What makes more experienced employees leave?

A number of our clients have begun to experience the early signs of another skills shortage in key areas. On one level, this is great news. We all want to be part of a growing and vibrant economy where there are lots of employment opportunities for our friends and family members. However, there are a number of good reasons why this is making most Human Resources Directors and Chief Executives across the country very nervous indeed.
Research shows that replacing experienced employees can be a very costly exercise. Not only do employers bear the cost in terms of training and recruitment of new staff and reduced business efficiency, there are also genuine business continuity risks for many companies every time key staff leave.
 With this in mind, HC recently conducted a study to investigate whether more experienced staff nominate different reasons for leaving their employers, than less experienced staff. Our hope is that this study, in conjunction with a robust exit interview process, can assist our clients in developing targeted retention strategies for their most experienced employees.  


Exit interview results from 269 participants were compared and analysed based on their tenure. Data was drawn from four starkly different industry groups to ensure that our findings could be generalised across multiple industry groups.

Respondents were asked to select their “top three reasons for leaving” utilising a standardised fixed response question format and were then allocated seven separate tenure-based categories. The percentage of respondents that nominated each reason for leaving within pre-determined tenure categories was then analysed.


Reasons for leaving across tenure fell into three categories:

Stable influences: Those reasons for leaving that were roughly stable, irrespective of how long someone had been employed with the company.

Increasing influences: Those reasons for leaving that appeared to increase the longer someone had been employed with the company.

Decreasing influences: Those reasons for leaving that appear to decrease the longer someone has been employed with the company.

The key findings for each of these categories are listed in the table below:

Relationship with Tenure

Reasons for Leaving

Stable Influences

  • Organisational Culture or Morale
  • Health
  • Change in Career Direction

Increasing Influences

  • Work/life imbalance
  • Work load / work pressure
  • Failure to recognise my skills and   knowledge
  • Lack of challenging work
  • Bureaucracy
  • Organisational Structure

Decreasing Influences

  • Care-giving responsibilities / Family decisions
  • Job expectations
  • Type of work


It does appear that more experienced staff, on average, nominate different reasons for leaving than those less experienced exiting staff members. The below factors appeared to be the most common reasons sighted by outgoing experienced employees:

  • Workload and Work/life Imbalance— Although employees with relatively short tenures with a company appear to be able to overlook excessive workload and potential work/life imbalance, the longer an individual is employed, the more likely it is likely to become that they will resign due to these factors.
  • Bureaucracy and Organisational Structure Whereas there may be a honeymoon period in which new employees are not aware of unnecessary bureaucracy or layers of management, the more experienced a staff member becomes, the more likely that frustrations with these factors will become terminal.
  • Failure to recognise skills and knowledge and a lack of challenging work Not a single person who had less than 6 months tenure nominated these reasons for leaving whereas a significant proportion of respondents with reater than 5 years tenure did

These findings have some fundamental implications for the type of initiatives that companies should be putting in place to retain their most experienced staff. A sample of these are detailed in the table below:

Implication Comments

Potential over-  emphasis on monetary retention schemes


In our experience, most organisations automatically begin to review their remuneration benchmarking and bonus scheme structures when faced with a retention issue. While our data clearly demonstrates that remuneration is a significant reason for leaving, it is not the most important for every tenure group and clearly decreases in importance once an employee has been with a company for four years or more.

Addressing workload and work/life balance issues is critical

Our most experienced staff may have demonstrated an ability to cope with long working hours and a poor work/life balance early in their career however this appears to be one of those areas where past behaviour is not a good predictor of the future. Organisations that fail to put in place real initiatives to address unrealistically high workloads or poor work/life balance appear to be doomed to lose an increasing proportion of their most experienced staff.
The importance of high quality performance management and development
There is sometimes a temptation to short-cut the performance management process with our most experienced staff since they “know their job and we can rely on them to get on with it”. However, our exit interview results clearly indicate that our most experienced staff are MORE likely to leave due to a lack of recognition than our less experienced staff. Furthermore, they are also more likely to become frustrated when work becomes monotonous or unchallenging. A high quality approach to performance management and development discussions is essential with all staff but it appears that it might be more important than some of us realise with our established top talent.
The importance of  organisational effectiveness and continual improvement initiatives
It appears that many more experienced staff leave due to increasing frustration related to the way the organisation is structured or the bureaucracy they are experiencing. Organisations that provide a way for more experienced staff to channel their energy (about those aspects of their role that frustrate them) are likely to be more successful in retaining this valuable segment of staff.

The importance of maintaining a focus on the “stable influences”

Although culture, morale, health / wellbeing, career stability and relational issues were no more important for our most experienced staff than others, this does not mean that they are unimportant overall. Organisations that are experiencing elevated tu

over should always consider whether or not one of the stable influences is the root cause of their concerns.

The importance of exit interviews in root cause analysis
Although we have observed some common trends across four industry groups, this is not to say that each of our participating organisations does not have highly unique circumstances. Our exit interview processes enable each of our clients to tailor their retention strategy based on real data about why their staff are leaving (rather than adopting more generic findings from a paper like this).

The results of this study are generic and although they were relatively stable across four different industry sectors, this does not mean that our findings can be automatically relevant to other industries or employers. We would strongly recommend that the first step of any retention strategy should be to put in place a robust exit interview process that will help identify whether similar trends are occurring within you specific business.

By utilising standardised measurement systems such as exit interviews, HR professionals and line managers can provide clear, data-based rationale for their retention initiatives and measure the impact of those initiatives confidently. If you are interested in exploring the introduction of improved approaches to measurement within your business please contact us directly for a confidential discussion.

A full copy of our research paper on this topic can be obtained by emailing: [email protected]

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