Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The nine reasons why people quit their jobs

Did you ever quit your job for another one? Do you know someone who did that? Are you thinking of quitting your current job? I'm sure that "YES" is the answer of at least one of the previous three questions. The next question is "WHY". Why did you quit your job? Why did the person you know quit his/her job? Why are you considering quitting your job? Now the answer to those questions would differ from one person to the other, and I've heard a lot of different answers. One of the things I hate is when the person you ask begins his answer to why (s)he's quitting with "a lot of reasons". I believe that there can't be a lot of reasons, because IMHO, there can only be the maximum of nine reasons.

This article is not a top ten reasons (or a top nine reasons in our case) of why people quit their jobs. This article is about what I believe to be the nine, and the only nine, reasons of why people quit their jobs to go work in another company in the same field.

Before we start stating the nine reasons, let me state the intended audience of this article, and why those are the ones I'm targeting:
  1. HR people: I'm targeting those people since they can conduct a list of questions for exit and entry interviews, so that they can know exactly why people leave their jobs, categorize the answers into the nine reasons, calculate the percentages and weights of each reason and see where are the weaknesses and strengths of their company, so that they can try to do something to improve the company.
  2. People considering leaving their jobs: You have to categorize the reasons that make you leave your job, prioritize the nine reasons/aspects according to your needs, give them weights and do the math. Some people leave because they got sick of something, and go to place far worse than where they've been just because they got a little bit too emotional, or because they were more subjective than objective. Remember to do the math, and leave for the right reasons.
  3. Normal employees who are not considering to quit: Are you sure that you don't want to leave? Remember the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence (your neighbor's backyard :-P). Just kidding, but seriously, even if you are satisfied with where you're working, you have to do the math, at least to know what makes you so happy. Prioritize the nine reasons according to your current needs, give them weights, give scores to your company for each of the nine reasons, and see if the score is good or not. Some people are satisfied with jobs that really suck, just because they either don't know what's on the other side of the fence, or because they're afraid that their neighbor has a dog in his backyard (that's a metaphor for being afraid of taking the risk, if you haven't already got that).
I will not be talking about career change, since HR cannot convince an accountant who wants to leave to be a professional ballerina to stay. If I go into this, this will just be some useless blabbing. I'll just give it an honorable mention at the end of this post. Now let's start with the reasons:
  1. Financials: Let's face it, we all work for the money. Yeah most people try to work in a field they enjoy, but we work to pay the bills and feed ourselves and our children. When I say financials, I do not just mean the salary. Other things add up on the salary, like bonuses and the possibility of traveling a lot with a good travel allowance. A lot of people might leave a perfectly good job for another one that pays more. Those people might either have a lot of bills to pay, or maybe they're just leaving because they feel that they're being underpaid in relation to the market, even if they're not in need for the money. This situation might be really stressful to a lot of people, because they feel that they are not given what they deserve.
  2. Position: Titles are really important. First of all, your title decides your salary range. Secondly, it gives you prestige. Each of us wants to be something, and the title gives you a part of that. In the first company I worked in, there was no career path, and there were no defined titles, so both the youngest and the eldest people in the department (except for department managers and project managers) were both developers. Being a senior or a junior was highly subjective. Finally, after a lot of complaints, the company created a team (which I was proudly a part of), to create a defined career path. Well, let having a career path aside, even if there is a defined career path, some people leave their jobs to go to a job at a higher position, even if it's in a smaller company and, believe it or not, a smaller pay. They regard this as an opportunity to get the higher title, which will be their key pass to a yet better job with this higher title at a bigger company. One final point, some people might leave their job for the same position at another company where there is a higher potential for the promotion.
  3. Technical Experience: When Ed Burns asked Rod Johnson and Chris Wilson (in the interviews in Secrets of the Rockstar Programmers) about when its time to change jobs they both had similar answers. It's time to change jobs when you are not learning anything new. Similar answers were given by others in different ways. What I mean by technical experience is the experience with the tools, frameworks, syntax, etc.
  4. Professional Experience: What I mean by professional experience is soft skills, managerial skills and other professional skills like software engineering practices. Some people might leave their jobs for another one where they would increase their experience in those professional areas. Professional experience might be more important than technical experience for some people. Gaining managerial and leadership skills would surely help you get promoted and direct you into the managerial path (project manager, department manager, CEO), while technical experience will get you promoted and direct you into the technical path (architect, senior architect, CTO).
  5. Business Experience: This is an important one. Knowing the business of the telecommunication field, banking, brokerage, etc. is really helpful. You might turn into an independent consultant for such companies. Gaining experience in a certain field is the most important thing in a job at a certain time, which might get someone to leave his job to go to another one where he would gain that experience. For most people it is not that extreme, but a lot of people would like to get some business experience along with the other two types of experience.
  6. Workload: This differs a lot from one person to the other. some people hate the high workload, while other are real workaholics. Generally speaking, most people hate being overloaded, and in the same time, they hate being idle. I have seen five people from the same department quit their jobs at the same time when their project was over, and the planning for the next phase was taking a really long time. Those people felt that they were idle, and hated that. On the other hand, a lot of people quit when they find themselves working an average of fifteen hours a day for really long periods. People really need their work-life balance to be maintained.
  7. Stability: When a company is not stable, you tend to find a lot of people leaving it for their sense of insecurity, but this is not the only meaning of instability. I have seen a company that didn't have a real financial crisis, but the pay date was always a surprise. The problem was that the financial department was in KSA, while the development team was in Egypt, and salaries were sent on monthly basis. Since sometimes the financial team would like to depend on an amount of money that should be collected from a client, salaries would be delayed, sometimes for more than 15 day. Sometimes, people received their salaries before the pay day. This inconsistency/instability was really bad, and it was the main reason I left that company. The sense of insecurity that the company may fail, or that you might not be able to get your next paycheck to pay your bills might be the strongest reason why you might leave a specific company.
  8. Environment: A lot of things go under this category, from the quality of tea and coffee in the company kitchen/buffet, to the way your manager treats you. The team spirit, flexible hours, company facilities and management appreciation are all parts of the environment, and believe it or not, it's one of the biggest reasons people leave their jobs (especially regarding management appreciation and how the boss treats his employees).
  9. Benefits: The benefits system of the company is also one very important aspect that may change your mind about the place you want to go. Health insurance, discounts at selected shops/service providers, pension plans, numbers of vacation days per year, etc. are core parts of the package. I worked in a company that arranged one or two trips annually for employees at really great rates, and employees paid the expenses of the trip in six months, which is a great benefit for those who love to travel.
Those were the nine reasons that are, IMHO, the only ones that may make someone quit his job for another one. Any other reason would be either a special case of one of those nine reasons, or a combination of a subset of them. For example, you might see someone who wants to leave the company, because he needs to be in a place where he can innovate. I believe that innovation has environment, benefits and workload aspects. Some environments encourage innovation, while others don't. When a company allows you to spend some of your time that you get paid for in innovation, this guarantees that your workload will not be increased if you need to innovate, while in the same time, it is clearly a part of the benefits system in the company, since you can do something that you love in the company's time.

Another example is that when some people tell you that they're leaving their job because they live away from where they work, and they need to work somewhere which is near their homes. This has both workload and financial aspects. The time you spend going to work and coming back home is added to the number of hours that are not a part of your personal life, hence, in an indirect method affects your work load. As for the financial part, the money you spend on gas, or transportation is a part deducted from your paycheck. If a company provides buses, this would certainly affect the financial part. Additionally, if the company is flexible enough to allow you to do a part of your job while in the bus, this would surely reduce your workload.

The examples are endless, but I think that this was enough for now. The last two points I would like to tackle are career change, and a tenth very special reason for quitting a job. People change their careers for several reasons, where most of the nine reasons are included (moving to a field that pays more, or has a higher potential, etc). A reason for a career change that's not in the nine reasons is that the person might not feel comfortable in the field he/she is working in. This is something that cannot be discussed in a rational manner. You cannot convince someone to love accounting more than dentistry. This is just a matter of a personal taste, and the only way to deal with such cases is to stress on the strong aspects (from the nine reasons) of the field this person is working in compared to the weak ones to the field he/she wants to leave for, and to try to explain the risk of starting a new career from the very beginning of the career path of that field, compared to continuing in his/her current path.

Finally, the tenth very special reason that I didn't include is when a woman quits her job to give more time for her children. I believe that this is a special case of a career change, where the woman changes her career from being a professional engineer for example to being a professional mother. It also has the workload aspect, since she needs more time for her personal life, i.e. less workload. Some companies partially solved this problem by opening in-house nurseries for employees' children. This reason is similar to the cases where someone quits because he/she needs to relocate to be near his sick mother for example. Some companies can solve such cases partially by being flexible enough to accept a large portion of the work to be done from home.

I hope I covered the subject well enough. If you have any reason that you think that it isn't a special case of the nine reasons, and not a combination of a subset, please tell me so that I can enhance this article further. I know that it has bean a really long read, and I hope that it was worth your precious time.


el_madina1983 said...

It is a good article. I have a comment about career change issue.

I have made an interview in ITS (Software Company in Egypt that was called ITSoft)
HR Manager told me Career is a triangle tat has 3 sides
Need (I added more details for this: need by you and need from society)

So any career change must be thought by this point of view to be a successful career even for woman that quit for taking care of her children.

Mohamed Nabil said...

You cover it all, Alaa, you mentioned a point were soft skill and managerial skills are needed.

your are totally right at it, you wont be a developer for the rest of your life, and these skills help you to make a career move.

from my POV, innovation is the best benefits ever, you remember when we used to work together we had ZERO benefit but we was kind of happy with innovation space.

Jacob from JobMob said...

Good writeup Alaa, but I would break out #8. Unless someone else has come to you with an interesting job offer, the biggest reason people quit is because of the relationship (or lack thereof) with their boss.

Stumbled this for you:

Alaa Nassef said...

Thanks for the comment Jacob. I totally agree with you on that it's the main reason people leave their jobs (even if I don't, all surveys do :D). I didn't put the reasons in a particular order (certainly number 8 is not the eighth most significant reason). I put management appreciation, and the relationship with the boss together with the environment, since it's a part of the environment. The relationship with the boss is not so different of the relationship with any other colleague, other than that it's more significant (since it's the human nature to be more sensitive towards any figure of authority, and to try to break out of the authority of that figure). Think about the difference between your relationship with your parents and brothers/sisters, or that with your classmates and your teacher/professor. It's the same thing, only with TOTALLY different weights.

John Rembo said...

Hi there! The reasons of quitting a job may be different. I just wanted to add more 15 common reasons why people quit jobs. Communication with your boss and co-workers it's a vital part of the environment.