We’re back at it again with another series inspired by an industry expert! This time it’s Leigh Branham.
Leigh Branham is the founder/principal of the consulting firm ‘Keeping the People, Inc.’ and is widely recognized as an authority on employee engagement and retention.
In his book “The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave”, he targets the main reasons for employee disengagement: the whys behind employee turnover and how to counter them.
In the upcoming posts, we will be exploring together the 7 main reasons employees leave, according to Branham’s own research in cooperation with Saratoga Institute’s extensive research of 19 000 employees from 1999-2003 over many different industries.
[Note: For the purposes of this series, I’ll skip over why I think it’s important for managers to address the issue of employee turnover and retention. If you are unconvinced that employee turnover should be taken seriously, I hope this will give you enough reason to start.]
What to expect in each post:
- A brief explanation of the problem raised by Branham
- Actionable tips for employers/managers
- Actionable tips for employees
Here is some useful information to look over before we fully jump into the series:
“Employee turnover is not an event — it is a process of disengagement that can take days, weeks, months or even years until the actual decision to leave occurs.”
Branham describes what he calls ‘the disengagement process’: the steps between which an employee starts to become disengaged and his/her eventual departure (12). In other words, employees don’t just leave without thinking or planning; there is a process that happens that eventually leads to their departure. This process looks something like this:
Figure 2-1. (Branham 12)
Does this process seem accurate to you?
The early warning signs of disengagement (Branham 12-13)
Absenteeism, tardiness, or behavior that indicates withdrawal or increased negativity. It is also useful to know that these early signs of disengagement typically start showing up after a shocking or jarring event takes place that causes the employee to question his or her commitment. In fact, research shows that most voluntary turnovers (63%) are caused by some kind of shocking event.
These can include:
• Being passed over for promotion
• Realizing the job is not as promised
• Learning they may be transferred
• Hiring boss being replaced by new boss they don’t like
• Being assigned to new territory
• Being asked to do something unethical
• Learning the company is doing something unethical
• Sudden wealth or sufficient savings to buy independence
• Earning enough money (grubstake)
• An incident of sexual harassment, racial discrimination
• Learning the company is up for sale, or has been sold
• Realizing they are underpaid compared to others doing the same job
• Realizing they are not in line for promotion for which they thought they were in line
• An unexpected outside job offer
• Being pressured to make an unreasonable family or personal sacrifice
• Being asked to perform a menial duty (e.g., run a personal errand for the boss)
• Petty and unreasonable enforcement of authority
• Being denied a request for family leave
• Being denied a request for transfer
• A close colleague quitting or being fired
• A disagreement with the boss
• A conflict with a co-worker
• An unexpectedly low performance rating
• A surprisingly low pay increase or no pay increase
One really important thing to remember: the company is losing money during the disengagement process.
So many people fail to realize this; an employee very rarely leaves when he/she is highly engaged and at his/her maximum level of productivity. As the previous scale shows, an employee leaving a company is a slow process of disengagement, which results in lost productivity, worsened customer interactions, higher rates of absenteeism, all of which affect company culture, revenue and morale. There are also many other costs associated with turnover.
Why Employees Leave
There are many different reasons why people leave. But, according to Branham, each reason can be related back to 4 fundamental needs (19-20):
- The need for trust. Expecting the company and management to deliver on its promises, to be honest and open in all communication with you, to invest in you, to treat you fairly and to compensate you in a fair and timely manner.
- The need to have hope. Believing you will be able to grow, develop your skills and have the opportunity for advancement or career progress.
- The need to feel a sense of worth. Feeling confident that if you work hard, do your best, demonstrate commitment, and make meaningful contributions, you will be recognized and rewarded accordingly. Feeling worthy also means that you will be shown respect and regarded as a valued asset, not as a cost to the organization.
- The need to feel competent. Expecting you will be matched to a job that aligns with your talents and your desire for a challenge.
When one or more of these needs aren’t being met, employees begin to disengage and think about leaving. These will be explored further in the upcoming posts.
But, who’s to blame?
In Saratoga Institute’s surveys asking employees “Why did you leave?”, 95% of the reasons given were ‘voluntary and preventable by the employer’, and 70% of them are related to factors that are directly preventable by a direct supervisor.
This means that managers bear the greatest responsibility for employee retention and turnover.
And, many managers seem to not understand why their employees are leaving: Studies have shown that 80-90 % of employees leave for reasons unrelated to money, but rather to reasons related to the job, the manager, the culture or the work environment. Notice that every single one of these issues is in the company’s control.
Figure 1-1. (Branham 3)
However, the burden of employee turnover is not all on the shoulders of managers. It’s shared with employees, too.
“By overemphasizing the manager’s role in engaging employees, organizations risk creating an environment where employees may become passive, expecting all motivation and incentive to come from external sources. It is easy enough for many employees to fall into a victim mentality and assume an attitude of entitlement, especially when organizations habitually fail to seek active employee input and put off confronting poor performers.” (Branham 213)
Branham’s message to employees: “no manager has a much power to engage you as you do to engage yourself”.
I don’t know about you, but this is really interesting stuff.
Are you as excited as me for the next 7 chapters?
Branham, Leigh. The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave: How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act Before Its Too Late. AMACOM, 2005.
 T.W. Lee, et al., ‘‘An Unfolding Model of Employee Turnover,’’ Academy of Management Journal 39 (1996): 5–36
 Unpublished Saratoga Institute research of employee commitment, satisfaction, and turnover, conducted from 1996 to 2003, and involving 19,500 current and former employees in eighteen different organizations