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Why Do Good Employees Leave?

Losing good employees is not only an expense in terms of time, effort and the associated cost that may go into obtaining a suitable replacement but also in the untold cost of losing valuable knowledge and experience that is unique to the organisation; a problem where prevention is most definitely the best cure.

Although it is inevitable that employees will leave from time to time a good employer will want to know why an employee has decided to leave to ensure that they are doing so for the right, and not the wrong, reasons.

Concerns of employees can be identified early by the regular use of well-designed employee satisfaction surveys, allowing for problems to be resolved and helping to minimise needless loss of staff. However some problems, especially those that involve personalities, are not always brought to the surface until it is too late.

There are two very common reasons for employee dissatisfaction that can often result in personnel deciding to change jobs, poor management and/or a lack of career development. Both of these problems can be difficult to identify even for organisations that adopt regular 360 degree assessments (i.e. where as part of the overall appraisal system, employees evaluate their managers).

While employed employees can be reluctant to criticise their managers for fear of the consequences, they can however be more candid when completing an exit survey.

Although adopting exit surveys many not prevent individuals from leaving it will help bring to the surface problems that could, if left unchecked, result in poor staff moral for the remaining staff and worse-case scenario, a flood of resignations.

Poor Management

Many managers achieved their position through promotion, but it does not always follow that a good worker will automatically make a good manager and often people are assigned management position without any formal management training.

Poor managers can be quick to discredit the views of disgruntled staff, 'they were a waste of space' and 'I was thinking of getting rid of them anyway' are typical responses to being asked if there is a problem.

It is proper and natural for senior management to support their line managers by giving them the benefit of any doubt, after all a good managers can always be slighted by poor employees. But by conducting exit surveys, if a man-management problem were to be identified early there is a good chance that it can be addressed and resolved with the appropriate formal training and guidance.

Lack of Career Development

Not all employers can offer, and nor do all employees desire, a clear and long term career path. There are just as many people that find comfort and security in doing one job well as there are there are people that need to feel that they are continual being challenged, learning new skills and moving onwards and upwards with respect to the corporate ladder.

Where losses due to a lack of career development are occasional they may also be inevitable, but where they are frequent, then changes to the organisational structure might need to be considered to allow greater career development of the employees.


It is not uncommon for people to leave an employer and at a later date put in a claim for constructive dismissal. With 'No win no fee' legal representation this has become a real problem for even good employers. Exit surveys will at best, provide a valuable record of the employee's reasons for leaving, and at worse, provide early warning that a possible claim might be expected.

Unless it is on record a tribunal will not necessarily accept an employer's word that when an employee left they did so without indicating any grievance.

When to Conduct an Exit Survey?

Exit surveys can be conducted as part of the termination procedures or they can, with the employee's agreement, be delayed for a few months.

The advantage with delaying an exit survey for a few months is that after a period of reflection a former employee can be less emotional and more objective and if they have taken up another position they may be in a position to compare their previous role with their new role.

The advantages with conducting an exit survey as part of the termination procedure is that although emotions may be running high it is probably more reflective of the employee's state of mind and therefore closer to the reasons they have decided to leave (justified or otherwise). If left until later any comparison between their old and new roles may be the result of them putting on a brave face, and if reasons are given that require action, the delay may well have prevented the problem being resolved.


Organisations will generally benefit in a number of different ways by including exit surveys as part of their employee termination procedures. They will at the very least provide good records that could prove very valuable later, at best they will provide management with information that can help improve an organisation spiritually and with the bottom line.

Sample of an Exit Survey

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Martin Day is a Director of Survey Galaxy Ltd
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