They say the only constant is change itself, and that's definitely true in the case of an organisation's staff! Whether an employee has been working at your company for seven years or seven days, there's no taking for granted how much longer they'll remain there – a fact all employers have to come to terms with in one way or another.
Of course, there are many reasons why people quit their jobs, from wanting higher pay to needing an easier commute. And, as Harvard Business Review (HBR) confirms, employees today are able to switch jobs more frequently with far fewer consequences – so while the change is probably still nerve-wracking for most, fear of the unknown has lost a fair bit of its persuasive power. Baby boomers are estimated to go through about 11 to 12 jobs throughout their working years – and that number rises significantly to 15 to 20 for millennials.
However, while understanding why an employee has chosen to leave their position is undeniably valuable information for an employer to possess, knowing when an employee is most likely to quit can be equally helpful. Research by CEB has revealed there are key moments – or career risk triggers – in an employee's life that are likely to spur them into moving on to another job. Identifying these moments in advance can help an organisation preemptively act to retain its talent – or prepare to find a necessary replacement.
So, when are people most likely to consider leaving?
Work anniversaries are significant milestones in a person's career, but they often aren't met with the enthusiasm that they should be. Unsurprisingly, this can prompt an employee to consider what direction they'd like to take their career in – and, sometimes, this may be away from their current workplace!
CEB's data showed that job-hunting activity rises by 6% around the anniversary of when someone first joins a company, and by 9% on the anniversary of when they first assumed their current position. A study conducted by Glassdoor determined that for every extra 10 months an employee spends in a role, they grow 1% more likely to leave the company when moving to their next position.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, "Comparison is the thief of joy", and that saying may certainly hold some weight – because job hunting spikes by 16% after major social gatherings such as school reunions.
It certainly doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out how this career risk trigger plays out: hearing peers and acquaintances discuss their careers can be an effective – if sobering – way to prompt an employee to take stock of their own progress and goals.
In what's sure to come as little surprise to anyone, birthdays also rank as one of the top times a person will consider leaving their current place of employment. With every new year (and subsequent existential crisis) that a birthday marks, people are more likely to reassess their lives and jobs – which in turn prompts a sizeable 12% jump in job hunting activity around that period. The big 40th and 50th birthday milestones are especially inspiring in this aspect, which is further proof that midlife crises are all too real.
Other potential career risk triggers can include anything from a change in management to the promotion of someone else within the company. It's not the most comforting news, but any event that can cause an employee to reflect on their career can be a career risk trigger, depending on said employee's job satisfaction and career progression. When an employer identifies such events, it then becomes necessary for them to make plans that tackle these head-on.
- Push for Progression
If you believe an employee might be considering leaving in order to develop their career further, this could be the perfect time for an in-depth discussion with them about their hopes for their career, and what areas they would like to explore moving forward. Having an active involvement in the progression of your employee's career is a great way to ensure they don't feel stagnant in their current role, and a clearly defined path forward can increase motivation and productivity.
- Acknowledge and Appreciate
We've already written about why positive reinforcement in the workplace can make a world of a difference – but making sure your organisation has processes in place to highlight and appreciate both work and life milestones helps to instil the idea that the effort your staff has invested in the business is being reciprocated.
Remember though: we live in the era of instant gratification…and there's nothing wrong with that! Your appreciation programme needs to be genuine but also realistic to the times, meaning a company-branded mug to celebrate ten years of work probably isn't the way to go.
- Internal Inspiration
Your company can establish processes to push internal promotions, which can actively remind staff of how they can develop further within the business' structure. Don't underestimate the value of making such openings public knowledge within your company! Even if you don't believe there's anyone internally who seems like a natural fit for the job, lateral moves are an increasingly popular phenomenon in the workforce, and you could very well discover suitable candidates from departments you had not even considered before.
Of course, in some cases, employees will leave regardless. And at that point, you'll need to find a suitable replacement. This is another reason why it's important to understand and support your staff in their career aspirations, in order to generate the openness that enables them to discuss such moves openly. Knowing this in advance will then make the transition far smoother (for all parties!) and give you more time to find someone good.
Whether it's long-term employee or someone who's just settled in, remember that you want anyone moving on from your company to do so with a positive opinion of it. There are countless events in someone's personal life that can cause them to leave (and all of them are almost certainly out of your control) but within an office, it's an employer's responsibility to ensure that their personal career goals align with what your business can provide. It's the best way to make each goodbye a little less bittersweet!