October 23, 2015

Employee Turnover: Why Good People Leave

By: Claire Kittle Dixon

sf1Last month at the always-amazing State Policy Network Annual Meeting, I had the pleasure of connecting with nonprofit CEOs about some of the common reasons employees leave and strategies for preventing turnover.

It was a daunting task — to stand before a room of accomplished CEOs and tell them what they might be doing wrong. I had nightmares of being pelted with rotten fruit or heckled (remember the Seinfeld episode in which Jerry is heckled during his act? Eek!).  

Thankfully, the audience was kind. And many told me later that they agreed with my assessment and valued the solutions offered. Therefore, I thought it might be valuable to share these thoughts with a wider audience in hopes that employers and employees can identify and address these issues.

This month I will cover the most common reasons for staff turnover. Next month we’ll talk about potential solutions.

Without further ado, here are the six most common reasons for staff turnover (in the order of frequency I hear about them). Keep in mind these are based on my interactions with employees, nonprofit clients, and candidates.

  1. Lack of challenge/room for growth/autonomy – It’s not surprising that a bunch of free-marketeers might long for continuous challenges and autonomy. What is surprising is how many employers forget to give their best employees room to grow. Here are some quotes I’ve heard recently from employees itching to make a move:


   ​“…there is nothing left for me to learn [here]. I have gained some very valuable skills and experience…. there are no challenging tasks for me left here.”

   “I would like a new challenge; there is a glass ceiling here.”

    Furthermore, it is striking how many free-market leaders utilize a command-and-control approach to management. Oh, the irony! Here are two comments I’ve heard of late:

“We have become a complete command-and-control operation. The management micromanages the staff.”

   “[There is a] centralized management structure and a very controlling management style, which is not the best set-up for me.”

  1. Money/feeling inadequately rewarded – Again, it should come as no surprise that conservatives, classical liberals, and libertarians want to be adequately rewarded for their work. Some employees value money above all else, while others need words of encouragement. And for the nonprofits who think they can pay well-below market rates because working for liberty is the best thing since the advent of the Twinkie, I encourage you to reconsider!  From one candidate on the market:


   “I really enjoy the work and atmosphere here; so, to be frank, I am looking for a good bump in salary.”    


  1. Geographic mobility – People frequently need or want to relocate for personal reasons, and that often means they have to leave their current jobs. Reasons for relocation are as plentiful as Lois Lerner’s lost emails: cost of living, quality of life, marriage, divorce, spouse’s job change or military assignment, aging parents, starting a family….the list goes on.
  2. Organization dysfunction – I frequently hear from employees who seek to escape some form of organization dysfunction. Problematic leadership, unhealthy culture, nepotism, and financial instability top the list.  We could address this topic alone for the next 3467 e-newsletters, but I’ll sum it up here by saying this: Talented employees don’t want to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic. If your organization has significant dysfunction, you will eventually lose your best employees. From one candidate:


   “I am not sure if one needs an excuse to be trying to leave ***** at the moment. The tenuous budget situation should be obvious, and the management has merely doubled down on the same types of behavior that created the current crisis.”


  1. (Un)Truth in advertising/Irreconcilable differences – Employees are sometimes blind-sided after they start a new job. They realize they are not a good fit for the role and/or the nonprofit itself – often because the organization misled the candidate during the interview process about the realities of the job/working there.
  2. Burnout – The great news about working to advance liberty is that it can be easy to love your job. The bad news is that it’s easy to burn out. Everywhere you turn you see liberties evaporating; so, you work harder. If you’re not careful, you can start to feel like a hamster – and I mean a hamster on a wheel – not those cute ones cruising around in a Kia Soul.

Ok, Claire, enough bad news! How do we address these issues? Great question. And for a small fee of $1,000,000, I will tell you!

I’m kidding. Tune in next month and I’ll give it to you for free!


Claire Kittle Dixon is the Executive Director of Talent Market.