This is PART 1 in a series exploring employee retention and turnover, based on Leigh Branham’s book “The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave”.

Reason #1: The Job or Workplace Was Not as Expected

All employees have expectations relating to their job: what the job will be like, how much they will be compensated, what benefits they will receive, how many vacation days they will get, how much time it will take to receive a promotion, etc. The boss or manager has his/her own expectations too, about all the same things.

Problems occur when there is a mismatch between the employee’s and the employer’s expectations.

According to leadership expert John Paul Kotter, it’s useful to look at this issue in terms of a ‘psychological contract’. Kotter defines a ‘psychological contract’ as “an implicit contract between an individual and the organization which specifies what each expects to give and receive from each other in a relationship” (34).

Matches and mismatches can occur based on the four sets of expectations in this “hidden” contract.

Figure 4-1 (34)

“When an employee realizes that the employer cannot meet a key expectation in the contract, there is often a feeling of having been betrayed, as if a real contract has been broken in bad faith. This can become the “shock” or turning point that begins the downward cycle toward disengagement and departure.” (36)

See the previous post if you don’t know what I’m referring to.

The key to matching expectations? Open and frequent communication.

It’s simple; the more you share expectations with each other (employee and employer alike), the higher the probability of a satisfactory match. And the earlier, the better.

Actionable tips for employers/managers (39-44)

What can you do to avoid mismatching expectations?

  1. Conduct realistic job previews with every job candidate.

A ‘realistic’ job preview should include an open discussion about job activities, performance expectations, immediate work team, working conditions, rules and policies, work culture, manager’s style, and the organization’s financial stability. It should also include a realistic presentation of the positive and negative aspects of a job.

This is somewhat controversial as some managers would rather not expose the negative elements of a job because it might dissuade some applicants from joining the company, but it’s altogether better in the long run because the applicant will find out about the negative elements sooner or later anyway.

This way, if the job is a bad fit, you are saving the applicant potential time (and money) while at the same time demonstrating a strong culture of openness and trust.

  1. Hire from a pool of temp, adjunct staff, interns, and part-time workers.

Hiring from a pool of candidates who have prior experience on the job is always a good idea. With experience, the candidate will have a much better idea of what the job entails and what to expect in the future.

  1. Hire candidates referred by current employees.

Research shows that people who are hired through employee referrals are significantly less likely to quit the job than those hired through more formal recruiting methods. Why? Because current employees tend to realistically describe the job and workplace to those they are referring.

By doing this, the referred candidate and the manager have a higher chance of having matching expectations.

  1. Create a realistic job description with a short list of the most critical competencies.

Too many job requirements and competencies on a job description can spell trouble for you; doing this narrows down your pool of potential candidates while at the same time making it harder for those employees to meet performance expectations down the road. Reduce the list and focus on what’s most important.

  1. Allow team members to interview candidates.

Why not allow current employees, especially those who would be working with the new hire, to be involved in the interview process?

Not only does this reduce your workload, but allows candidates to be more open and honest with their questions and answers since the boss or manager is not present. It also communicates to the current employees that their opinions are valued.

  1. Hire from a pool of current employees.

See reason 2.

  1. Create a way for candidates to ‘‘sample’’ the work experience.

This can involve asking hypothetical questions such as “What would you do in situation ‘x’?” or “How would you react if ‘y’ happened?”, or behavioral questions like “Can you tell me about a time when you dealt with situation ‘z’, how did you react?”.

Some companies have even begun to create programs designed specifically to give candidates an overview of the job and what to expect. For example, FedEx has created a program every person must watch entitled ‘Is Management for Me?’ which realistically describes the daily challenges of being a manager.

8. Survey or interview new hires to find out how to minimize new hire surprises in the future

Why should you have to wait till your employees leave your company to find out what they’re really thinking about? In addition to exit interviews, try interviewing new hires about their experience of your company’s recruiting and orientation processes.

Doing this also allows you to find out about the potential mismatches between you and your new hire’s expectations, as well as making the transition to a new job smoother for future new hires.

Actionable tips for employees (45)

What can you do to avoid mismatching expectations?

  • Make a list of questions to ask before every interview.
  • Ask friends and acquaintances what they know about the prospective employer.
  • Research the prospective employer on the Internet.
  • Ask to be interviewed by employees other than the hiring manager.
  • Ask to be given a tour of the facility.
  • Consider starting the job as a consultant or temp staffer, if possible, to gain a better feel for the workplace before making a full-time commitment.
  • Directly ask everyone with whom you interview, ‘‘Is there anything about this job, the culture, or the work environment that new hires are sometimes surprised to find out after they start?



Branham, Leigh. The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave: How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act before Its Too Late. AMACOM, 2012.


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