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Why Good Employees Leave

Written by Julia Perry

January 3, 2023

Why Good Employees Leave

Why are good employees leaving their jobs? This question is plaguing employers everywhere.

Top-performing employees, critical to company success, are leaving their jobs at rapid rates for a multitude of reasons. Whether it be company culture, pay, or even just a change of pace, employees are looking for greener grass. Despite being high performers where they are, many have become convinced they will find greater success elsewhere.

This leads to higher employee turnover, which promotes dissatisfaction among other employees and eventually leads to even greater turnover. Read below for some top reasons why good employees are leaving their jobs.

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1. Lack of connections with co-workers hurts employee experience

In the pre-COVID-19 era, connections forged, and camaraderie experienced by those in the office made contributed so much to job satisfaction. Whether it was day-to-day water-cooler conversations, bonding over favorite lunch spots, or just chatting about the day, the office was a place of work AND relatable interactions.

Today, because the office is no longer required for many, a much greater number of employees are opting out of going in. When that happens, the connections, conversations, and non-work moments of work disappear and are often replaced by solitude at home or an increase in domestic duties and distractions (more on that later). Many employees, despite favoring work from home, say they feel disconnected from their teams and co-workers, and with less connection, they have a far easier time separating themselves from their work when the time comes to leave.

A lack of trust, communication, and camaraderie contributes to good employees leaving and an increase in frequent job-hopping because without the connections to tether a person to a company, it’s easier to take any offer that seems even slightly better.

2. The lure of upward mobility is strong for stagnant employees

What happens when good employees feel like there isn’t a new role to be working toward or the opportunity to grow and make more money at their current jobs? They leave their jobs.

One of the top reasons for leaving a job is a lack of upward mobility, or the lack of potential growth opportunities employees see at their company. When employees do not see the chance to move, make more money, or grow their skill set, they can become frustrated and disappointed, leading to a search for a new job.

Employers need to understand this and even embrace it.

Every manager should be actively looking for and developing a growth opportunity for their direct reports. And if not a specific role, there should be an open, honest, and thoughtful dialogue about what is next.

This is where we see skills and competencies come into play as well. Continuously assessing, doing a full skills audit and inventory of the workforce to develop a culture of “next person up” benefits both the employer and the employees. It’s not just about successful succession plans, it’s about knowing and achieving the next step.

Reskilling or upskilling are the best ways to engage employees who might see their pathways to greater success blocked where they currently work. Fewer good employees would leave if they had a pathway to their next job at their current job.

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3. Domestic responsibilities disproportionately affecting parents, especially women

Women are leaving the workforce at an increasingly growing rate. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many women have left the workforce due to domestic responsibilities, which hinders their professional growth and creates pipeline problems for companies looking to promote women to higher positions.

In many families, women were looked to as the primary caregiver responsible for taking care of children and managing other family and household tasks, which has led to an unfortunate mass exodus of women from the workforce. This has affected women of color as well in a disproportionate way.

Throughout the pandemic, when school-aged children were taking virtual classes, parents and guardians often found themselves without the proper bandwidth (Wi-Fi and otherwise) to focus during long stretches of time. And that’s only one of the issues these families faced. Many didn’t have enough space to have every person doing their work in a separate room, others didn’t have enough laptops or desktop computers for every person to log on virtually, and some families didn’t have the proper infrastructure to take on school and work virtually. Again, these issues disproportionately affected people of color.

Depending on your pay level or personal situation, working from home wasn’t always equitable for employees who worked at the same company or even similar jobs.

Not to mention, the gender pay gap is a real problem for women, especially women of color. Pay equity can make a big difference in keeping highly skilled women in the workforce and with your company longer.

4. Many good employees leave because they feel undervalued

No one enjoys feeling forgotten, especially in the workforce. When employees are undervalued and not appreciated or acknowledged for the work they are doing, they often feel a higher level of dissatisfaction with their jobs and a more profound need to go somewhere they are appreciated.

Employee value also ties into upward mobility because without feeling valued it’s hard to feel agile when it comes to moving up and growing within a company. When even high-performing employees don’t feel valued and or appreciated in their roles, they still often seek out different positions at different companies to feel included and a sense of belonging.

There are, however, some simple ways to help your team feel valued.

5. Work-life balance is out off and being “always on” is draining energy from employees

Whether due to working at home, constant communication via instant messaging, email, or other communications channels, for many people, work time has bled into home time.

Many employers have intentionally or not set an expectation that their employees to be “on” all the time. For many, work-life balance has become about setting work-life boundaries. When emails are constantly coming in, and your day starts earlier and goes later, your productivity for work may rise, but so do expectations that you’ll repeat the “good behavior” without much of any reward.

This culture of never-ending work promotes burnout and what has been called “quiet quitting.”

Some employees can’t keep up with the increased workload fed by their work-from-home productivity since COVID-19, and their never-ending circles of communication. Many tried to correct or overcorrect to restore balance. Some look for ways to be more efficient, but many simply spend less time on work or dedicate only the minimum required work time, disillusioned that they will ever be able to catch up by working more.

With employees now seeking to return to boundaries that existed in a pre-pandemic world, some employers are left baffled, not understanding the human price paid for the increase in productivity they’ve come to expect.

“Quiet quitting,” in many instances, is more like keeping a professional distance while being personally engaged. And it should go both ways. Appropriate boundaries can help both employers and employees get the best from each other.

And those boundaries can actually help keep good employees engaged.

6. Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging failures contribute to why good employees leave

A McKinsey study has shown that diverse companies perform better than less-diverse companies, but why are many companies failing to reach their diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI&B) goals? Because they are focusing on the D, not the E, I and B. A company that is diverse, but not equitable, inclusive or foster belonging becomes a company with a statistic, not a company with a successful program. What’s more, some employees can become disillusioned when their employers go through the motions to look more diverse, but lack a successful philosophy and practices where the rising tide can lift all boats, as they say.

Some team members (in underrepresented groups or not) may see their companies DEI&B initiatives as performative and hollow.

There has been an increased awareness of social justice, pay equity, and DEI&B since 2020. Whether from events like the death of George Floyd, mass shootings, the economy, or Supreme Court rulings on issues affecting women, LGBTQ+ citizens, and voters, employees are asking more and more that their companies stand up and help with the causes they care about.

Although many companies have spent more time on thoughtful internal communications, collaborated with employees to create employee resource groups (ERGs) and hold events to recognize their diverse workforces, some have failed, leaving only empty words and gestures.

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Conclusion – Why Do Good Employees Leave?

Good employees aren’t leaving jobs on a whim. They’re leaving because they’re not fulfilled by the status quo and moving on is better than no movement in the areas they’re passionate about.

But it’s not always a case of the grass being greener, just for employees. Many employers seek external candidates when they conclude their current staffing doesn’t fit their changing needs. And they don’t always take the time to properly assess the skills and competencies of their own talent pools.

So, they too, might disengage or divest. Job satisfaction can easily turn from a two-way street to what feels like a dead-end for both employer and employees.

But is the grass greener for either employers or employees in the short and long run?

Probably not.

For many employers, turnover is costly in terms of time, money, continuity, and institutional knowledge. Career pathing, upskilling, internal recruiting, DEI&B practices, pay equity and pay transparency, better work-life boundaries, and modernizing employee engagement can help you retain employees in the changing landscape of the post-COVID-19 pandemic world.

For employees, working with your team leaders and management to address the most meaningful reasons you might leave could go a long way to creating a better environment for your company.

Because leaving a job or hiring a new person is always a leap of faith.

Sure, not all greener pastures are a mirage, but not all movement is growth.

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about the author
Julia Perry is Bostonian at heart, currently located in New York City. Born and raised in Massachusetts, she attended Emerson College where she received her bachelor’s degree in the business of creative enterprises. Studying at Emerson, she developed a passion for the creative industries, particularly the arts industry, through the lens of business. She currently works full time at the nonprofit organization BRIC Arts and Media in Brooklyn where she serves as the executive manager for the office of the president. When she’s not at work, Julia loves seeing live theater, attending concerts, cooking, and going to SoulCycle.

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