This book is about the hidden, elusive motivations that cause capable employees to start questioning their decision to join your company, start thinking of leaving, eventually disengage, and finally, leave.
The true root causes of voluntary employee turnover are hiding in plain sight. If we really think about it, we already know what they are: lack of recognition (including low pay), unfulfilling jobs, limited career advancement, poor management practices, untrustworthy leadership, and dysfunctional work cultures.
So, in what way are these root causes hidden, and from whom? Surveys tell us they are hidden from the very people who need to be most aware of them—the line managers who are charged with engaging and keeping valued employees in every organization. The vast majority of line managers, in fact, believe that most employees leave because they are ‘‘pulled’’ away by better offers. Of course most do leave for better offers, but it is simplistic and superficial to accept ‘‘pull factors’’ as root causes.
What these managers fail to perceive is that ‘‘push factors,’’ mostly within their own power, are the initial stimuli—the first causes—that open the door to the ‘‘pull’’ of outside opportunities. The important question that remains unasked in so many exit interviews is not ‘‘Why are you leaving?’’ but ‘‘Why are you not staying?’’
Over the years, I have listened to hundreds of departing employees emotionally describe the sources of their dissatisfaction with, and disengagement from, their former employers. And, I have been intrigued by the fact that so many managers see things so differently. Eventually, in an effort to authoritatively document the root causes of voluntarily employee turnover, I contacted the Saratoga Institute in Santa Clara, California, now a division of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and considered by many to be the world leader in third-party exit interviewing and employee commitment surveying. Saratoga was founded in 1977 by Dr. Jac Fitz-enz, a pioneer in human resource practices benchmarking and human capital return on investment.
Saratoga Institute maintained a database of 19,700 exit and current employee surveys it had conducted from 1999 through 2003, a five-year period that started during a war for talent and ended during the buyer’s market that followed. Saratoga’s survey data included companies in a wide range of industries—financial, industrial medical, technology, manufacturing, distribution, insurance, health care, telecommunications, transportation, computer services, electronics, consumer products, consumer services, business services, consulting, and ‘‘other services.’’
I was pleased that the Saratoga Institute was interested in the premise of this book and willing to let me analyze the data and verbatim comments from these surveys. The ‘‘seven hidden reasons’’ I identified through this analysis are remarkably similar to the turnover causes I described in my earlier book, Keeping the People Who Keep You in Business. When you read about them, you will probably not be surprised to see any of them among the top seven. The real surprise is that even when companies know what the root causes are, they aren’t doing nearly as much as they could be doing to eradicate them.
Too many companies are still relying on the tangible, easy-to-implement solutions that revolve around pay, benefits, and trendy perks, when we know the most powerful solutions revolve around the more challenging intangibles, such as good management and a healthy corporate culture. This book is ultimately more about solutions than it is about the reasons employees disengage and leave. You will find in these pages 54 practices for engaging workers and bonding them to your organization. You will find that some of these practices fit your current needs and situation better than others.
The good news is that you don’t have to implement all of the 54 engagement practices. All you have to do is implement the right ones—the ones that will best engage and retain the employees you need most to achieve your business objectives. So please feel free to skip from chapter to chapter, picking and choosing among the practices that best fit the needs of your company and your key talent.