Why Employees Stay (2023)

Many companies spend a great amount of time money investigating the causes of employee turnover—for example, through programs of exit interviews. Usually the intent behind such studies is to find out why people leave—the idea being that if a company can identify the reasons for terminations, it can work to hold terminations, and turnover, down.

While a company may obtain very valuable information from termination interviews, this kind of approach has two signal defects:

1. It looks at only one side of the coin—the termination side. If a company wants to keep its employees, then it should also study the reasons for retention and continuation, and work to reinforce these. From the viewpoint of a company’s policies on employment and turnover, the reasons why people stay in their jobs are just as important as the reasons why they leave them. An obvious point in evidence is that one individual will stay in a job under conditions that would cause another to start pounding the pavements.

As an analogy, consider the divorce rate. If one were really interested in doing something about it, he would have to understand why some people get divorced and why others stay married—the reasons for the two things are entirely different. Furthermore, the reasons for getting a divorce are not merely “just the opposite” of the reasons for staying in wedlock. He would have to do some real spadework on both sides of the fence to get a complete picture of the divorce phenomenon. Equally, in the corporate setting, there are definite rationales for terminating and definite (although sometimes unconscious) rationales for continuing.

2. This approach also tends to assume a perfect correlation between job dissatisfaction and turnover. Many a company works for low turnover because it thinks a low rate implies that its employees are pleased with their jobs—and, a fortiori, productive. This is not necessarily true, by any means. A low rate may just be the effect of a tight job market. Or perhaps the company has put golden handcuffs on its employees through a compensation scheme that emphasizes deferred benefits. There are many factors involved.

In itself, the fact that an employee stays on a payroll is meaningless; the company must also know why he stays there. We shall show, in fact, that some carelessly conceived methods of maintaining a low turnover rate can be detrimental to the financial health of a company and the mental health of its employees.

To get a more integrated view of work-force stability, we mounted a study to investigate the motivations to stay and proper ways to encourage it. (The study is described in the sidebar, “Background of the Study.”) This is the picture that has emerged.

Background of the Study

As part of an ongoing study, 406 employees from three companies completed anonymous questionnaires to provide the following information:

  • Personal data on 21 demographic variables (age, sex, race, length of service, education, skill level, marital status, and so on).
  • Reasons for staying with their companies, including factors both inside and outside the companies. (The employees chose from a pretested list of reasons, including “I like the benefits,” “I have family responsibilities,” and “I’m a little too old to start over again.”)
  • Personal values relating to the work ethic.

The “Values for Working” questions were based on Clare Graves’s work on psychological levels of existence.* Respondents were asked to allocate 12 points to multiple-choice statements about their personal beliefs regarding work itself, the kind of boss they like, benefit programs, pay, corporate profits, company loyalty, and the like. For example:

“The kind of boss I like is one who—

…Tells me exactly what to do and how to do it, and encourages me by doing it with me.

…Is tough, but allows me to be tough too.

…Calls the shots and isn’t always changing his mind, and sees to it that everyone follows the rules.

…Understands the politics of getting a job done, and knows how and when to bargain.

(Video) Why Employees Stay

…Gets us working together in close harmony by being more a friendly person than a boss.

…Gives me access to the information I need and lets me do my job in my own way.”

* “Levels of Existence: An Open System Theory of Values,” Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Fall 1970, p. 131. (The “Values of Working” instrument is available only under Code of Ethics of American Psychological Association.)

Why do employees stay? The brief answer is “inertia.” Employees tend to remain with a company until some force causes them to leave. The concept here is very like the concept of inertia in the physical sciences: a body will remain as it is until acted on by a force.

What factors affect this inertia? There are two relevant factors within the company and also two relevant factors outside the company.

First, within the company, there is the issue of job satisfaction. Second, there is the “company environment” and the degree of comfort an individual employee feels within it. An employee’s inertia is strengthened or weakened by the degree of compatibility between his own work ethic and the values for which the company stands. The employee’s ethic derives from his own values and the actual conditions he encounters on the job. The company’s values derive from societal norms, formal decisions by the board of directors, and the policies and procedures of the managing group. A widening gap between these two vantages weakens inertia; a narrowing gap strengthens it.

Outside the company, one must consider an employee’s perceived job opportunities in other institutions. An employee’s perceptions of his outside job opportunities are influenced by real changes in the job market and by self-imposed restrictions and personal criteria. We found that some employees refuse to consider work in other locations because “I like the schools” or “I like my neighborhood.” These reasons not only strengthen inertia to stay with their present organization, but also strengthen inertia to stay with any organization within the same school district or neighborhood. However, if schools lose their appeal because of drug problems or neighborhoods become run down or polluted, the inertia to stay in the area is weakened, and, consequently, outside job opportunities become relatively more attractive.

Also, outside the company, there are nonwork factors that directly affect inertia, such as financial responsibilities, family ties, friendships, and community relations. Some workers told us, for example, that they would never leave their companies because they were born and reared in their present locale. Others said they stayed because they had children in local schools, could not afford to quit, or had good friends at work. Many of these employees also reported low job satisfaction—and yet they stay.

Does it matter whether an employee stays for job satisfaction or for environmental reasons? Yes, because it makes a significant difference to the company whether an employee “wants to” stay or “has to” stay.

How can retention be improved? A company might do this by reinforcing the “right” reasons for staying. By “right,” here, we mean a combination of job satisfaction and environmental reasons that jibes with the goals of the company. By “wrong” reasons, we would mean any combination of reasons for staying that is beneficial neither to the company nor to the employees. Thus if a company reinforces the right reasons for staying and also abstains from reinforcing the wrong reasons, its turnover—as distinct from its turnover rate—might be more satisfactory.

How does a company reinforce the right reasons? Companies can do this by providing conditions compatible with employees’ values for working and living.

If managements concentrate on understanding why employees stay, then they can act to reinforce the right reasons and stop reinforcing the wrong reasons. In other words, they can take a positive approach to managing retention, which will be more effective over the long run than the ordinary, negative approach of simply reducing turnover.

Satisfaction & Environment

Our study has provided four profiles of employees that are particularly useful in thinking through the twin problems of employee retention and employee turnover. The two important variables here are the employee’s satisfaction with his job and the environmental pressures, inside and outside his company, that affect his determination to continue or terminate.

Reasons for job satisfaction include achievement, recognition, responsibility, growth, and other matters associated with the motivation of the individual in his job. Environmental pressures inside the company include work rules, facilities, coffee breaks, benefits, wages, and the like. Environmental pressures outside the company include outside job opportunities, community relations, financial obligations, family ties, and such other factors. Exhibit I shows the relationship between job satisfaction and environmental factors for four types of employees, and also explains why each type stays.

Why Employees Stay (1)

Exhibit I. Job Satisfaction and Environment

The turn-overs are dissatisfied with their job, have few environmental pressures to keep them in the company, and will leave at the first opportunity. While employees seldom start out in this category, they often end up here, having experienced a gradual erosion of their inertia. Consider, for example, an employee who a few years ago was highly motivated, had three children in college, and was close to being vested in the company retirement plan. Today, his children are graduated, he is vested, and he has lost interest in his job. His inertia to stay has been greatly weakened, and he may shortly become a turnover statistic.

The turn-offs are prime candidates for union activities; they can easily generate employee-relations and productivity problems, and conceivably industrial espionage or sabotage. These employees are highly dissatisfied with their jobs and stay for mainly environmental reasons. For example, they may feel they are too old to start over again, or that they are financially dependent on the company benefit programs; or they may believe they can’t get a job on the outside. Employees trapped in this category have two alternatives: (1) they can look for outside help (for example, from unions or the EEOC); and (2) they can change their behavior and either “do exactly what they are told and no more” or decide to “get even with the company.”

The turn-ons are highly motivated and remain with the company almost exclusively for reasons associated with the work itself. This is most desirable from the company’s viewpoint because these employees really want to stay and are not locked in by the outside environment. However, if managerial actions reduce job satisfaction (even temporarily), turnover may rise dramatically. Since the inertia of the turn-ons is not strengthened by environmental factors, it is therefore not strong enough to make them stay without continual job satisfaction.

The turn-ons-plus are the most likely to stay with the company in the long run. These employees stay for job satisfaction plus environmental reasons. Even if job satisfaction temporarily declines, they will probably stay. The word “temporarily” is a key one, for if job satisfaction drops permanently, these employees become turn-offs. This transformation will not raise the turnover statistics, but it will increase frustrations and affect work performance.

Movement between classifications

The traditional approach to measuring and understanding terminations has focused on the turnovers. These employees generally represent a relatively small percentage of the total employee population, and hence emphasizing them exclusively tends to ignore the reasons the majority stay with the company. It also ignores the dynamic processes by which an employee moves from one classification into another.

Consider a young engineer who originally joins the company because he really wants to work there. He moves into a new city where he has very few ties with the community. As he develops his career, he begins to build some meaningful work relationships—he becomes a turn-on. The longer he remains in the locale, the more likely he is to become a turn-on-plus.

But suppose a time comes when his motivation is low. Will he leave? If benefit programs have created a financial dependency, if he has stock options that are not exercisable for two or three years, if he has children who are in good schools, if he has just purchased his dream house—then he probably will not become a turnover statistic. Nonetheless, he may become psychologically absent—a turn-off. The consequences may show up in alcoholism, chronic physical or psychological illness, divorce, low productivity and motivation, and perhaps unionization.

(Video) Why Employees Stay

Suppose, instead, that this same engineer has continued to find job satisfaction. He may still stay for some environmental reasons, and the combination of reasons will probably be right—both he and the company find his employment fulfilling.

In neither case has he become a turnover casualty, but there is a dramatic difference between the two situations in terms of morale and productivity. One management observer has phrased it this way: “We have too many people in our organization who are no longer with us.”

One purpose of our research is to understand better the balance between job satisfaction and environmental reasons as it affects employee retention and to gain insight into ways to influence that balance.

Who Stays & Why?

One way to approach the question of balance between job satisfaction and environmental reasons for staying is to look at the traditional demographic breakdowns, such as male/female, salary/wage, college/high school education, and other demographic contrasts, and also at employees’ personal work ethics. We designed our research to answer questions like these:

  • Do managers stay for reasons different from those of nonmanagers?
  • Is the work ethic of younger employees different from that of older employees?
  • What kind of employees (male, female, exempt, nonexempt, and so on) stay because they like their work?
  • What is the work ethic of those employees who stay because they like their job?
  • Why do managers over 40, who have not had a promotion in five years and don’t like their job, stay with the company?

Our respondents gave many reasons for staying. We have broken these down into reasons relating to the environment outside the company—the external environment—and reasons relating to the work environment itself, within the company—the internal environment. Further, we have broken down the reasons relating to the internal environment into (a) motivational factors and (b) maintenance factors.

Exhibit II represents these two breakdowns. Each row of symbols in the exhibit is divided into three parts:

Why Employees Stay (2)

Exhibit II. Number of Motivational, Maintenance, and Environmental Reasons for Staying, Among 12 Employee Classifications

1. Motivational factors in the company environment.

2. Maintenance factors in the company environment.

3. Factors in the external environment.

To prepare Exhibit II, we took the ten reasons for staying cited most frequently by the members of a specific employee group and assigned them to the three categories just listed. For example, employees with college degrees most frequently cited six relating to on-the-job motivation, three relating to job maintenance, and one relating to the environment external to the company.

The exhibit shows that low-skill manufacturing employees stay primarily for maintenance or environmental reasons, many relating to the nonwork environment. Seven of their top ten reasons relate to the external environment—for example, “I wouldn’t want to rebuild the benefits that I have now” and “I have family responsibilities.” Their two outstanding reasons for staying that relate to the internal environment are fringe benefits and job security. These employees will not remain on the payroll because of job satisfaction. To them, factors outside the company are more important.

The reasons managers and professionals gave for staying were significantly different. As Exhibit II shows, managerial and professional employees stay primarily for reasons related to their work and the work environment; six of the top ten reasons they cited for staying were related to job satisfaction, three to the company environment, and only one to the outside environment. These data suggest that managers and professionals are more likely to be turn-ons, while low-skill manufacturing people are very likely to be turn-offs.

The moderately skilled manufacturing employees and the clerical people who are not directly involved in the production process more closely resemble the managers and professionals in their reasons for staying than they do low-skill manufacturing people. However, most organizations tend to treat all manufacturing employees alike in terms of benefits, working conditions, supervision, and pay. This study suggests that many skilled hourly employees would be less dissatisfied and more productive if they were treated more nearly as managers are, rather than as low-skill blue-collar workers are.

In the interest of assessing equal opportunity, we compared whites with nonwhites among hourly employees. Nonwhite minorities cited maintenance and environmental reasons for staying more frequently, without mentioning a single motivation factor among their top ten reasons. Caucasians also tend to stay because of maintenance and environmental reasons, although, for this group, the motivational item “I enjoy my job” ranked eighth as a reason for staying, as compared with seventeenth for non-whites.

People with less than five years of company service were compared with those with five or more. Employees with shorter service stay for internal reasons, their inertia being strengthened by a combination of job satisfaction and the job setting. However, after five years of service, environmental reasons begin to appear, while internal reasons tend to slip in relative significance. In other words, as in the case of the young engineer, these employees join a company because they want to. However, as they build family and economic responsibilities, these may displace internal reasons for staying.

A similar relationship was found in educational levels. People with a bachelor’s (or higher) degree stay because of motivation and maintenance reasons, whereas people without a college degree tend to stay for maintenance and environmental reasons.

Skill & nonmotivational factors

Given the traditional managerial belief that educational level represents a meaningful distinction among employees, we examined the influence of maintenance and external environment on people at various skill levels.

Exhibit III shows the percentage of employees, by skill category, who selected various environmental reasons for staying with their companies. These figures highlight the varied degrees of significance people with different skill levels place on environmental factors:

Why Employees Stay (3)

Exhibit III. The Effects of Environmental Factors on Employees at Various Skill and Job Satisfaction Levels

(Video) 7 Reasons why employees STAY at their work

  • Low-skill employees feel bound principally by benefits, family responsibilities, the difficulty of finding another job, personal friendships with coworkers, loyalty to the company, and simple financial pressures.
  • Moderate-skill employees feel roughly the same, but they seem somewhat less sensitive to environmental factors. Loyalty to the company, however, was cited more frequently.
  • Managers offer quite a different profile. They stay mainly for reasons related to their jobs themselves and community ties; the difficulty of finding another job, family responsibilities, and company loyalty exert relatively less influence on them.

Hence there seem to be real differences in the importance the three groups attach to environmental factors. Additionally, we might note that managers are more willing to look for new jobs, even though this may be difficult, whereas the low-skill workers tend to be unwilling to do this. It seems that “perceived outside opportunities” should be interpreted narrowly with respect to the low-skill classification.

Job satisfaction

Exhibit III also shows the significance of environmental factors for employees with different degrees of job satisfaction. These data indicate that very dissatisfied employees continue to stay because of financial considerations, family responsibilities, lack of outside opportunities, age, and, to some extent, “corporate enculturation” (they wouldn’t want to look for a job or have to learn new policies). Such reasons for staying are self-defeating and hardly could be considered right. These turn-offs have not yet affected turnover statistics, but still they may be having just as severe, or even a more severe, effect on the company. These employees see themselves as so locked in by the environment that they have little alternative but to stay; and, therefore, the possibility of reduced productivity or behavior antagonistic to the organization is great.

Historically this locked-in, turned-off condition has been considered characteristic of manufacturing or unskilled-labor categories, primarily. However, recent reports of increased union interest at the managerial level suggest that it is occurring at higher levels of the organization as well. One study shows that alienation is not limited to the hourly ranks, but may occur at any level of an organization.1

Why Dissatisfied People Stay

We gained some insight into why an employee stays with a company when he is dissatisfied with his job, supervisor, benefits, pay, and so on. We found that employees who said, “I don’t like my job,” or, “I don’t enjoy working with my supervisor,” stay primarily for maintenance and environmental reasons, mostly related to financial and family responsibilities. The only “inside the company” reasons high on the list related to benefit programs and job security. These employees are excellent examples of personnel who have not affected the turnover statistics but who may have left the company, psychologically, long ago.

This finding illustrates the fact that the reasons people stay are not necessarily the opposite of the reasons why people leave. One often hears negative statements about supervisors and jobs in exit interviews; yet, of the employees we studied, many who made such statements are still with the companies about which they complain. These are the turn-offs.

Moreover, it suggests that these employees do not have as much job mobility as many companies assume. The old cliche that “if you don’t like the job, you are free to leave” is about as naive as telling a monkey in a zoo that if he doesn’t like his bananas, he should go back to the jungle. The reinforcement that environmental factors give to the inertia of these alienated employees must be quite powerful, and it will probably take a strong force to break their inertia—in extreme cases, discharge.

It might be concluded at this point that level in the organization, race, tenure, education, and degree of job satisfaction determine why people stay. However, we found a factor more potent than any of these—namely, the work ethic of the people involved in the study.

An Employee’s Work Ethic

Human beings exist at different levels of psychological development, and these levels are expressed in the values they hold respecting their work. One useful categorization of levels and work values appears in the sidebar, “Values for Working.”

Values for Working

The following categorizations of psychological levels of development and work values are based on Scott and Susan Myers’ adaptation of Clare Graves’s theory.

Level 1—Reactive

This level of psychological development is restricted primarily to infants, people with serious brain deterioration, and certain psychopathic conditions. For practical purposes, employees are not ordinarily found at Level 1.

Level 2—Tribalistic

These employees are best suited to jobs that offer easy work, friendly people, fair play, and, above all, a good boss. An employee at this level believes that he may not have the best job in the world, but he does as well as others with jobs like his. He likes a boss who tells him exactly what to do and how to do it, and who encourages him by doing it with him.

Level 3—Egocentric

The two major requirements of a job for this employee are that it pay well and keep people off his back. He does not care for any kind of work that ties him down, but he will do it if he must in order to get some money. Because of the raw, rugged value system of this employee, he needs a boss who is tough, but allows him to be tough too.

Level 4—Conformist

This employee likes a job which is secure, where the rules are followed, and no favoritism is shown. He feels that he has worked hard for what he has and thinks he deserves some good breaks. Others, he believes, should realize that it is their duty to work. He likes a boss who calls the shots, isn’t always changing his mind, and sees to it that everyone follows the rules.

Level 5—Manipulative

The ideal job for this employee is one which is full of variety, allows some free wheeling and dealing, and offers pay and bonus on the basis of results. He feels he is responsible for his own success and is constantly on the lookout for new opportunities. A good boss for this employee understands the politics of getting the job done, knows how to bargain, and is firm but fair.

Level 6—Sociocentric

A job which allows for the development of friendly relationships with supervisors and others in the work group appeals to this employee. Working with people toward a common goal is more important than getting caught up in a materialistic rat race. He likes a boss who gets people working in close harmony by being more a friendly person than a boss.

Level 7—Existential

This employee likes a job where the goals and problems are more important than the money, prestige, or how it should be done. He prefers work of his own choosing that offers continuing challenge and requires imagination and initiative. To him, a good boss is one who gives him access to the information he needs and lets him do the job in his own way.

Exhibit IV tabulates the top ten reasons employees stay, based on their psychological level. It shows a startling dichotomy. Employees possessing relatively high tribalistic or egocentric values stay mainly because of environmental reasons, whereas employees with relatively high manipulative or existential values stay primarily for inside-the-company reasons, many of which are motivational. We also found that the tribalistic or egocentric employees are located primarily in the low-skill manufacturing functions and that manipulative or existential employees are located primarily in management, research, or professional positions.

Why Employees Stay (4)

Exhibit IV. Number of Reasons Why Employees Stay, for Different Levels of Work Values

Although not all the implications are clear at this point, it seems apparent that corporate managers, in deciding on policies and philosophy, in reality have been talking to themselves about themselves. That is, they tend to adopt policies and theories of human motivation that appeal to their own individual value systems, under the assumption that all employees have similar values. For example, many a manipulative manager presumes that money and large, status-laden offices motivate other people in the same way they drove him to his present level of success. He may have climbed the corporate ladder, but as our results clearly show, for many employees the ladder does not even exist.

This is not meant as a criticism of managerial value systems, but as a description of reality. One can expect leaders, whatever their values, to adopt policies which most appeal to their own value system. An individual makes a decision based on what he thinks is right. What is right depends on his values.

To put the matter another way: most managers are following the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Assuming all people have the same values, then what is right for the manager is right for the employee. However, since values of people are not the same, what is right to the manager is often wrong for the employee. If we were to write a Platinum Rule, we should say, “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.” This rule has obvious value for a manager who seeks to reinforce right reasons for staying, at various value levels, and to avoid reinforcing wrong reasons.

(Video) Why Good Employees Quit - the Main Reason for Employee Turnover

We further explored job retention and values by linking data on values and reasons for staying. This enabled us to determine the values of those people who stay because they like their jobs and those who said that their jobs were not reasons for staying.

We found that employees who stay because they like their jobs tend to be relatively manipulative and existential; and those who continue for reasons not directly associated with their jobs tend to be tribalistic and egocentric. We also found that the tribalistic and especially egocentric workers were relatively more dissatisfied with motivation factors than were employees with other value systems. The least dissatisfied employees had existential values, followed by the manipulative and conformist employees. This is not too surprising, considering the fact that the free enterprise system tends to reward conformist and manipulative values, and existential people stay only as long as they are happy.

Environment & values

Exhibit V demonstrates again the hidden power of environmental factors. It presents the percentage responses of employees scoring the highest (ninetieth percentile or greater) in each value system—that is, the employees who fit most clearly into each value system.

Why Employees Stay (5)

Exhibit V. Value Systems and Environmental Factors

The data show a dichotomy between employees with relatively high manipulative or existential values (Levels 5 and 7) and other employees, especially those with relatively high tribalistic or egocentric values (Levels 2 and 3). Almost without exception, people of Levels 5 and 7 place less emphasis on external environmental reasons for staying than do people with other values.

Thus whereas age, length of service, type of work and skill level, race, and education describe who stays, and for what reason, the underlying value system explains why. But can we, as managers, really use these facts to improve employee retention? Is there a positive approach to keeping people that is more effective than focusing on the negative element of turnover? Our position is “Yes, there is.”

Toward Managing Retention

Because managers have habitually concerned themselves with turnover, it will be hard to break the habit. Nonetheless, managers must stop the rituals of finding out why people leave and start investing resources in the positive management of retention. If managers reinforce the right reasons for employees staying and avoid reinforcing the wrong reasons, they cannot only improve traditional turnover statistics but set goals for retention. However, they must begin to understand and respect employees as individuals with values that differ from their own.

As a prerequisite to the development of a program to manage retention, certain difficult questions must be answered:

  • Why do employees stay?
  • What are their values for working and for living?
  • What are their ages, sexes, marital statuses, and so on?
  • What are the right and wrong reasons for employees staying in their jobs?
  • How dissatisfied is dissatisfied?

We have obtained some quantitative insight into the first three questions, but the last two may not have a quantitative solution. What is “right” or “wrong,” and how far an employee may be pushed before he is forced to leave, are moral questions. For these we offer our value judgments.

Ideally, it seems that the goal of managing retention would be to create conditions compatible to the turn-ons-plus—that is, some balance between job satisfaction and environmental reasons. This raises some questions. For example, if employees who do not like their jobs stay because of the “locked-in” features of benefit programs, should managers not consider changing benefit programs to reduce inertia?

To begin with, managers might make pensions highly portable, a measure that would tend to reduce inertia but raise costs. To balance this, it would then be necessary to improve the conditions for satisfaction so that people stay because they want to, not because they must.

Another influence on inertia is the location of a company. For example, a corporation that locates a new factory, offices, or laboratories in towns that are not highly attractive or requires the relocation of many employees has weakened inertia; thus employees are more likely to leave when they become dissatisfied with their work. Some compensatory maneuver may be called for. Again, corporations which locate plants in small towns, and draw primarily from the people who were born and reared in those communities, are building in inertia that tends to increase retention and decrease turnover—perhaps too much so.

For another aspect, consider corporations with headquarters in New York City. They may find their employees have very low inertia because it is easy for people to simply get off the subway at a different stop, or even get off the elevator at a different floor, and find themselves in a different corporation. That is, they can change jobs without changing their outside environment. In this case, inertia to stay with the present employer may be very weak, but there might be strong inertia to stay in the same general locale. Naturally, in working toward this balance, companies will have to devote some careful thought to the question, “How dissatisfied is dissatisfied?” for its employee groups. Suppose one sets up a scale of job satisfaction from +10 (very satisfied) to –10 (very dissatisfied). Will an employee leave when the level is –5? Theoretically, perhaps, he will; but realistically, the answer depends on the strength of inertia.

For example, if the “golden handcuffs” are set with diamonds, in the form of stock options which are exercisable at some distant point in the future, then inertia is strengthened—that is, until the options are exercisable. At the date of exercise, his inertia will drop to a very low point, other things being equal; and even if his level of job dissatisfaction has remained constant, it may now be great enough to break the present inertia level. Once inertia to stay has been broken and the person is in motion on his way out of the company, it will take great force to counteract his momentum to leave.

One can also find examples where an employee has stayed with a company well beyond a point where he has a sense of achievement and meaning in his work and is waiting only for early retirement. He has probably become a problem to the organization, to himself, and to his family. Lucrative early-retirement programs (sometimes known as late discharge programs) have become increasingly popular as a means to break inertia, often to the benefit of both parties.

The effects of inertia, of course, are not limited to the employee, but also extend to his or her spouse. It is not uncommon to find an employee returning to the home town because the spouse is dissatisfied with the present locale.

In seeking balance, then, it would be useful for a company to review all benefit, pay, location, and other environmental factors, as well as job satisfaction, to determine whether people are staying for the right or wrong combinations of reasons—always keeping in mind that what is right and wrong to management may not have the same degree of rightness and wrongness to the employee.

Ultimately, rightness and wrongness, whatever their specific definitions for individuals in a given company, will require the provision of a work environment that is broadly compatible with the employees’ personal goals and their values for working and living. Managers need to recognize that the “average employee” is only a concept, and develop personnel programs, policies, and procedures that are responsive to the disparate values of employees.2 Only then is it possible to develop strategies and reinforcements for employees to stay for reasons that are right for both the organization and the individual.

Toward Existential Management

A new work ethic is emerging in this society. If organizations resist recognition of the change in values for working, stick with a single approach to people, retain the concept of the average employee, and continue to snap on golden handcuffs, then:

  • The new generation may not even enter those organizations, but create its own (or take over existing ones).
  • Present employees who are locked in and turned off may seek third-party intervention to guarantee their right to job satisfaction, or their real freedom to leave.

Most organizations historically have been and still are created and perpetuated by manipulative and conformist philosophies. If management wants employees to stay for reasons that are right for the individual, the corporation, and the society, it must develop existentially managed organizations that truly accept and respect people with differing values. The approach we have taken in this article, while admittedly a “first cut” at only one aspect of the problem, may be useful to managers who have recognized the need for broader views of employment policy.

1. Alfred T. DeMaria, Dale Tarnowieski, and Richard Gurman, Manager Unions? (New York, American Management Association, Inc., 1972).

2. See our article, “Shaping Personnel Policies to Disparate Value Systems,” Personnel, March–April 1973, p. 8.

(Video) This is what makes employees happy at work | The Way We Work, a TED series

A version of this article appeared in the July 1973 issue of Harvard Business Review.


Why employees stay 2022? ›

Over a third (35%) of respondents to our Global Workforce of the Future 2022 survey chose work-life balance as their main reason for staying with a company. One in four workers who participated in our survey report a worsening of their mental health over the past year.

What keeps employees from leaving? ›

Make time throughout your day to say “thank you” to employees for their work, remind them of what a great job they're doing, and explain how they're a valuable part of the team. With technology providing us access to tons of information, employees will only become more elusive to retain.

What is the biggest reason people leave jobs? ›

According to the Pew study, 57% of Americans quit their jobs in 2021 because they felt disrespected at work. And 35% of those surveyed highlighted this as a major reason for quitting.

How long do employers want employees to stay? ›

Most companies will want to see that you held at least one job for at least three to five years because it indicates you're somewhat stable.

What makes you stay in a company answer? ›

Sample Answer:

Combined with their excellent company culture, I greatly enjoyed my time there. But after spending so long with their company, I realized it was time for a change, and I wanted to use my skills and experience with other companies to see where I can help take them.”

How do you retain an employee who wants to leave? ›

Staff retention: How to retain workers who want to quit
  1. Regular open conversations. ...
  2. Discuss workplace culture. ...
  3. Give people flexibility. ...
  4. Redesign roles. ...
  5. Compromise with workers who want to resign. ...
  6. Think about money – or alternatives.
Dec 15, 2022

What are the 5 reasons to work? ›

5 Reasons to Work (Other than Money!)
  • 1.) Friendship. While many people have friends outside of the workplace, whether through interests or hobbies, work friends are a great thing to have as well. ...
  • 2.) Consistency. ...
  • 3.) Intellectual Challenge. ...
  • 4.) Clarity of Self. ...
  • 5.) Perspective.
Jul 22, 2021

What motivates you to stay in a company? ›

What are the reasons why employees stay in the company? Exceptional and talented employees stay in a company for many reasons. It may be because they feel as though they are respected, recognized and valued or simply because they are being paid well.

What motivates employees to stay in their organization Give me 5 reasons? ›

Five key factors that will motivate your employees more than money
  • Feeling a sense of meaning and purpose in their work. ...
  • Working in a positive company culture. ...
  • Being recognised for their hard work. ...
  • Opportunities for learning and development in the workplace. ...
  • A clear path of career progression.
Apr 26, 2016

Why do happy employees leave? ›

Employees are less willing to stay at a job where they don't see potential. Even a relatively happy employee may react strongly to management transitions, changing team dynamics and shifting job responsibilities. Nearly 40% of employees reported leaving their job because of a poor relationships with management.

How do bosses feel when you quit? ›

Leaving a job can be an emotional experience for you and your boss. When you tell your supervisor you're quitting, you are essentially stating that you are firing him as your boss. He may feel shocked, angry, or defensive. He may have to answer to a superior about why you decided to leave.

How long is too long to stay at a job? ›

In general, three to five years in a job without a promotion is the optimal tenure to establish a track record of success without suffering the negative consequences of job stagnation. That, of course, depends on the job, the level you are at, and the organization you work for.

How do you convince an employee to stay? ›

7 Ways To Get Your Best Employees To Stay Longer
  1. Recognize their efforts. ...
  2. Keep challenging them. ...
  3. Keep lines of communication open. ...
  4. Empower them to make decisions. ...
  5. Foster and reward employee development. ...
  6. Offer small, personal perks. ...
  7. Offer schedule control and flexibility.

What is ghost quitting? ›

Quitting has the same end idea as ghosting (permanently leaving a place of employment), but it involves more communication. You decide you are done with a job, talk to your manager to give your two weeks' notice, and transition out of the job with a clear end date.

Why is it so hard to quit a job? ›

Many professionals have a strong resistance to leaving a job that's not working out. Quitting is hard because it carries an implication that you gave up, did not try hard enough, or were not good enough to make it work.

What benefits employees want in 2022? ›

According to MetLife, 55% of employees cite health and wellness programs (such as access to fitness facilities, gym memberships, medical screenings, etc.) as a necessity for accepting a new position in 2022, which has more than doubled from pre-pandemic expectations.

What do employees want most in 2022? ›

“In 2022, employees value a workplace that centers on well-being; where they have more sustainable workloads and more resources to support their holistic health - financial, physical, and mental.

What employees care about in 2022? ›

What are the 10 Most Important Employee Needs in 2022?
  • Fair Wages. Employees need adequate compensation for their work. ...
  • Feedback. ...
  • A sense of purpose. ...
  • Clear goals. ...
  • Work-life balance. ...
  • Good leadership. ...
  • Competence. ...
  • Physical and mental wellbeing.

How are employees feeling 2022? ›

Stress among the world's workers reached an all-time high -- again. Whether employees are stressed because of work, or their stress is carrying over into work, one thing is clear: The world's employees are feeling even more stressed than they did in 2020 (the previous all-time high).

What are the top 3 benefits employees want most? ›

Most of these probably don't come as a surprise. After all, there are baseline employee benefits that most industry experts say are needed to attract talent competitively: healthcare, paid time off, and possibly a retirement savings option.

What do employees value the most? ›

The six key factors that employees consider most important when deciding whether or not to take a job with a different organization:
  • A significant increase in income or benefits (64% said "very important") ...
  • Greater work-life balance and better personal wellbeing (61%) ...
  • The ability to do what they do best (58%)
Feb 21, 2022

What is quiet quitting your job? ›

Key Takeaways. The term “quiet quitting” refers to employees who put no more effort into their jobs than absolutely necessary. A 2022 Gallup survey suggested that at least half of the U.S. workforce consists of quiet quitters. 1.


1. How to MOTIVATE Good Employees - How to Do a Stay Interview
(LEAD THE TEAM with Ben Fanning)
2. Getting People to STAY | Simon Sinek
(Simon Sinek)
3. Bad managers at work. Why good employees quit!
(Leadership with Mike)
4. Best Stay Interview Questions for Employees
(HR University)
5. I Want My Employees To Stay Broke - Grant Cardone
(Grant Cardone)
6. Employee Retention: Why Employees Stay?
(Katrina Corpuz)
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