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When The Best Employees Quit, Can You Handle The Truth?

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March 2014
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By George Anders, Contributor

When prized employees leave a company, bosses almost always act surprised. From the comforts of the corner office, it’s easy to believe that you’re providing a great work environment and all the career-advancement opportunities that workers or managers might want. But maybe senior executives just can’t handle the truth.

Several new surveys by LinkedIn LNKD +2.01% shed fascinating light on employees’ true reasons for pushing off. Take something as basic as people’s stated reasons for leaving. When LinkedIn surveyed 18,000 gainfully employed professionals and asked them to imagine what might convince them to change employers, the top factor cited was “Better compensation or benefits.” In the No. 2 spot was “Better work/life balance.” Ranking third was “Greater opportunity for advancement.”

While contented workers may daydream a little about getting a big raise or more time at home with the kids, LinkedIn  finds that when employees actually bolt, they act because for different reasons. A separate survey of 7,530 job-switchers finds that the most powerful reason is “Greater opportunity for advancement.” In second place is a desire to find “Better leadership from senior management.” The hunt for greater pay is third.

Who might have some job hopping in his or her future? Just about everyone. According to LinkedIn research consultant Matt Grunewald85% of the workforce is either actively looking for a job, or at the very least is open to talking with a recruiter about what might be available. That’s up from 80% in a similar survey two years ago.

Companies may think that they offer excellent and well-recognized career tracks. When LinkedIn surveyed human-resources and talent-acquisition specialists last year, 69% of U.S. respondents said they believed their internal mobility programs were well-known among employees. But maybe that’s more wishful thinking than reality.

When LinkedIn asked employees in its exit survey if they knew of such internal mobility programs, only 25% of U.S. respondents said yes. Figures for respondents in India and Britain were almost identical. Awareness was slightly higher in Australia, yet even lower in Canada.

The upshot: Employees who leave a company voluntarily generally do so because they’ve formed a very different perception of that employer from what the official party line might be. It takes a brave executive, in such situations, to dig deeper and find out what part of the company’s own story isn’t ringing true. More often, executives prefer to shrug off such exits, or to pretend they never happened.

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