Why do people quit? And what can you, as a manager, do to retain them?

Conventional wisdom usually points to job-related factors: the relationship with the boss, working conditions, opportunities for advancement, and so on.

Those factors certainly play a role. But a recent study published in Harvard Business Review concludes that personal milestones – birthdays, work anniversaries, having children – often prompt people to reflect on their careers and think about making a change: “How am I doing versus where I thought I’d be? Versus where my peers are? Versus my long-term goals?” These moments can prompt otherwise-satisfied workers to start exploring other opportunities.

For example, researchers found that job-hunting activity is 6 to 9% higher around work anniversaries. Job hunting jumps 12% just before birthdays, especially when approaching midlife milestones such as 40 or 50. Other catalysts include class reunions or other social gatherings of peers.

Too personal?

As a manager, it may seem that the only factors you can influence are those that involve the job itself. If someone decides to change jobs because something in their personal life has prompted them to re-examine their career choices, what can you do?

Knowing that people are more likely to be thinking about job changes at certain life stages, however, gives you an opportunity to become engaged in the decision-making process. You can’t assume the things that used to motivate the employee still do so. Nor can you assume that employees will tell you that their priorities have changed. You need to ask.

For example, assume you have an employee who’s always been eager to move up the ladder. In the past, he’s embraced tough new assignments and has willingly put in long hours to get ahead. But now his aging mother has to go into assisted living, and he needs to spend more time dealing with her health issues. He doesn’t want to put his career in jeopardy, so he’s unlikely to tell you he wants to make a change. But if you initiate a discussion to revisit his goals, there’s a good chance he’ll tell you what he needs.

Source: Harvard Business Review (September 2016). Why people quit their jobs.

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