Top Reasons Why Employees Quit

I am just back from a Human Resources conference where smart people — including noted author Dan Pink — shared a ton of old wives’ tales.

Feed a cold, starve a fever. Wait 30 minutes after eating before swimming. Spicy foods cause ulcers. Employees quit jobs because of managers and not money.

All of that is garbage. Especially the one about money.

Did you know that 76% of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck? Are you aware that fewer than one in four Americans have enough money in their savings account to cover at least six months of expenses? And are you aware that 50% of those surveyed have less than a three-month cushion and 27% had no savings at all? (Yahoo.) And did you know that if minimum wage had kept pace with the increases in salaries for the 1%, the lowest paid workers in the country would now be making over $23.00/hour? (Sodahead.) And did you know that minimum wage would be $10.69 if it had only just kept up with inflation over the past 40 years? (Raise the Minimum Wage.)

Most Americans take (and quit) jobs for money. Everything else is secondary to meeting our very basic, economic needs.

And we are barely meeting those needs, anymore.

Nobody Wants to Pay You More Money

Unfortunately, the media is telling you the wrong story about work. Business journals, research academics, bloggers and analyst firms treat the whole labor market like a large risk pool. They talk about culture, fit and passion. And while some of their research might be true for some segments of the economy, it is rarely true for all segments of the workforce.

In fact, very few of us work in exempt-level corporate jobs. Did you know that, according the, a majority of the new jobs in America are hourly positions in the hospitality and retail industries that pay very low wages?

The occupations with the fastest growth in America were retail sales (at a median wage of $10.97 an hour) and food preparation workers ($9.04 an hour). Each category has grown by more than 300,000 workers since June 2009.

Americans are more likely to work an hourly job at the mall than at Google or Facebook. And individuals who work in the growing industries of hospitality and retail — many of whom lack college degrees and access to affordable healthcare, childcare and basic retirement savings plans — leave their jobs for very different reasons than those who work for technology companies or financial services firms.

Motivation Differs

When you hear that people quit jobs for emotional reasons — and not money — that research often comes from organizations like the CEB or Gallup. Those are old, myopic companies that don’t necessarily understand the motivations of a new, poor and more diverse American workforce.

For example, most lower-income working mothers know that there is a deep imbalance between compensation and the amount of nonsense someone has to endure in a job. Sometimes it’s easier to “peace out” than to explain what’s wrong. Here’s why.

  • Across all industries and in most western countries, many mothers “leaned out” during the recession because childcare is a nightmare. For low-income-earners, it is often impossible to find reliable pre-K daycare or enroll a child into a decent preschool program. It makes sense for many women to quit their jobs, reduce household expenses, stay home with the kids and live on one income.
  • During the recession, a growing group of low-income women found it more profitable to babysit other women’s children under the table than to get a “real job” of any kind.
  • During the recession, many young men and women quit their jobs and returned to school for secondary degrees. They lived with family members and survived on record student loan borrowing. They are only now re-entering the workforce with a better chance of more lucrative employment.

Can you imaging asking HR departments — and polling firms — to accurately measure and report on the nuanced and emotionally complicated reasons why someone leaves a job?

“Money, bad boss or lack of upward mobility. Pick one.”

Please. Nobody asks the right questions. Nobody digs deeper. And the answers are too complicated for a soundbite on the nightly news.

It Pays to Let You Quit

And I know something else from my dark days in HR.

  • Companies don’t really care why you quit.

Money, bad boss or lack of upward mobility. Nobody cares. Executives complain about the high cost of turnover, but it is actually cheaper to let you go than to address some of the deep and dysfunctional problems in many organizations.

So In Conclusion

Jeez, this is a long post. If you work in Human Resources, stop being a tool of the machine. Stop perpetuating myths. Start digging deeper to understand your company’s compensation structure, the real reason behind turnover, and what you can do to truly create jobs and strengthen the working class in this country.

And if you are a consultant who has something to say about compensation and motivation, make sure you clarify which segment of the workforce you’re covering when you paint it with a broad (and stupid) brush.

About the author

Laurie Ruettimann

View all posts