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5 Reasons Why Your Best People Leave

5 Reasons Why Your Best People Leave

Written by:
Bo Dury
Reviewed by :
Date created
July 7, 2021
Last updated:
June 20, 2024
5 min read
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Key takeaways

• Employee turnover is natural, but high turnover may indicate underlying issues with company culture, leadership, workload, etc.

• Mental health concerns, such as work stress, have become a significant factor in employee turnover.

• Lack of engagement, bad leadership, and lack of growth opportunities are key reasons why employees leave organizations.

• Successful onboarding processes can improve retention rates, while stress management is crucial for employee well-being and retention.

• Prioritizing employee mental health, providing support, and addressing issues early can lead to a healthy work environment and increased retention rates.

Employee turnover within an organization is natural, not everyone can and wants to work for the same organization for thirty plus years. However, if your turnover is too high there might be underlying issues with the company culture, leaders, workload…

You’d like to improve on your employee retention, of course. You’ve spent a lot of time and money recruiting the best talent there is. But when they leave, what is the reason behind it? Where do you start looking? We’ve put together 5 of the biggest reasons why employees will leave an organization.

Mental health

Looking at trends within the workplace, it’s notable that mental health concerns have become a trend as much as working remotely.

‘Mental health concerns that have risen to the surface in the past years are the norm, not the exception.’ – Headspace

What we see is what Forbes calls a ‘Work stress epidemic’. An upsurge of mental health issues that relate closely to unhealthy work environments and calls for a focus on the well-being of employees.

“An increasing number of people are understanding the importance of looking after their mind.”


Mental health is becoming more and more prominent and part of our collective awareness. Although often ‘work stress’ and high pressure because of too much work seems normal, and is often considered the norm, people are countering this discourse by demanding more flexibility and awareness from their organization. Not just regarding stress, but regarding all facets that make for a healthy work environment.

It was at the beginning of this year that Google employees wrote an open letter demanding Google and the mother company Alphabet stop protecting the subjects of harassment complaints. Employees held their company accountable for behaviour they thought didn’t create a healthy organizational culture.

Although a ‘work stress epidemic’ sounds very negative indeed, it is also a great opportunity for employers to pivot, to create a culture with low employee turnover that works for everyone, focusses on well-being and improves on retention, engagement and productivity.

So what is happening with your employees:

1. Lack of engagement

The last couple of years employee engagement has been on the rise. Looking at US employees, the yearly Gallup reports show that engagement has gone from 34% in 2018 to 36% in 2019 and 39% in 2020. With only around 13% of actively disengaged employees these numbers seem fairly positive. (1)

However, we should not forget that more than half, at least 53% of employees are not actively engaged. They ‘clock in’ and ‘clock out’, maybe even doing the bare minimum. But how can you tell?

There are various signs of high employee turnover and disengaged employees, and each year there is more Data for HR professionals to track engagement with. But coursing on data only, do keep in mind that the length of an employee’s tenure for instance might not prove a reliable indicator. Whether you’ve been with the organization for ten years, a year or a month, researching another company, or messaging a recruiter on LinkedIn are only a few clicks away.

Of course lower productivity rates and data can show disengagement but assessing engagement really is best left to the team lead. You can track their level of participation regarding social activities, but someone has to match this data with the employee’s personality. Because what if they are an introvert, and perhaps not comfortable with bigger groups of people? Or an employee’s productivity is going down, and they seem reserved now when they used to be outgoing? There might be a private issue playing in the background that causes their disengagement.

So how can you persuade employees over to the engaged side?

Employee engagement is very closely tied to your organizational culture and how the employee feels towards it.

“Employee engagement helps you measure and manage employees’ perspectives on the crucial elements of your workplace culture.”

CIO (2)Tweet

If your employees don’t feel happy regarding one thing within your company, you most likely won’t notice. But if there are multiple things that don’t sit well with them, they will leave and you will see this reflected in your employee turnover.

A healthy organizational culture in short means a workplace environment that gives as much to the employees as they in turn give to the organization. It is definitely a two way street, where your employee proves valuable for you and the organization for your employee.

Lack of engagement is one of the biggest reasons employees will leave your organization. And this makes sense, since (dis)engagement is definitely a consequence of most other named reasons.

2. Leadership

We’ve probably all heard of the cliché: People don’t quit jobs, they quit managers.

But when talking about clichés we have to be careful not to dismiss them, just because we’ve heard them so much. Wendy Duarte Duckrey, vice president of recruiting at JPMorgan Chase, notes that what she still sees and hear in exit interviews is that this is not something of the past: “Most people don’t quit their jobs; they quit their managers”. (3)

When employees leave because of a manager a couple of reasons come up such as micromanaging, undervaluing employees, bad listening skills and lack of empathy. (4)

As created by Forbes there are entire lists filled with reasons why people leave bosses. (5) But does that mean that when talented employees do leave, it’s a personality mismatch with their team lead?

Leadership and a leadership style is closely tied together with people’s personality for sure, and sometimes a mismatch of different characteristics within a team is inevitable. Yet, it seems that employees do not leave because they don’t like their managers/team leads/ bosses personally. It is more a case of missing something regarding their role and the work environment, on a more personal level. What we see when we look at the reasons is that when employees don’t feel supported by their boss (their boss is a bad listener, undervalues them, shows no empathy) they disengage.

Some people are born leaders, others need a little bit more practice. But the emphasis is definitely on the practice. Leadership can be developed, as long as you give your managers the right tools they will be able to support their teams in the best way.

3. Lack of growth and career development

A lack of chances for employees to further and develop their career is in our top 5 reasons for high employee turnover and why employees leave, but it is actually the number one reason.

For ten years in a row ‘Career Development’ is the number one reason listed by the Workinstitute, regardless of age and sex. In 2020 again, it became the most popular reason for employees to leave. (6) With a steady increase, of around 17% since 2013, lack of development makes one in five people switch jobs. (7)

This makes sense, because when your employees have no room to grow, they can’t go anywhere. Growing, making advancement and having control over their own career is of the utmost importance.

Brian Kropp, Gartner HR practice group vice president: “If employees don’t see you investing in their future with you, they’re going to look somewhere else.”

What this concern comes down to is, same as with bad leadership, that employees miss support and a focus on their own goals instead of just a focus on the organizational goals. They are thinking about their future, of course, and so should their employer. If you want to grow together and achieve goals and successes.

4. Onboarding

Onboarding is a proven way to improve retention. 69% of employees stay with an organization for three years or more when the onboarding has been successful. A structured onboarding process including support, gives employees guidance and shows a higher ROI for the organization.

Glassdoor estimates that a strong onboarding process can increase retention by up to 82% and productivity by 70%. (8)

However, this is when onboarding is done right. If not, onboarding can prove one of the reasons your best people leave.

When you recruit talent you want them to do well and achieve their first goals within a couple of months. But in order for them to book successes, your employee will need the right skills to perform their role properly. If they start off with a mismatch of skills and role, they won’t have the right set up to succeed. This goes back to expectation management. Was the vacancy text clear enough? Did they know what was expected of them? If not, then this can create quick disengagement and a short tenure at the organization.

Employees will feel more involved in the organization after a successful onboarding. Employee engagement contributes to productivity, customer success and much more! 54% of companies with a structured onboarding program see much higher results in engagement. With positive impressions from the start and a clear management of expectations, you bridge the gap between employee, organization and role.

Talent retention starts on day 1. This is the first time you come face to face with your new employee! Therefore, pay a lot of attention to the onboarding process and use tested solutions such as a buddy system. The very first experience can be a deal breaker and determine whether or not new employees will stay with the organization for a long period.

5. Stress

Stress, more specifically, work stress is a very prominent subject in the survey conducted by Headspace, the mindfulness platform. In previous years we’ve already seen that mindfulness has gained some serious traction, from the popularity of yoga to many different meditation apps, people are taking their mental health very seriously.

What we see is that this year, although anxiety lessened, work stress became more prominent and took a spot in the top 3 causes for stress.(9)

Although all sources of stress fell sharply, Headspace noted a stabilization involving ‘work stress’ indicating a normalization of the topic entirely. ‘It may even be that stress is consistent in our lives and requires constant attention.’ Headspace.

We see this come back when we consider the amount of burn-outs rising.

“Chronic stress was rampant even before the pandemic. Leaders can’t ignore it any longer.”


Luckily, stress can be tackled by addressing it head on. Establishing clear boundaries between professional and personal time is essential, for instance an agreement on not emailing employees during nonwork hours. Or more nuanced, not expecting employees to reply during nonwork hours. Research shows that employee well-being decreases and turnover intentions increase when organizations do expect email monitoring at all times. (11)

Tackling burn-outs and work related stress requires a focus on a healthy work-life balance, emphasis on balance. Although this is becoming increasingly difficult as remote work continues, and 12% of UK employees reported that they left their role because of an off balance, it is all the more important to support employees with a fulfilling life outside of work.(12) Because you’ll notice when they thrive personally they will have a more productive and fulfilling work life as well.

Whether you start small, by giving employees tips & tricks on how to relax, or go big, by promoting an unplugging culture where people ‘Work to life and not live to work’, you will be more likely to attract and retain employees. As much as 66% of UK employees said they are looking for a balance that adheres more to their schedule. (13) When you focus on your employees’ mental health your organization will find that their employees will be happy and engaged at work. (14)

Make sure employee turnover stays low, your employees stay, focus on their mental health

The five reasons why you have high employee turnover and why employees leave can be boiled down to one focus point: the mental health of your employee.

From a lack of engagement and bad leadership, to an unsuccessful onboarding, a mismatch of skills and role as well as stress, the reasons your employees will leave the organization has to do with a lack of support. Feeling heard, being motivated, having the room to grow and finding the right skill.

Taking the temperature of your employees regularly will give you the opportunity to recognize signs early and often. This way you’ll be able to offer the support your employees need to thrive both professionally as well as personally. This might mean appointing a career stewards, who regularly meets with emerging leaders to set realistic career expectations, or just simple checklists and surveys to check on how your employees are feeling. (15)

That’s what you want! For you to spot issues early and to have the ability to address these head on. Because this way you can create a healthy environment where your employees will become the best versions of themselves, productive and engaged. And they in turn will help the organization to the next level. (16)

The mental health of your employees is not something to be checked off the list, it is a priority. The subject every HR professional wants to address. Not only will it prove cost effective when you increase retention but it will also make your HR efforts so much more worth your time and effort if the people you try to guide, evaluate, and recruit are happy and healthy.

Sources on employee turnover

  9. BambooHR
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Neelie Verlinden
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