The Ultimate Employee Retention Guide

Causes of Employee Turnover

Turnover is influenced by many factors that generally come from two directions: external forces and internal forces. We have a bigger impact focusing on internal forces within the company’s control.

We’ll start with external forces, though, because it helps to be aware of how much they contribute to fluctuations so that you can make effective decisions about retention. It also helps assess how important turnover is to your company when you see how you stack up against your competitors.

Average turnover rate

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey is based on a monthly survey of approximately 16,000 U.S. businesses. They report the average total turnover rate around 3.5% with voluntary turnover around 2% monthly.

As unemployment rates have declined over the past decade, the U.S. has gone from over six unemployed people per job opening in 2009 to less than one in 2019. That means employees have more options.

When there is more confidence in the economy and lower unemployment, voluntary turnover tends to rise and involuntary turnover tends to fall.

Mercer’s annual survey of 150 organizations in the US reported voluntary turnover at 16% in 2018 - lower than the 26.9% that the federal government reported, which may be a reflection on the types of organizations that participate in Mercer’s more in-depth study.

Overall, turnover does not vary greatly based on organizational size, although larger organizations can have slightly lower rates. And smaller organizations tend to feel more of an impact when someone quits.

Geographically speaking, the South tends to have the highest quit rates while the Northeast has the lowest in the US.

The biggest variances by far, though, are seen between industries. Hospitality and retail have the highest turnover rates while manufacturing and finance have among the lowest in the private sector.

Industry 5-Year Average
Voluntary Turnover
Hospitality 51%
Retail 35%
Professional Services 34%
Leisure 34%
Construction 24%
Transportation 21%
Real Estate 21%
Healthcare 21%
Information 18%
Manufacturing 15%
Education 15%
Finance 14%
Government 9%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014-2018

When LinkedIn analyzed their half-a-billion users, they found 11% indicated they left a company in 2017. This turnover rate is likely lower than the government and Mercer reports because of the types of professionals that use the platform and the dependence on an individual updating their profile.

Still, LinkedIn showed how turnover reflects current industry trends. Retail is a high turnover industry and now software is too. However, tech employees usually move to another tech company while retail employees often move to a new industry, likely due to the rise of online shopping.

When LinkedIn ranked job functions, those with the highest turnover (17%) were marketing and research, followed by media and communication, HR, and support functions (15%). Sales, engineering, and operations also have above average turnover (13%), likely a reflection of high demand for their skills. Meanwhile business development has the highest retention (6%).

While turnover trends are valuable, insights into your industry and overall economy are likely enough to anticipate when you need to invest more in recruitment and retention. Besides, long-term investment in retention is the most effective approach regardless of fluctuations in the market.

And while it can be helpful to benchmark externally based on industry, function, and region, the most important benchmark is internally based on department, job level, location, and other segments of your organization over time. So let’s now look inward.

Key drivers

Certain aspects of employee experience tend to be the biggest drivers of turnover (why employees leave) and retention (why employees stay).

Work Institute reports that 77% of voluntary turnover is avoidable. They found the top reason for leaving is career development, followed by work-life balance and manager behavior. Compensation, job, and workplace were also common reasons.

Based on industry research, the key drivers are consistent:

  • Total rewards
  • Onboarding
  • Leadership
  • Learning and development
  • Growth and advancement
  • Wellness and work-life balance

Total rewards

Total rewards goes beyond base pay, bonuses, and compensation overall. It includes health benefits like insurance and financial benefits like retirement savings. For many companies, it also includes any gifts or bonuses received due to a recognition program.

In sum, total rewards encompasses all that an employer offers an employee in exchange for joining, contributing, and staying with the company.

Recognition

When we talk about total rewards, we should also keep in mind the power of recognition. At its core, employee recognition is the open acknowledgment and expressed appreciation for employees’ contributions to their organization.

When organizations decentralize employee recognition and empower their workers to engage in peer-to-peer and 360-degree recognition (that is, not solely top-down recognition), they increase the frequency with which employees can receive recognition and get a more nuanced understanding of what individuals, teams, and departments consider valuable.

Onboarding

Employees tend to be the most positive about their employer before their first day on the job. Onboarding is a way to build on that momentum, but it’s often a place where companies fall short.

A BambooHR survey found that 31% of employees have quit a job within the first six months and the top reason was a poor onboarding experience, which is generally defined as the first 90 days on the job.

Onboarding includes orientation to the workplace and the job, yet it’s so much more than that. This is the time to integrate the new employee into the team and culture: the core values underlying everyday behavior.

Leadership

We know from our own experiences—and research backs it up—how critical managers are to the employee experience. The immediate supervisor directly influences many key drivers of engagement and retention like development and recognition. If your manager doesn’t recognize your work, how can you trust them to support your career growth and success? 🤔

Senior leadership also plays an important role. Executivesmustclearly articulate the company’s vision and values. They’re responsible for the transparency that makes people feel secure and that the work they do is meaningful.

Learning and development

When people think about job learning, they think training, and that’s certainly a key part, whether in-class workshops or bite-sized videos on-demand.

However, the majority of career development comes from on-the-job learning. It’s an organic way we share knowledge. Plus it’s often the most effective way to learn: in a real environment with a real task.

Employees want to strengthen their skill sets to do better in their job, career, and sometimes just for the challenge and stimulation that keeps coming to work every day interesting.

Growth and advancement

While learning and growth are highly related, we separated them because they can satisfy different needs and can be accomplished in different ways.

Nobody wants to feel stuck. No matter how much education you provide, many people are not satisfied unless they can move to progressively more challenging jobs. And simply changing someone’s title from junior to senior hardly makes them feel more confident and capable.

Wellness and work-life balance

We define wellness as a holistic way to look at employee health, that includes both physical and mental health.

Work-life balance is a way to support employee wellness, and an increasingly more common method is flexible work arrangements. Research from Owl Labs and TINYpulse showed companies that support remote work have 25% less turnover.

Now that you know the factors that cause turnover, what can you do to fix it? Keep reading to find out.

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