Why People Quit and What To Do About It

Why People Quit


There are 3 main reasons why people quit your company.  They are the same 3 reasons why people quit their church, their charity organization, their neighborhood, or any other long-term situation.  Here they are:

1. They don’t like what they do.

2. They don’t like the people with whom they do it.

3. They don’t feel that the values of the organization reflect their own personal values.


Focus on Company Values

For the purposes of this article, we’re going to focus on number 3, because that’s the one you can most influence.

In an article published by the Harvard Business Review, Vincent Flowers and Charles Hughes say it this way:

An employee’s inertia is strengthened or weakened by the degree of compatibility between his own work ethic and the values for which the company stands. The employee’s ethic derives from his own values and the actual conditions he encounters on the job. The company’s values derive from societal norms, formal decisions by the board of directors, and the policies and procedures of the managing group. A widening gap between these two vantages weakens inertia; a narrowing gap strengthens it.”

Translated: Your company and your employees are in a relationship.  And just like any other relationship, that means that each party reflects and represents the other.  Simply put, as long as your employees reflect well upon the company and its values, they keep their jobs.  By the same token, as long as your company reflects well upon your employees and their values, they stick around.

The inverse is also true.  This means that when your employees’ values and your company’s values are not in sync, the two often part ways.  Mismatched values are largely why people quit.  So what creates a values mismatch?  Do employees accept the job as one person and then suddenly become someone else?  Does the company hire them and then completely shift its ethical focus?  While I suppose either of these possibilities could happen, they are both extremely unlikely.  Most values mismatches happen because we don’t make a good match in the first place.  So let’s look at these values from the one perspective that we can influence – the hire.

What To Do About It

There are five things that you can do as a company to increase the likelihood of the kind of values match that will inspire your employees to stay a long time.    You can also read this as 5 things you’re probably not doing if your employees are leaving, but, for the sake of this article, let’s keep things positive.

1. Accurately Define Your Company Values.

By this I mean two things.  First, define them in some sort of official manner like a company value statement or a list of guiding principles.  Second, since most companies already have documents like that, then define them accurately.  By this I mean define them as they actually exist.  Forget what’s hanging on the wall in the break room or presented on your website.  What are the actual values exhibited in your company every day?

Now, be careful.  You may not be thrilled with the honesty of this list.  And you certainly may not want to share it with the world.  However, if you come up with a “real values” list that doesn’t match the “official values” list, you’ve may have identified a big part of your retention problem.  And you’re one step closer to knowing why people quit your company.

2. Clearly Communicate Your Company Values

So let’s assume you, like most companies, have defined your company values.  Have you clearly communicated those values?  I’m not talking about putting them in your ads or your marketing materials.  I mean, have you clearly communicated them to your employees or did you just assume that they would read the handbook?

Let’s go a level deeper.  Have you communicated those values to the people you’re trying to hire?  Do they appear in your job ads?  Every hiring manager is susceptible to the charms of a pretty resume.  We love those candidates with the prestigious educations, piled up professional certifications, and experience in all the right places.  But according to our Harvard pals, those things aren’t nearly as important as a values fit.

For instance, if your official company values are all about open ideas, diversity of opinion, and progressive thought, but the person running the place is a hard-charging, powerful personality with a “my way or the highway” attitude, you may want to adjust your ad copy.  Instead of the utopian, open-minded stuff, you may want to advertise for an energetic and hard-working team player who thrives under strong direction from a seasoned veteran.

3.  Truly Live Your Company Values

Even if you’ve accurately defined your company values and clearly communicated them, you still have to live them.  This is where we begin to see the gap between an eloquently-written mission statement and daily life in the trenches.  That silvered-tongued marketing firm who tagged all of your break room graffiti isn’t around anymore and now the situation has settled into one of survival.  How often do you check yourself against the standard of those values?  What is the procedure that holds you and your coworkers accountable for walking the talk?

Further still, and this gets to the heart of employee satisfaction, do the company values apply equally to the employees and the customers?  Do you treat the people you pay the same way you treat the people who pay you?  If the company values courtesy, kindness, and a positive attitude when it comes to how you treat the clients, how about when it comes to how you treat team members?  If there truly is a different standard for employees, then perhaps your job ads should specifically say, “Customers” when they talk about courtesy, kindness, and a positive attitude.  At least people will know what they’re getting into.

4. Hire According To Your Company Values

Let’s say you’re good this far.  You’ve accomplished all of the previous three points, but you’re still trying to figure out why people are leaving your company.  Ask yourself this, do you hire according to your company values?  Regardless of the experience and qualifications on the resumes you review, do you go deeper to discern whether there is a values match when considering a candidate?  I like to use a little technique called the “So What?” game for this.

All candidates for a position must have the correct education and qualifications.  The experience can be a bit more subjective, but by and large, these things are either present or they’re not.  So, after you’ve read through resumes and sorted out the possible options, read the keepers again except this time ask yourself, “So what?” after each list of certifications and diplomas.  She went to XYZ University.  So what?  She’s been a certified whatever for upteen years.  So what?  She’s been with her last company for a decade and risen through the ranks from entry level to management.  That shows both drive and commitment to the company and the customer.  Now we’re getting somewhere.

5. Fire According To Your Company Values

This one seems so cut and dry and yet it is often the culprit.  When you’re short-staffed or even just tight on staff it can be so easy to let a poor employee slide – especially if he at least shows up every day.  We’re so caught up in chasing down the latest openings that we don’t consider the effect that a problem employee has on the rest of the team.  He may not seem like that much of a problem to us, but when good people start to leave, it hurts.

The fact is, nothing tells a good employee, “You don’t matter,” like allowing a poor employee to continue to work there.  This is why accurate definitions, clear communication, and consistent execution of our company values is essential.  If we don’t do those things, we have no leg to stand on when it comes time to dismiss someone for not living them.  Great employees will only grow more loyal when you communicate that they are important.  Sometimes that communication is through praise for the positive and sometimes it’s through demonstrating what you simply won’t accept.

OK, I hope that this article has been helpful.  If nothing else, perhaps it has offered a bit of perspective or asked some questions that helped you think through something you’re facing.  At the very least, hopefully it shed some light on why people quit.  Values matching can be tricky and it certainly isn’t a science.  But, when it happens, it makes a lasting difference both inside and outside the company.

Why People Quit & What To Do About It
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Why People Quit & What To Do About It
When your employees’ values and your company’s values are not in sync, the two often part ways. So what creates a values mismatch? Most values mismatches happen because we don’t make a good match in the first place. So let’s look at these values from the one perspective that we can influence – the hire.
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