The top 10 causes of employee turnover in 2021 (and how to address them)

Written by: Nora St-Aubin | Illustrated by: Officevibe team
Published on: September 9, 2021 |  Reading time: 10m

The last business quarter is fast approaching, and managers and leaders across industries are starting to think about the year ahead. For many, implementing a solid employee retention strategy will be a top priority in the wake of 2021’s historically high resignation rates. But what are the causes of employee turnover behind these departures?

While unique global circumstances have influenced high employee turnover in the last year, many of the reasons people are currently citing for switching jobs are the same as they’ve ever been. The difference now is that prolonged uncertainty and major context shifts, both at work and in life, have motivated people to take action.

Finding a new job is a small way to regain a sense of control in this unpredictable world.

So, how can managers avoid getting hit by another wave of high turnover on their team? It starts with understanding what’s impacting your employee turnover rate, and how to address the underlying issue.

10 Top causes of employee turnover, and how to address each one

These common factors in staff turnover are important for every manager to be aware of. Knowing what might sway someone to leave helps you spot signs of disengagement early and act fast to boost job satisfaction. This way you can reduce voluntary turnover and retain your top talent.

Your first action item: Schedule a stay interview with every member of your team to find out what they love about their job, and why they might look for a new opportunity. See what you can do to amplify their job satisfaction, and address any pain points.

1. Work flexibility

Flexible work options are no longer a perk, but a key factor in people’s job search. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, a 2019 survey from FlexJobs found that 30% of respondents had left a job, and 16% were looking for a new job because of the lack of workplace flexibility. So if your company doesn’t offer workplace flexibility, your team members might start looking for a job that does.

What can you do about this as a manager? While you might not control workplace policy, you can certainly influence it by advocating for what your employees want. And more short-term, you can work within the structures in place to create more flexibility for your team.

How to give employees more flexibility

  • Ask every employee what types of flexibility are most important to them. Is it around remote work, flexible hours, a more flexible schedule, time off, or something else?
  • Establish some team norms. What are your ‘on’ and ‘off’ hours? Can you block off time for focus work (or personal time)?
  • Take any requests that are beyond your control to upper management or HR. Connect with other managers to outline some clear, common employee asks and present it together.

2. Professional development

Employees want to learn and grow, and to have opportunities to apply themselves and develop their skill sets. If people are stuck doing the same tasks or don’t have the chance to apply their strengths, it could drive them to look for a job that offers more in this area.

1 in 4 employees say they are not supported towards their growth and development.

Officevibe’s Pulse Survey data

This is something managers have a lot of influence over. Start with understanding what areas each employee wants to develop and what skills they want to improve. From there, you can seek out and even create opportunities for employees to try new things and grow in their roles.

Set some goals: Ask your employees what they want to achieve every 3 months and set some professional goals with them. Find the overlap between their personal ambitions and the team’s objectives.

3. Career advancement

Similarly to professional development, people want to make advancements in their career and ‘move up’ in their roles. Traditional models can make it feel like a promotion is the only way to do this. If that’s not an option, getting a more senior position at another company could be appealing.

28% of employees say they don’t have the opportunity to grow within their organization.

Officevibe’s Pulse Survey data

So, what can you do when there aren’t more senior roles available? Like with professional development, it’s about finding (or creating) opportunities for your employees’ career advancement. Start by discussing each team member’s long-term and short-term career goals. Ask them where they want to be in 5 years, and in 2 years.

Visualize the future: Once you know what people want more long-term, you can talk through how they might move toward this. How can they take on more responsibility? Could you build a case together for a more senior role? Work together to map out a career path at your organization.

4. Role clarity

When roles and responsibilities aren’t clear, it can lead to a lack of team efficiency, team conflict, and missed targets. At an individual level, when employees start taking on tasks that are outside of their role it can make them feel as if they’re not applying themselves or using their strengths. Employee morale could take a real hit, and if this goes on for too long, people could even start to feel like they’re being taken advantage of. All of this could lead to a high turnover rate.

Create role clarity on your team

  • Meet one-on-one with employees every 3-6 months to go over their title and job description. Discuss the tasks and responsibilities associated with it and make sure you’re aligned.
  • Map this information out in a clear document that everyone has access to, so people understand how they fit into the team structure. Update it regularly as people join or leave the team.

5. Burnout and wellbeing

Work-life balance and employee wellbeing are non-negotiable. Hustle culture was getting called out before a global pandemic prompted many people to reevaluate their priorities. And as more businesses make wellness and stress management top priorities, employees will seek them out if the company they’re at doesn’t follow suit.

30% of employees say their stress levels at work are unmanageable.

Officevibe’s Pulse Survey data

Get ahead of employee burnout and break down norms that get in the way of work-life balance and personal wellbeing. This is essential to maintaining employee engagement, keeping up team performance, and retaining your best talent.

Fight burnout and boost wellbeing

  • Don’t just remind employees to take time off, encourage them.
  • Check in on people’s stress levels during 1-on-1 meetings.
  • Inform your team of any mental health resources available.
  • Lead by example and sign out early, take personal days, etc.

6. Sense of purpose

What are we here for? Employees want to know. It doesn’t have to mean changing the world one advertising campaign at a time, but feeling like they’re contributing to something is a key factor in employee engagement levels. If the work feels meaningless, employees could start looking elsewhere.

1 in 5 employees don’t feel a strong sense of purpose in their role.

Officevibe’s Pulse Survey data

One of the best ways to build up this sense of purpose is to connect your team with the impact of their work. Taking the time to observe what happens once they hit the send button, close the deal, or finish the redesign helps them remember that they’re playing a role in something greater than their day-to-day.

Show your team their impact: Track and share results from key initiatives, share client testimonials with your team, and have brand ambassadors join group meetings to talk about the impact that your business has had on them.

7. Clear expectations

Clearly defined expectations at both an individual and team level are very important to people feeling empowered to do their best work. This can be challenging for managers because they want to avoid micromanaging or being too directive. At the same time, there are always going to be business objectives and KPIs to hit.

It’s all about finding the balance, because a lack of direction could make people feel like they can’t succeed. And on the other hand, too much direction could make them feel like they’re just there to push buttons. Either of these could create the risk of employees setting out on a job hunt.

Find a middle ground: Make sure people know what’s expected of them, and that they have enough freedom to help define how they achieve that end. This could mean setting clear and inspiring team goals for everyone to align around, or outlining a high-level roadmap for them to fill in together.

8. Values alignment

It’s important for people to feel that their own personal values are reflected in company values. But company culture is brought to life by how people at your organization act, and this includes upper leadership, you as a manager, and each employee on your team. If people feel like things aren’t done in a way that aligns with their values, they could seek out an opportunity that feels like a better fit.

At the team level, you want collaboration, work methods, and decision-making to reflect people’s personal values. Getting your employees to define their core team values together gives them a clear reference point that they can apply in these areas.

Host a team values workshop

  1. Have everyone share the personal values that they want reflected in their work experience.
  2. Find the commonalities and vote on 3-5 that you want to turn into team values.
  3. Come up with a few examples of how each value might show up in your day-to-day.
  4. Write it all out and keep it in a shared team space.

9. Personality clashes and conflict

This is a tough one, because sometimes it can come down to people just not seeing eye-to-eye. The thing is, we often learn the most by working with people who have a different perspective from us, and trying to understand where they’re coming from. This is how we all start to think more critically, and ultimately, it’s what creates smarter, more competitive teams and workforces.

While some personality clashes and interpersonal conflict are inevitable, fostering an open-minded company culture is the best way to prevent employee conflict from getting in the way of the bottom line. There needs to be room to agree to disagree and let go of ego. Everyone should to be willing to try things a different way and really listen to each other. And this dynamic must go in every direction, regardless of hierarchy or office politics.

Lead by example: Managers and leaders must be receptive to feedback, open to ideas, and ready to embrace failure. Developing your management skills, becoming a stronger communicator, and nurturing team dynamics makes a world of difference in the employee experience on your team.

10. Salary and benefits

People want to be paid fairly for their work, and have employee benefits that reflect their needs. If employees aren’t satisfied with their compensation or they don’t have the opportunity to move into a higher-paying role, they may look for a promotion elsewhere. And if the perks offered don’t match an employee’s reality, it won’t be valuable to them.

Managers may not have the final say on someone’s salary or the benefits offered. But, they can make sure every member of their team has a full understanding of how pay is determined and what perks they have access to. On top of that, they can give upward feedback to leadership and human resources to help them understand employee expectations and needs. And on a team level, they can tap into the resources and budgets available to improve the employee experience.

Amplify the employee offer

  • Transparency builds trust. Ahead of pay evaluation periods or annual reviews, meet with your whole team and walk them through the process. Explain how compensation is determined and give time for questions.
  • Be the bridge between your direct reports and human resources or service providers. Talk with people about their needs and connect them with the resources available to them. Make accessibility a priority.
  • If your team has budgets or time allowances for professional development, team building, training, or other perks, use it. Set people up to use these perks on an individual basis and take the lead scheduling time and making arrangements for your team to use them collectively.

Understand the causes of employee turnover and keep your top talent

Many teams and companies have experienced high staff turnover in the last year, and if this speaks to you, you’re not alone. By getting to the root cause of voluntary employee turnover, you can be proactive to avoid another wave of good employees leaving. Work with your team to improve employee satisfaction, and boost retention as you move forward.