Why employees leave

Poor ethics, unfair pay, lack of opportunity and boredom top reasons to quit: Survey

Paul Meloche has changed jobs three times in the past five years. The Toronto-based certified management accountant left RBC for new opportunities at Bell Canada three years ago. Earlier this year, he left Bell for State Street, a financial services company.

The prime motivator each time has been opportunity for career growth, not money.

“Going from Royal Bank to Bell was essentially to do the same job, in a different industry, because I was stalled in one department. I wanted to branch out,” he said. “But going to State Street, for example, it’s really a different course that I’m taking.”

The opportunity to learn a new skill, or take on a new challenge for career development, is one of the top reasons employees leave their jobs, according to the 2007 Employee Retention Survey by Edmonton-based David Aplin Recruiting.

Almost 2,500 people from across Canada were surveyed. Overall, they said being asked to do something unethical would be their top reason to quit. Others include being underpaid or not seeing a raise, a lack of opportunity for career growth, boredom on the job, an unexpected job offer, pressure to make unreasonable family or personal sacrifice and a negative work climate.

The priorities shift, however, when the survey is broken down along age or regional lines.

Workers belonging to Generation X (born 1962 to 1979), such as Meloche, and Generation Y (born 1980 and later) ranked opportunity for growth as their top reason to look elsewhere.

Baby boomers (born 1945 to 1961), on the other hand, said they would most likely find a new employer if they were asked to do something unethical.

“The boomers have a reputation for being idealistic,” said Dave Aplin, chief executive officer of David Aplin Recruiting. “Gen Y people have grown up in a fairly cynical age with the Bernie Ebbers and Enrons, so maybe they didn’t start out quite as idealistic as the boomers.”

Younger workers are more likely to look out for themselves first because they grew up witnessing the fickle nature of organizations that congratulated 25-year employees one day, only to lay them off the next, said Aplin.

“They saw their uncle Bob, who had worked at Bell Canada for years and years, get severely dumped in the 1990s when companies were downsizing,” he said. “I think they saw a lot of evidence of fairly cynical behaviour on the part of corporations.”

The survey also reveals strong regional differences. In Atlantic Canada, for example, employees said being pressured to make an unreasonable family or personal sacrifice would make them walk. On the other coast, workers in British Columbia said their number-one reason for leaving was compensation.

Albertans would leave if they were asked to do something unethical, whereas workers in Saskatchewan and Manitoba are more likely to be lured away by an unexpected job offer.

In Ontario, the most important issue was opportunity for growth. That may be due to the concentration of business in Ontario, said Meloche.

“Here you can go from Scotiabank to Royal (Bank of Canada) to CIBC to Bell to whatever,” he said. “A lot of people around here are not so much worried about whether they’re going to be able to put bread on the table. It’s really, ‘Where can I take my career? And how can I get life balance?’”

Companies are beginning to tune into the reasons people leave, he said. State Street, for example, is holding an internal road show for employees to explain the opportunities for growth within the organization.

“Employees will go around to see what other departments do,” he said. “I’ve heard people express interest in getting into the financial group, for example, but they don’t really know what we do. This will help them understand what kinds of skill sets are required here.”

While employees in most job categories agreed they would go elsewhere if asked to compromise their ethics, there were some notable differences. People working in accounting and finance said false promises about a job would make them walk.

Engineers and technical workers are more likely to leave if they’re underpaid compared to other job categories.

The survey demonstrates why a one-size-fits-all approach to employee retention is no longer viable, said Aplin.

“The different segments have different needs and different wants,” he said.

“All of the culture things — fairness, recognition, career road maps, training, development — all of the things that are engagement triggers, or disengagement triggers if they’re not there, you need to have programs in place to appeal to all of the different cohorts.”

For younger workers eager for career advancement, this may also mean taking more chances and promoting people more quickly than in the past, said Aplin.

“The younger folks are a little more ambitious, a little more eager for career advancement and expect it as well,” he said.

“Companies need to say, ‘Well, normally I wouldn’t put a 26-year-old in charge of a department of 15 people but this person has demonstrated some maturity, they’re bright, they’re well-educated. I’m going to take that chance,’” he said.

At the same time, employers will have to offer more flexibility to workers in all age brackets who may prefer an extra week of vacation to a bonus, said Aplin. Employees don’t want to sacrifice caring for aging parents, taking a child to the doctor or missing a school Christmas concert.

The survey underscores the importance of human resources in maintaining a culture of fairness and ethics, he said.

“They have almost a policing role. I’m sure they often get asked to cut corners or play hardball with a departing employee on severance issues, things like that,” he said. “I think HR needs to be the bastion of purity and stand up to rogue managers who don’t want to be fair to people, whether they’re staying or leaving.

“Employees are watching and they’re seeing the person you just let go, and offered a Mickey Mouse severance to, who was a 25-year, loyal person. People would view that as unethical.”

In contrast, the David Aplin survey reveals employees would be least likely to leave if a close colleague was fired or quit, if they were asked to run an errand for the boss, had a conflict with a co-worker, were denied a training course or had a disagreement with a manager.

Danielle Harder is a Whitby, Ont.-based freelance writer.

Exit strategy

Why HR professionals leave

The survey asked HR professionals what would make them consider looking for a new job. Here are the top five reasons HR practitioners would scramble for the exits:

1. Being asked to do something unethical.

2. Lack of opportunities for growth.

3. Work is uninteresting, unchallenging.

4. Being underpaid compared to others doing the same job.

5. Learning the company is doing something unethical.

Source: 2007 Employee Retention Survey, David Aplin Recruiting

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