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What Listening Has to Do with Retention

This morning I had the pleasure of hearing Danny Nelms, President of the Work Institute, present about the real reasons employees leave their jobs. There are 50 different reasons employees choose to leave their workplace.


The Work Institute is an HR consulting firm that treats exit interviews like academic research studies, and every year they create a report that summarizes – with anonymized data – what they have learned about why employees left their companies in the prior year.

Apparently the truism that “people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers,” is sort of, kind of, not really true. Here are the top three reasons people choose to leave their jobs:

  1. Lack of career development

  2. Work-life balance

  3. Managers

Yup, managers are number 3! But look at those first two things - they are absolutely aspects of work that managers have a lot of control over. Yes, company-wide policies set limits on career development, promotion, flexibility, and paid leave, but, there are so many situations where a first-line supervisor has discretion – or – may not know the policy well enough to offer an accommodation where it can be made!

So what do you do? LISTEN!

One of Danny’s main points was all about my favorite topic: listening. The employee voice, he said, is key to retention. Whether you are managing a team, working in HR for a company, or own your own company, you must first understand what your employees want in order to keep them happy and committed to your organization.

As Danny’s work, and my own research, illustrates, there are definite generalities that can guide you in making your company or team a great place to work. For instance, we know:

  • Most people care about feeling like they can grow and learn in their job.

  • Most people prefer to work for companies where they feel there’s some larger purpose to their job that is not the paycheck.

  • When people have a good friend they work with, they are more committed to their organization.

However, you can make all the research-backed changes you want and you may still not actually give your employees what they want. Understanding how they experience their entire job life – from commuting in to whether they are still thinking about work as they go to bed at night – will give you the best data you can find to impact your own retention rates.

Why do you need the data?

According to the Work Institute’s latest report, 75% of the reasons people leave their jobs are preventable! And the majority of those are things that managers, particularly if they work in concert with HR, have control over. It may be job characteristics, workplace culture, the work environment, or work-life balance. It may be that someone doesn’t care about promotion or a raise but still wants to feel like they’re learning and doing new things. It may be that someone is nearing retirement age and contemplating whether they should do one last job change to maximize retirement benefits. It may be that someone in an earlier stage of life is considering the most generous family leave policies.

You won’t know till you ask!

While the Work Institute can help you by conducting surveys as a neutral, third party, we here at Chantilly Mediation and Facilitation can help you too – by helping managers better understand how to listen to and empathize with their employees – as well as teaching why they should bother. If you want to learn more, please call us at 703-951-6647 or contact us.


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