Why do employees leave jobs?
It’s a question many businesses and organisations want answered – why do employees resign?

For Steve Hammond, Director of Kingfisher Recruitment, the answer to why employees leave jobs is simple. “People leave for push or pull factors,” he says. “Often it’s a combination.”

Hammond says an employee may think there are limited opportunities for progression in their current role and start to move or push away from it. “The pull factor may be the promise of further training available at a prospective new role,” he says.

According to Hammond, common push factors include: no promotion prospects, being under utilised, reduced work/life balance, being under paid, job insecurity, personality clashes, high pressure and bureaucracy. Pull factors that may tempt prospective employees are opportunities to learn and advance, increased autonomy and being presented with an offer too good to refuse.

The importance of finding the cause

When an employee resigns, it is in the organisation’s best interest to find the root cause, says Assistant Professor Anthony Klotz from Oregon State University. “Turnover is quite expensive, it is disruptive to organisational functioning and it can cause other employees to consider leaving as well,” he says.

Klotz and his colleague Mark Bolino from the University of Oklahoma, studied the resignation stories of nearly 300 newly resigned employees and over 200 managers of employees who had recently quit.

Klotz and Bolino discovered that the way organisations and leaders treat their employees may not only impact if they stay or go, but how they end up leaving if they do resign. They identified seven distinct resignation styles.

The seven resignation styles

  Percentage of employees who say they use this resignation style Percentage of leaders who say they encounter this resignation style

This involves a face-to-face meeting with a manager, a standard notice period, and an explanation for resigning.









Similar to ‘by the book’, except the meeting is shorter and the reason for quitting is not provided.



The employee expresses gratitude toward their employer and often offers to help with the transition.



The employee lets colleagues know that they are quitting rather than giving notice to their supervisor.



This is where employees confide in their manager that they are contemplating resigning.



The employee tries to harm the company or its workers during the resignation, often through verbal attacks.



The employee simply walks off the job, never to return or communicate with their employer again.



Source: Klotz, A. C., & Bolino, M. C. (2016). Saying Goodbye: The Nature, Causes, and Consequences of Employee Resignation Styles. Journal of Applied Psychology.

Why employees leave the way they do

The two elements that were most predictive of resignation styles in Klotz’s study were employee perceptions regarding whether or not they had been treated equitably by their organisation and whether or not their boss had treated them respectfully.

“Employees who reported that they had been given fair treatment by their organisation were more likely to behave like good citizens when they quit,” says Klotz. “However, when our respondents indicated their company or supervisor had not held up their end of the bargain by being fair and respectful, they tended to resign in a more destructive manner.”

There could be a silver lining to those harmful resignations, however. According to Klotz, bridge burning and impulsive quitting may have diagnostic value, in that they may indicate the presence of unfair management practices that need to be handled so more employees do not quit as a result of them.

Avoiding surprise resignations

For career and lifestyle coach Suzanne Williams, regular and open dialogue with employees is the best way to avoid surprise resignations. “People have different wants and needs,” Williams says. “Where someone might want more money, someone else might want an inspiring leader that they can learn technical skills from and another might want a more flexible schedule.”

The key, Williams says, is keeping communication lines open. “That cultivates an honest environment, and your employees are much more likely to be up front with what they want,” she says. “This way employers can be on the front foot and create the best workplace for them so that they don’t want to leave in the first place.”

Tips for talent retention

  • Create and promote an environment that is conducive to regular discussion and review of employee goals and aspirations.
  • Consider a counter offer but only if you’re prepared to address the reason why the employee says they are leaving.
  • Improving induction processes is a popular intervention for improving staff retention.