achieve their career goals, they don't understand all that the organization offers, or they think that the grass is greener down the street.
  3. Pre-planned quitters: those that your organization may realistically be able to do nothing about—an impending retirement, a relocating spouse, or grad school is finished and it’s time to move on.
  4. Finally, the conditional quitters: those likely without any job offer in hand, but they may decide to quit if one of the aforementioned shocks occurs—these are the ones running the “if-then” scenario scripts in their minds.


Recommendations to Prevent Quitting

What can do you do from a recruitment perspective to prevent some of that quitting behavior? First, for impulsive quitters who experience insufficient organizational attachment. How did we interview them? Did they have a realistic job preview? Did we assess their fit during the interview process? For these candidates, the realistic job preview is the key strategy.

For the comparison quitters, examples include being very clear up front what kind of career aspirations can realistically be achieved in your organization, or successfully communicating the value of the organization’s total compensation package. Remember that comparison quitters think things are better elsewhere, so how how are you keeping your employees engaged and how are you constantly reselling yourself to them?

While you may not be able to prevent the pre-planned quitters from leaving, it's still all about you as an organization understanding who's in your workforce: when do you anticipate retirements, when are retention bonuses ending, when are employees completing degrees. 

For the conditional quitters, the “if/then” folks, it’s all about the work environment. Since employees tend to leave their manager and not the organization, do we have really effective managers and how are we helping them to be really skilled at what they do? Be sure to be honest about the work environment and provide a realistic job preview to all your candidates when they first express interest in your organization.

Over the past 100 years we’ve learned quit a lot about how and why employees quit. Putting these findings and suggestions to work in your organization may tip you off to preventing potential turnover. 

Check out this episode on our educational series, On the Horizon in Healthcare, on YouTubeFor more information on how to effectively attract talent, schedule a demo


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Dr. Beth A. Brooks

Dr. Beth A. Brooks

Dr. Brooks is an accomplished health care executive who has a unique blend of leadership experiences from three distinct sectors of the health care industry: for-profit companies, academic administration, and nursing operations within health care systems. She is an internationally recognized expert in quality of nursing worklife, having designed a questionnaire that has been used in 45 countries and translated into 10 languages.

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