The Real Reason Employees Quit And What HR Managers Can Do About It?

Published by Abhinav on

We’ve all heard the story: An employee quits a job at a corporate to join a better company or because he/she hated the job. But in most cases, it is usually not the job itself that makes employees hate their work, instead, it is the boss they have to put up with. Although company policies play a role, a bad boss is what it takes to push employees over the edge.

A good boss in a bad surrounding creates an environment for an employee to compulsively like both the job and the boss more. But, a bad situation and a bad boss will simply make the employee hate the job and all its aspects even more.

An extensive research done across companies showed that there are some common problems that employees face, which makes them uninterested in their work. While most of these factors might seem obvious and relatable, what is shocking is how commonly these factors are overlooked by a boss and organisations leading to chronic employee disengagement situations.

To know what unhappy and disengaged employees can cost your company, please see: The Cost of Unhappy Employees to the Company

1. Lack of recognition

The problem: So, you have worked- day and night, with all your might and kept your goal in sight- for a project. As you eagerly await some praises from your colleagues and your boss, you are shocked to see, that no one cares! All that work you put in goes for nought.

Lack of recognition is a big problem in several organizations. Before we look at the consequences of appreciating the work done by the employees, let’s take a look at the importance of employee recognition.

Appreciation of his/her work enables the employee to understand what is expected of him/her from the organization. It gives them the motivation to work harder on upcoming projects and to continue performing well. Recognition of one employee will automatically motivate other employees to work hard as well.

The problems that arise from lack of recognition are way too many and they cause not only short-term but also long-term issues for an organization. Lack of recognition can lead an employee to underperform on the next project since he/she feels that no amount of work would earn him/her appreciation. This might become a chronic long-term problem and cause the employee to lose interest in working and finally resign. Any attrition is a loss for the organization as it will now have to spend a lot of money on training another person for the same position. Instead of appreciating employees can save an organization employee turnover costs.

What the CEO can do: The upper management has to be very careful in planning out schemes that are effective and will truly make the employee feel like he has done a good job. It could vary from creating interdependent systems for employees to reward each other to giving responsibilities, etc.  

What the manager can do: Implementing the schemes put forth by the CEO is the responsibility of the manager. For instance, he can customize the scheme of the CEO so that it will fit his team/department better or add some of his own ideas in a way that will improve the productivity of his team/department. Appreciation and rewards though should be rightfully meted out to deserving employees. If an employee receives appreciation simply because he/she curries favour with his boss, it can be highly demotivating for the other employees.

What the HR can do: The HR works as a bridge by making sure that the managers are managing the teams efficiently and executing the rewards and recognition programmes justifiably, whilst also ensuring that all and any employee concerns are addressed immediately. The first steps toward this is to start capturing employee pulse in real-time including recognition using an employee engagement software.  The HR department can itself come up with some ideas to appreciate employees. This will be easier for the department since the HR keeps the records of the performance of each employee.

If the HR can reward a previously underperforming employee who is improving and performing better, this will be a huge motivation for all the employees and create a positive work environment. It reinforces the message that the company values its employees.

Few companies have come up with innovative ways to appreciate and recognise the efforts and performance of the employees, which automatically boosts up employee productivity.

For instance, Zappos provides a community-reward system, where employees can give each other up to $50 in recognition of work done well and exceeding expectations.

This form of initiative promotes teamwork in an organization and also harmony.

Recognition doesn’t always have to be monetary. A simple and heartfelt ‘thank you’ note or certificate too can have immense power.

Personalized rewards are also a way to appreciate an employee for good work done.

For instance, if an employee has worked hard to deliver a quality project on time, the employer can give him/her some time off to spend with his/her family.

There are many ways to show appreciation, and it is about figuring out what works for each employee and coordinating it with organizational policies. This is giving a personal and emotional touch which can increase employee loyalty towards the organization.

2. Lack Of Flexibility:

The problem: Every organization has rules made with a lot of thought. However, when following them becomes a genuine problem for an employee or many employees, it is up to the organization to change them accordingly or accommodate the needs of the employee(s) who is having a hard time following them. Unfortunately, several organizations tend to be quite rigid with their rules. As an employee, it might be quite hard to follow them all the time. Hence, it becomes necessary to work around them and find out new ways to do things. However, sometimes, you might really not be able to follow a particular regulation- and that is when you should talk to your HR or manager about it.  

What the CEO can do: Organizational policies are made/approved by the CEO, and he/she has the important job of keeping in mind the best interests of everyone in the organization. When the number of people who have a hard time keeping up with a policy increases, it is an indication that the CEO needs to step in.

What the manager can do: Rei is a good worker who recently got promoted. Her previous position in the organization allowed her to work from 9 to 5. However, her new position entails that she comes to work at 8:30 am sharp.
She comes late every day, and eventually, her manager notices her tardiness.
Imagine two scenarios here.

In one scenario, the manager calls Rei and reprimands her for coming late and asks her never to come late again.
In another scenario, the manager has a conversation with Rei and understands that Rei is late to work every day as she has to drop her child off at school at 8:45 a.m. daily. Her old job timings worked perfectly for her as she had sufficient time to drive from the school to her office. However, the new timings are taking a toll on her.
Now her manager wisely advises her to drop off her child in school a little early and then leave office early or come in later than the stipulated time and leave late.

The manager in the second scenario became flexible with the organizational policy keeping in mind the interests of the employee and the long-term interests of the organization. Unfortunately, the first scenario is what the majority of people face in the workplace which leads to dissatisfaction. Like any other problem in the workplace, employee unhappiness levels affect the quality and overall performance of the organization. As a manager, understanding the employees and their situation is very important to help them increase their productivity levels.

What HR can do: Let us take Rei’s second case- she was lucky enough to have a manager who understood her situation and gave her an effective idea to help her through it. However, in the first scenario, Rei’s manager did not bother to find out what had happened. At this point, the HR can step in and find out what is causing a problem for her. The importance of having an understanding ear in an organization is quite often understated. HR can understand her situation and then accordingly explain it to her manager.

Being accommodating, however, is different from over-adjusting, and it is important that an organization does not do the latter. Unless there is a genuine reason for any employee problem, adjusting for them is not the right thing to do. In Rei’s case, her reason was genuine, and hence a manager being accordingly flexible was the right decision to make. However, organizations need to make sure they are not accommodating laziness, lack of motivation and low quality of work, in the process.

3. Partiality:

Problem: Partiality or favouritism is a deep-seated problem in many organizations that creates a lot of complex psychological problems. The worst part about this problem is that it is sometimes done subconsciously. It is a human tendency to like someone better than another person and people in an organization cannot be expected to be any different.

What the CEO can do: Partiality can be a painful experience for the person who is at the receiving end of the spectrum. As expected, it takes a psychological toll on him/her. So, instead of using the usual methods of talks or meetings, the CEO can bring in an expert who can talk about the (sometimes) severe long-term effects of partiality like stress, lack of self-esteem, frustration, etc. Roleplay, giving scenarios, etc are all effective psychological tools that aid in learning about the consequences of partiality.

What the manager can do: As mentioned before, it is hard for any person to not have favourites- but letting it get in the way of professionalism is bad for the organization. For an apt comparison, imagine your parent favoured your sibling over you. The lack of attention would’ve definitely had a lasting impact on you. In an organization, however, all the parties involved face the consequences of partiality, i.e. both the perpetrator as well as the victim are affected by it. An inferiority complex is felt by the victim (they might grow to hate their job) and the preferred person may feel overly arrogant and start underperforming. As a manager, it is imperative to know how to balance out work among employees. Not every employee will like every task that is allotted to them. And it is impossible for all employees to have the same level of skill. There will be some employees that stand out, but they shouldn’t always be given the most interesting or the biggest project. No employee should feel left out or unworthy.

What HR can do: Ensuring that each employee is treated fairly is one of the most important tasks of HR. Listening to an employee when they have a problem, constant checks on the superior-subordinate relationship and monitoring the project assigning and conducting regular talks on the topic are all effective ways to prevent partiality.

Most people would have dealt with some form of favouritism at some point in their career. Being passed over for a deserved promotion, getting the boring projects or doing all the dirty work for the organization – all because one person was favoured over the other. Equality in the workplace is not just important, it is essential for a healthy organization.

4. Freedom in decision making:

After eyeing an upcoming project for a month, you finally get a chance to be a major part of it. However, after you start working on it, you realize that it’s not really your project because your boss is micromanaging the whole thing. He doesn’t let you make a single decision, and even if he does, it’s an extremely unimportant one.

You try giving your opinions, only to realize that he won’t take them up either. At the end of it, you’re exasperated with him and decide to just go with what he says. You finish the project, but it doesn’t feel like it’s truly yours. Freedom to make decisions is essential to facilitate growth among employees. It gives them a chance to use the knowledge they have gained, apply them practically and gives them an opportunity to prove themselves.

What the CEO can do: Like most other problems, solving them can be done through a change in organizational policy- which the CEO is an important part of. He can also make sure that his managers know the importance of autonomy given to employees and give them the freedom to work effectively on their own. In addition to that, the CEO can lead by example and give an apt amount of freedom to his managers- teach them the difference between controlling and monitoring.

A factor to take into consideration employee decision making is the amount of creativity and thought a process that goes into making a certain decision. Now, making a choice involves a thought process while making a decision involves creativity. It works the employees’ mind to think a certain way and as mentioned, it is a chance for them to apply all that they have learnt and integrate that with creative thoughts.

What managers can do: Autonomy to employees, other than organizational policies, is provided by the manager. The employees depend on the manager to provide flexibility in decision making and guide them when necessary. For this, it is important that the manager understands that when employees are given the choice to make their own decisions, they learn a lot.

In addition to that, they also get to know a lot about their own capabilities. In addition to this, there is also the fact that the employee knows best about his/her own project. The manager may be overseeing several employees with their many projects, but the employee spends all their time on the one project and will know the best about it. But this is not to say that managers shouldn’t get involved- their guidance is very much needed and it is up to them to decide how much autonomy to give and also to monitor the working of the employee. It is mainly about the balance between autonomy and guidance- including correction of mistakes, suggestions and ideas to improve.

What HR can do: For its part, HR has to do some timely checks on the employees and make sure that they are able to work on the project smoothly. They should also let the employees know that they are always available in case they have an issue with their boss. HR can improve the belief a manager has in the abilities of his employees. To do this, HR can conduct workshops, intra-office competitions, quizzes, etc.

For instance, H‑E‑B, one of the largest independent food retailers in the USA, has its headquarters in Texas and has an emphasis on learning and development among its employees. Hence, policies that facilitate employees to make a decision on their own is important for the organization to reduce frustration and increase growth. Micromanaging hampers the growth of employees and this vastly affects the performance of the organization as a whole. Several organizations which were hugely successful have been shown to provide autonomy in decision making and owe their success to the personal growth of the employees. Take a look at this extremely interesting video on using autonomy as a way to keep the employees moving forward:

5. Lack of motivation:

One of the biggest pillars of an organization is the productivity of its employees. An organization that keeps its employees happy and motivated has a much better chance of success than an organization with unhappy employees. While it is not humanly possible for a person to be motivated ALL the time, it is necessary that they stay motivated for at least the majority, if not most of the time.

What the CEO can do: Motivating employees is not simply offering monetary gains in return for work(although they are needed at times). Referring back to one of the previous points, recognition of employees for their work is essential in motivating them to work harder. Formulation of policies should be such that employees are highly motivated to work- this includes giving them proper breaks, incentives, effective rewards and quality recognition. The CEO should also ensure that managers do not bog the employees down and keep them in high spirits.

What the manager can do: A key point in motivating employees is not just recognition of their work, it is quality recognition. Instead of just praising them for good work done, letting them know how their work has impacted the particular project. This gives them a better sense of accomplishment and belongingness to the organization. For example, imagine you are asked to plan a party for your family and are in charge of it. Now, imagine if all goes well, but you do not get to attend the party.

Instead, you have your relatives come and tell you that it went well. As nice as you would feel, the praises you receive would barely make up for the fact that you weren’t a part of it. Now, imagine that you did get to go to the party you plan and watch the fun and finally seeing all the work you put in bear fruit. Now, simply praising an employee is similar to the first scenario- they simply knew it went well and they did a good job, but that’s not really as motivating as letting them know the impact of their efforts.

Another way to motivate employees is by providing incentives and following through with them. If there is no follow-through action, then it will bring down the level of motivation an employee has. A manager can go a mile further and tailor makes certain measures in order to fit his employees. This will help in motivating them further.

What HR can do: Speaking of follow-throughs, HR has to provide regular feedback on the employees’ performance, and address their concerns. Setting achievable goals, and seeking out the problems that de-motivate the employee are also roles that HR plays. The psychological part of lack of motivation too is taken care of by HR and they are essential in getting help for the employee. The HR can work along with the manager to probe into the productivity of employees and see when and under what conditions they are the most productive. 

6. Lack of transparency:

There are many benefits to having a hierarchy in an organization. However, there are many problems as well and a lack or absence of transparency is one of them. Red tape- the term for extremely delayed procedures, is present in several organizations. You too might have faced it, although it is not always on a large scale, it is present in most organizations in some level or another. An organization should be as transparent as a glass door if things have to run smoothly. From putting up employee suggestion updates on notice boards to providing them with equations that decide their salary, several companies like Zappos and AirBNB are taking new measures to make sure their employees are aware of and involved in all the activities of the company.

What the CEO can do: Transparency in an organization has to start from the top. Having a CEO who is bad at communicating information is setting a bad example for the organization as a whole. Imagine this scenario: the CEO of a successful company does not provide proper information to his/her head of operations; who in turn, provides improper information to his/her manager. Now, the manager will provide the same information to his employees. Due to this one miscommunication, the whole company might be facing dire consequences. Although everyone except the CEO might be good at communicating the information given to them, the  

What the manager can do: To explain this better, let’s take an example. The new CEO of company A is a good person- he wants to alter the policies of the organization that makes it more suited for the employees. However, the manager of branch 1 fears that these policies might reduce his power in the organization and is hesitant to communicate it to the employees. So, he does not inform them properly about these policy decisions and does not take in the suggestions of the employee also properly. Hence, there is no proper connection between the top management and the bottom level employees and vice versa. What the manager was blissfully unaware of was the fact that these measures were built to not only better the employees, but also to improve their productivity. Since he did not enforce them properly, his branch underperformed drastically compared to the other branches. After running several risks, he was finally forced to enforce the policies and finally reveal to the top management that his employees were indeed, giving the same suggestions as enforced by the CEO.

From this, we can see that ignoring the importance of transparency came back as a consequence to the manager himself- and this is what tends to happen in most cases. Besides simply communicating the correct information, a manager should always communicate his information in a proper, simple and crisp way so that the employees understand it properly.

What HR can do: HR has the importance of the job of a catalyst when communications between the manager and CEO are involved. Hence, if there is any miscommunication, HR can let the organization know. Since HR can keep a check on the manager, they can work on making ensuring that he follows through properly. HR can help in easing out processes and provide a link between all the levels and divisions in the organization.

7. Lack of empathy:

Before we get into the intricacies of empathy, let us first break down what empathy is and what it is not. Empathy is, in simple words, putting yourself in the shoes of another person. Empathy is not sympathy- it is not feeling pity for another person. It is imagining the position of that person from an educated perspective and trying to help them through it. “Treat others like how you would like to be treated.” This is a quote that most of us would have heard, and the importance of this in an organization cannot be emphasized enough.

What the CEO can do: Like other things, the best way to lead is to set an example and a CEO cannot expect the people working under him if he himself is not empathetic towards them. And even if he is empathetic, he should ensure that his subordinates too are empathetic. Incorporating empathy into the policy of the organization helps, but follow up is necessary. The CEO should keep in mind all the consequences of all the decision he/she takes- not just from their own perspective, but also from the perspective of everyone it will affect.  

What a manager can do: No one likes a cruel boss who is ruthless towards his employees or a boss who just doesn’t understand the many difficulties faced by the employees. When an employee is going through some tough times, an uncreative patch at work or any other difficulty, it is necessary that the boss helps him/her work through it and not let it hinder them.

Sometimes, it is easy for empathy to become unprofessional as it might involve some very personal aspects of employees. In precarious situations like these, it is important to balance empathy out with professionalism in order to maintain proper relations with employees. Empathy is a factor that can sometimes correlate with flexibility.

Let us take our example from flexibility itself- of Rei. Had her boss not been empathetic, Rei would have been fired, and it would have had a drastic impact on not only Rei but also the organization.

A good manager who is empathetic increases productivity as his employees are much happier and more satisfied with the organization than under others. Proper communication, proper listening and positive reinforcement are surprisingly effective ways of being empathetic.

What HR can do: In an organization where empathy is scarce, HR is one place where people would go for any empathy. They can be a great asset when it comes to empathy- be it providing empathy training, to conducting empathy-building workshops, they can be at the core of it all. HR of a particular branch should inform the CEO if there are any problems regarding manager-employee understanding; for which they need to closely observe the happenings in and around the organization.

There are several factors affecting the performance of an organization- good and bad.

Some effects of unsolved problems in an organization are:

  1. The bad relationship between employees and manager
  2. No proper contact between the superiors and employees, and sometimes even between colleagues
  3. Lack of faith in employees
  4. Lack of accountability
  5. Uninspired management
  6. Layoffs
  7. Lack of cooperation
  8. Selfishness

At the same time, there are several benefits to having a smooth running organization:

  1. Improves focus of everyone in the organization and hence improves productivity
  2. Improves relations and collaborations between everyone in the organizations at all levels. This promotes harmony.
  3. Happier employees overall
  4. Lesser people quitting, and more people liking their jobs
  5. Improves the overall standing of the organization as they will serve their clients/customers better
  6. A smooth running organization is beneficial as a competitive advantage