Regardless of the reasons why the best employees quit, losing a great employee is a terrible thing. There’s the expense of finding, on-boarding, and training a replacement. There’s the uncertainty of how a new employee will work out. There’s the hardship on the rest of your staff until the position can be filled. We have uncovered the top 12 reasons why the best employees quit, even if they like their job.

Ever had an incredible employee, and thought, “This is the one!” They were smart, engaged, driven, and seemed to really love the job. You thought, “We’re going to be together forever!” You could really see yourself promoting this person, mentoring them, watching them climb the ranks in your company …

And then one day, they quit.

They might give you the, “It’s not you, it’s me …” speech, but what does it actually mean?

Sometimes there’s a solid reason–the person was a bad fit for the team, or moved away for personal reasons, or was offered an opportunity too great to pass up. In those cases, even if it’s a difficult transition, it feels fundamentally right.

But what about the rest? What are the reasons the best employees quit?

It’s pretty incredible how often you hear managers complaining about their best employees leaving, and they really do have something to complain about — few things are as costly and disruptive as good people walking out the door.

Managers tend to blame their turnover problems on everything under the sun, while ignoring the crux of the matter: people don’t leave jobs; they leave managers.

The sad thing is that this can easily be avoided. All that’s required is a new perspective and some extra effort on the manager’s part. When trying to uncover the reasons why the best employees quit, we looked beyond pay, vacation time and bonuses.

Organizations know how important it is to have motivated, engaged employees, but most fail to hold managers accountable for making it happen.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, employees are only staying in a job on average for 1.5 years, so retention is getting harder all over. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Keeping your best employees starts with understanding why people leave. Here are twelve of the top reasons the best employees quit.

1. Stagnation

People don’t want to think they’re locked into a groove and will come to the same place and do the same thing every day for the next 20 or 40 years. People want to feel that they’re still moving forward and growing in their professional life. They want to have something to aspire to. If there’s no career ladder or structure for advancement, they know they’ll need to seek it somewhere else. In the meantime, they’re far more likely to be bored, unhappy, and resentful–things that affect performance and the entire team’s morale.

Have you outlined a clear path for advancement for your best employees?

Or are they looking at a dead-end job? They might be the best cashier / phone operator / junior undersecretary you’ve ever had, but that doesn’t mean they want to stay in that position forever.

It pays to get to know your employee’s goals and help them see how they can achieve them within your company.

2. No Equality

No one wants to stick around in a workplace that doesn’t treat them fairly. Do a quick gut-check: Are you paying women less than men? How many women sit on your Executive Committee? How about minorities? Millennials?

Younger workers in particular, are not willing to stick around at a company that is racist, sexist, ageist, or otherwise discriminatory in any way. Loosing a large amount of employees under 35 and looking for reasons why the best employees quit? Look at the equality in your management circle and do everything you can to make things more equal.

Talking with coworkers

3. Overwork

Some periods of stress and feeling overwhelmed come with most jobs, but nothing burns out great employees faster than overwork. And often it’s the best employees–the most capable and committed, your most trusted–you overload the most. If they find themselves constantly taking on more and more, especially in the absence of recognition such as promotions and raises, they come to feel they’re being taken advantage of. And who could blame them? You’d feel the same.

4. Vague or Ever-Changing Visions

There’s nothing more frustrating than a workplace filled with visions and big dreams, but no translation of those aspirations into the strategic goals that make them achievable. Without that connection, it’s all just talk.  In a recent survey uncovering the reasons why the best employees quit, vague or ever-changing visions were almost always in the top 5.

What talented person wants to spend his or her time and energy in support of something undefined? People like to know that they’re working to create something, not just spinning their wheels.

You or the CEO may have a vision for where the company is going — but do all your employees? Some of the most successful companies are able to attract and retain great employees because they are great at communicating their vision all the way from the top down to the front-line workers. (And don’t confuse vision with financials; it needs to be bigger than that, especially if the employee in question doesn’t have stock options!)

5. Lack of Respect

There’s an old saying that employees don’t leave a company, they leave a manager. No matter how much you like, respect, or appreciate an employee, if they don’t know it, they may leave. Make sure your interactions with employees are always respectful, and that you look for ways to actively value their contribution.

6. Profits over people

When an organization values its bottom line more than its people, the best people go elsewhere, leaving behind those who are too mediocre or apathetic to find a better position. The result is a culture of underperformance, low morale, and even disciplinary issues. Of course, things like profit, output, pleasing stakeholders, and productivity are important–but success ultimately depends on the people who do the work.

7. Lack of recognition

Even the most selfless people want to be recognized and rewarded for a job well done. It is part of who we are as human beings. When you fail to recognize employees, you’re not only failing to motivate them but also missing out on the most effective way to reinforce great performance. Even if you don’t have the budget for raises or bonuses, there are lots of low-cost ways to provide recognition–and a word of appreciation is free. People won’t care if they don’t feel noticed.

8. Lack of trust

Your employees have a vantage point for viewing your behavior and weigh it against your commitments. If they see you dealing unethically with vendors, lying to stakeholders, cheating clients, or failing to keep your word, the best and most principled of them will leave. The rest, even worse, will stay behind and follow your lead. Looking for the reasons why the best employees quit? Ask yourself if they trust their manager and the companies business practices.

9. Excessive hierarchy

Every workplace needs structure and leadership, but a rigidly top-down organization makes for unhappy employees. If your best performers know they’re expected to produce without contributing their ideas, if they’re not empowered to make decisions, if they’re constantly having to defer to others on the basis of their title rather than their expertise, they don’t have much to be happy about.

Trying to uncover the reasons the best employees quit at your company? Ask yourself if employees are empowered to make their own decisions. Do you assign 6 people to complete the same task or do you trust your employees enough to have one person handle something.

10. No Morale

Even if a particular employee is positive and energetic, it is draining to be surrounded by people with low morale. Team identity and unity may be key to engaging and retaining those great employees you want.

When everyone else is unhappy and not putting in a good effort, no one wants to work there. When uncovering the top reasons the best employees quit, we found a significantly higher turnover in companies with uber emotional managers and office staff that seem to hate the company. The problem: the office staff stay (and complains everyday) while the top employees leave for a more positive work environment. If you notice a negative person or low morale on a particular team, fix it right away!

11. No Challenge or Autonomy

If you aren’t providing the opportunity for challenging, engaging work, you’re naturally going to lose those employees who want to be challenged or have a certain measure of autonomy over their work and lives. Few people are happy being micromanaged or simply toeing the company line when they have ideas for innovation.

No one wants to feel infantilized or that they aren’t trusted to make the most basic decisions in their work. People want the opportunity to be the expert in their own job.

Are you providing opportunities for professional development? Do you discuss ways to be more effective leaders as a group? Try providing your employees with consistent information to help them reach their personal professional goals.

women designing a website

12. Too Rigid Work Environment

Times have changed. Long gone are the days where people are satisfied clocking in at 8:00pm and leaving at 5:00pm. With the additions of smartphones to the workforce, employees are connected to their jobs 24/7/365. In turn, they don’t want to be connect to their desk for 8 straight hours without the flexibility to take a half-day here and there or work from home a couple times each month.

Studies show that a flexible work environment actually produces better results and gives employees the increasingly sought after “work-life balance.”

It’s essential to promote flexibility at your company in order to remain competitive as an employer. In a recent global study with Randstad, we found that the top benefit that Gen Z workers and Millennials want is flexibility.

Employees are expected to be reachable outside of the office by phone or email and the 9-to-5 workday no longer exists.

Aside from telecommuting and flexible schedules, more companies should allow employees to do work outside of their job description. An example of this is Google’s 20% program, which prevents employees from having to do the same projects everyday and allows them to be more creative.

Looking for reasons why the best employees quit at your company? Explore alternative work schedules to accommodate families and work-life balance. You may be surprised at productivity increases.


Ultimately, many people who leave their job do so because of the boss, not the work or the organization. When exploring why the best employees quit, ask yourself what you may be doing to drive your best people away, and start making the changes needed to keep them.

Practice actively listening and engaging with all your employees on a regular basis. One idea is to implement stay interviews (instead of exit interviews) to ask your current employees why they stay with the company. It helps to build a strong level of trust and engagement with employees when they are allowed to bring both their goals and their concerns to a manager — before it’s too late to identify and solve the problems.

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