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The Three Causes of High Turnover: Part 3 – The Back Door

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With apologies to Paul Simon, there must be fifty ways to leave your employer. But sneaking out the back might be the most challenging of all. Why do people who otherwise seem stable decide to go somewhere else?

We’re up to the final article in our three-part series on the causes of high turnover. We’ve already covered problems in the hiring process and issues with your company culture. For this last piece, what pulls people away.

Tug of War

© Flickr user toffehoff

Leaving the Building: Market Pressures and Realities

There is one final reason that employees will decide to stop working for you, and it doesn’t have a lot to do with you or your hiring practices. You may lose your workers because of outside market forces beyond your control. Here are some examples:

  • Higher life priorities. As much as you may want everyone on your team to care about your organization, your industry, or even their own career, it’s likely that their job isn’t their number one motivation. A personal relationship can cause someone to move across the country. Your employee might finish their night school program or get accepted to graduate school. They might join the Peace Corps or go on an extended religious mission trip. Or, they may be ready for retirement or just an easier job. All of these things are out of your control, and the best thing you can do is wish them luck and keep in touch.
  • Competitive opportunity. If you’ve got a great employee, then they would probably be a great employee for someone else. That means there’s always a chance someone will reach out to them and offer better benefits, higher pay, more engaging work, or a more attractive working arrangement. So don’t make the terrible mistake of a counter offer, and instead wish them well and give them a good reference.

That’s really about it.

If You Can’t Control The Back Door, Then What?

It’s relatively straightforward to address the other two causes of employee turnover. If you’re making poor hiring decisions, take a look at your recruiting and your interviewing. If you’re losing people because your company is an unsatisfying place to work, seriously consider your workplace culture, policies, and environment.

But if people are leaving because your competitors are offering better salaries, there’s not really anything you can do. Sure, you could have offered them more money in the first place or kept increasing their pay over time, but those are both aspects we’ve already covered. You can’t prevent people from leaving if they are doing so because of market forces that you’ve already failed to address. And you certainly can’t stop them from pursuing life goals outside of work. So what should you do?

Being Ready for Departures

Your best option as a manager is to ensure that work can continue even if people do not. A business or a non-profit organization must be bigger than the skills and knowledge of current staff. Document procedures and/or create visual maps of business processes. Cross-train so that different team members can accomplish critical work, instead of having it known by only one person.

Create a culture of sharing instead of privacy when it comes to workplace information and procedures. Hold regular brown bag lunches, where employees explain how they do what they do. Encourage departments to spend time getting to know what other departments do.

And most importantly, let people know that when they do decide it’s time to leave, you want to have a transition plan in place. It means telling your employees not to be afraid to announce they are considering making a change. Wouldn’t you rather have six weeks notice and a happy employee than two weeks and a feeling of tension at the office?

You can’t control your employees, and wanting to is only going to make things worse. Accept that some will eventually leave through no fault of your own. Be happy for them, and ready to do what’s best for your business—keep the system running, and find the right person to bring in next.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter


Troublemaker and productivity/workflow expert. Slightly more complex than 140 characters will permit.
@lorraineball First probably depends on the business. But second is likely training, especially with regard to sales. - 3 weeks ago
Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter

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