5 causes of employee turnover (and how to prevent them)

By Corey Moseley

6 min read

5 causes of employee turnover (and how to prevent them)

Employee turnover describes the number or percentage of employees who leave your organization and will need to be replaced. There are employees who leave for their own reasons (voluntarily) and those who are let go (involuntarily). This article will cover the employees who leave on their own accord.

Why? Because a persistently high voluntary turnover rate can cause a lot of strain on even the most robust organizations. It’s costly, time-consuming, and can have a detrimental effect on your people’s morale.

More importantly, high voluntary turnover is usually a symptom of deeper organizational problems that need to be addressed.

So, why are your people fleeing your organization? Although we’d like to think our people are reluctant to leave our organization, except perhaps to progress in their careers, more often than not it’s poor employee experience that’s driving them away.

Although turnover drivers may look and feel different company by company, there are a few common threads that start to crop up. In this article we’ll look at five major causes of employee turnover and explain how you can prevent them before it’s too late.

5 causes of employee turnover


1. Toxic culture

One of the most common yet often misunderstood causes of employee turnover is poor culture fit. And no, I don’t mean an employee who doesn’t fit in with the workplace culture; I mean a culture that doesn’t fit its people. In other words, the type of corporate culture that sabotages morale, scares away new talent, and actively drives away its best people.

If an organization exhibits some of the tell-tale signs of a toxic culture, retention rates will suffer. That company might have the best possible people for the job, but those people will run for the hills as soon as they connect their increasing stress levels, tanking physical and mental health, and eroding motivation with their toxic culture.

Self-preservation will always trump a worker’s commitment to their employer, and people are only going to put up with so much.

Solution: This is one of the more difficult to prevent causes of employee turnover. Contrary to popular belief, toxic culture doesn’t arise from a few bad seeds. Rather, it’s the result of leadership ignoring or refusing to acknowledge the signs that something’s amiss.

One way to confront this problem is to regularly perform a comprehensive culture audit. This helps your organization identify common issues, track their origins, and start making changes and (hopefully) improvements. It’s up to leadership to listen—really listen—to people at every level in the organization. They’re your best asset when it comes to diagnosing what’s going haywire at your organization.


2. Lack of purpose or meaning

People want their work to have meaning, or at least some kind of purpose. Working with a shared purpose can increase motivation and performance, not to mention create more cohesive teams.

And this doesn’t have to mean saving the planet or working towards world peace. It can be as simple as a shared vision or working towards a common goal. In fact, 9 out of 10 people are willing to sacrifice at least part of their current salaries to do more meaningful work.

Unfortunately it’s sometimes difficult to locate a sense of meaning or purpose at some companies, and this can drive people to find work elsewhere. It can be the nature of the work itself or it could be that some organizations just aren’t skilled at creating a culture of meaningful work. Either way, something probably needs to change.

Solution: Transparency is key. Being as open and transparent as possible about big picture company goals can help create a shared vision and sense of purpose. Recognition is also important. If your people aren’t hearing how their good work is paying off, they’re quickly going to lose interest. By publicly recognizing individual and team achievements, you remind each member of your organization that their job matters—that their work on day-to-day tasks helps achieve larger goals.

Most importantly, give your people something to believe in. Just make sure that it’s authentic and not forced.

3. Overwork

Too much work and, subsequently, too much stress is also a major factor in an employee’s decision to leave your organization and find work elsewhere. Sadly, overwork isn’t uncommon—it’s the norm. According to reports, 53% of American workers are overworked and burned out.

Overworked employees are prone to illness, high stress, absenteeism, and in some cases, burnout and depression. In fact, working over 55 hours in a week is extremely bad for you in many ways.

As if that’s not enough, overworked employees are not good for your organization’s bottom line. But the bottom line of your business is undoubtedly the last thing on the overworked, depressed, burned out employee’s mind as they browse new job postings.

Solution: If you notice people staying far later than they ought to be, coming in on weekends, and working at all hours of the day, you’ve got a problem on your hands. To prevent or fix this, you’ll first need to determine why your people are overworked. Does your company have enough resources, unrealistic deadlines, too much volume, lack of training to do the job efficiently? Pinpoint the root cause and make changes, fast.

Sometimes it’s as simple as asking overworked employees if they need help.You can also praise employees who prioritize their work-life balance and discourage staying late.

4. Boredom

On the other hand, a lack of challenging or engaging work is also a major cause of employee turnover. In other words, boredom.

Employees grow bored with their work for a number of different reasons. If they feel that their capabilities are underused or their job lacks meaning, boredom can set in. But so can a mismatch between their interests and the type of work they do or company they work for. In some cases, bored employees are more stressed than overworked employees.

It’s no wonder boredom can drive employees to look for new work.

Solution: How you deal with bored employees depends on their reason for their growing bored in the first place. Are they finding their jobs too simple and monotonous? Give them a new challenge. Do they feel like they’re stagnating in their current role? Provide them with new training and education opportunities, send them to a conference, or enroll them in manager training.

Whichever solution you decide on, it’s important not to attack the problem as if the employee is to blame. Chances are they’re bored for a legitimate reason, and it’s up to you to find out how you can help.

5. A bad boss

“People don’t leave their jobs, they leave their managers.” This one kind of goes without saying, but I’ve included it anyway because a bad boss is one of the most common causes of employee turnover. If your organization is experiencing a brain drain, the most likely culprit is an ineffective, incompetent, or just plain evil manager.

Reports show that employees who don’t trust their managers are more likely to leave their jobs.

Solution: This one falls squarely on the shoulders of management. If people (especially top performers who are difficult to replace) are leaving because of one person in particular, it’s time to reevaluate that manager’s value to your organization. In most cases, it’s a no-brainer: get rid of the bad manager.

Most importantly, listen to what people say in their exit interviews, but also read between the lines. You can also interview remaining team members to see if they’re experiencing the same problems about the bad manager.


Preventing turnover is mostly about listening to employees. Understanding why they leave is one important part, but so is understanding why they stay. Talk to both groups and you’ll start recognizing common threads. Only then will you be able to make the changes your organization needs to nip turnover in the bud.


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Corey Moseley

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