Decoding Employee Resignations: Understanding the Unspoken Reasons

Decoding Employee Resignations: Understanding the Unspoken Reasons

Employee turnover is a source of frustration for many company managers. When an employee decides to resign, they may provide various reasons. Unfortunately, regardless of how good your relationship with the employee is, the reasons you hear during their resignation are likely not the whole truth.

Among these reasons, some are genuine, while others may not reflect their true thoughts. When an employee resigns, conducting an exit interview is crucial. As a manager, you need to learn how to “translate” the unspoken thoughts and feelings that employees may have hinted at or omitted during the conversation.

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Understanding these unspoken messages is key to preventing ongoing attrition among your remaining staff.

01 – Don’t Wait Until Employees Resign to Understand

Have you ever experienced a situation where a highly valued employee resigns? You feel deeply saddened and didn’t expect them to leave. However, what shocks you even more is when other talented employees in your company start resigning one after another. You become anxious because their departures seem sudden, and you realize that your team is losing crucial members just when there are significant projects to complete.

You initiate exit interviews with employees, using a combination of persuasion and incentives. You attempt to convince them by discussing external market conditions, promising opportunities within the company, and even offering to let them replace someone they dislike. You try to address their concerns and promise rewards and recognition. However, despite your best efforts, they remain resolute in their decision to leave.

In the end, you find yourself asking in desperation, “What should I do to make you stay? I’ve relied on you, believed in you, and provided you with resources, time, and trust. Yet, you’re leaving me in the lurch, without even considering the timing.”

You may feel anger and frustration, but you also realize that shock, anxiety, or anger won’t change the outcome. So, what can you do? Is it worth trying to retain them, even though it’s unlikely to succeed?

The best way to prevent talented employees from leaving is not to let them reach the point of resignation. Once they decide to resign, it’s often challenging to reverse their decision. So, what can you do?

While you should still conduct exit interviews and make efforts to retain employees, it’s essential to adjust your mindset and accept the outcome. Simultaneously, you should work on understanding the real reasons for their departure – but don’t wait until they’ve already left to figure it out.

Why should you wait for employees to resign to understand? You should have realized the importance of treating employees well and preventing them from leaving much earlier.

Employee turnover is a significant issue. To address it effectively, you need to identify the root causes. As Jack Ma once said, there are generally two main reasons why excellent employees resign: they are either not paid enough or they feel emotionally hurt.

When an employee isn’t paid enough, their compensation doesn’t match their abilities, and they can quickly find better opportunities elsewhere. Even if their current salary is competitive, they might leave if offered a 20-30% pay raise by another company.

But what if the compensation is adequate, yet they still want to leave? In such cases, it’s often because they feel emotionally hurt or exhausted. They may perceive their work as meaningless or believe they can’t realize their full potential. They might not feel respected or valued within the company, see no room for personal growth, or feel that they’re not learning what they want to learn.

You should ask yourself, which of these reasons applies? It could even be a combination of both. However, excellent employees usually won’t directly reveal their true reasons for leaving. The explanations they provide during exit interviews are often carefully packaged.

If you believe the reasons employees give you during exit interviews are their genuine motivations, you may find yourself facing more resignations in the future. The underlying issue that led to their departure remains unaddressed.

Let me illustrate with an example: when an employee says, “I’m just too exhausted.”

02 – When an Employee Says They’re Too Tired

When an employee resigns and simply says, “I’m too tired,” what’s the underlying truth? It’s rarely about a specific event or person that overwhelmed them; instead, it’s the accumulated negative emotions, unmet needs, and grievances from various aspects of their work life that have been building up over time. Before this breaking point, the employee likely sent numerous signals seeking help, but the organization’s management consistently ignored them.

For example, companies often claim to foster a culture of helping each other, celebrating victories, and supporting each other in times of defeat. However, in reality, many company leaders struggle to uphold these principles. They may say they value such a culture but act differently behind the scenes.

For instance, they might declare, “We want a culture where we celebrate together in success and help each other in failure.” Still, when a project team works tirelessly day and night to achieve a milestone and receives praise from clients, the manager’s response might be, “Isn’t this what you’re supposed to do? I feel like I’ve assigned too few projects to your team; you can handle more. Learn to be humble and not become arrogant when you succeed.”

This mismatch between words and actions can be observed in various ways, such as:

  • Promoting integrity but tolerating sales departments engaging in unethical practices.
  • Claiming to have flexible working hours but creating an environment where employees feel pressured to work overtime.
  • Emphasizing the importance of communication but being impatient during discussions and avoiding employees.
  • Advocating innovation but penalizing employees for well-intentioned mistakes.
  • Promising growth opportunities but failing to provide resources and support.

These are just a few examples of the contradictions that exist within organizations. When an employee says, “I’m too tired,” it’s often a result of these cumulative negative experiences, unmet needs, and grievances that have remained unaddressed for too long.

Moreover, if an employee is struggling to adapt to their immediate supervisor’s management style, this can exacerbate their feelings of exhaustion. Eventually, they may feel that they’re not worth the effort to continue working at the company because their growth is stagnating, and staying longer would be a waste of their time and potential.

So, what does it mean to be “worth it”? Here are some examples:

  1. Adequate Compensation: If employees feel that they are fairly compensated for their efforts, it makes staying more appealing. However, if they don’t receive fair compensation and hear promises about salary increases that aren’t fulfilled, they may be inclined to leave.
  2. Emotional Well-being: Feeling valued and appreciated in their role and receiving positive feedback is crucial. An environment where their contributions are acknowledged and respected contributes to their sense of worth.
  3. Growth Opportunities: Providing employees with significant opportunities for growth, investing in their development, and fostering open communication can make them feel valued and willing to stay.
  4. A Fast-Track to Success: If employees see their careers advancing quickly within the company, they may be more likely to remain loyal. However, if they perceive that their efforts are going unnoticed, they might decide to move on.

Ultimately, when an employee says, “I’m too tired,” it’s the result of complex and long-standing issues within the organization. The workplace might be characterized by internal conflicts, excessive formalities, double standards, and a lack of respect for performance and results. In the eyes of a departing employee, the company might resemble a sinking ship where efforts are futile and hope is extinguished, leaving them with no choice but to leave. This kind of exhaustion isn’t solely due to hard work; it’s because it’s not worth it anymore.

03 – When an Employee Says They Want to Rest

During an exit interview, when an employee says they want to leave to take a break, it might seem harmless, but it can actually be a significant warning sign for the company. What’s the underlying truth behind this statement, and why should companies be concerned?

When an employee says they want to take a break and have no immediate plans to join another company, it often implies that they believe anything would be better than continuing to work in their current role or at their current company. This is a signal that they are completely disheartened and exhausted by their job, possibly to the point where it is affecting their mental and physical well-being.

This situation can be particularly concerning because, typically, employees leave their jobs when they have secured better-paying or more promising positions elsewhere. However, when someone expresses a desire to rest and not actively seek employment, it suggests that they are willing to sacrifice income and career progression just to escape their current job.

This can create a dilemma for the company. The employee may want to leave immediately, while the company might prefer that they stay a bit longer to facilitate a smoother transition or to allow time for recruitment. In such cases, the employee’s reluctance to remain is evident because they feel that every extra day spent at the company is unbearable.

When an employee reaches the point where they’d rather rest and not work at all, it’s a clear indication that the job has become overwhelmingly unsatisfying, and they see no value in continuing their current employment. This can be due to a variety of reasons, including:

  1. Work Exhaustion: Employees may be mentally and emotionally drained from their current job, finding it impossible to continue without a break.
  2. Workplace Issues: The workplace might be plagued by problems such as inefficient management systems, unwritten rules, or even bullying, which have eroded the employee’s enthusiasm for their job.
  3. Lack of Value: Employees might feel that the company doesn’t recognize their contributions or doesn’t provide a path for personal and professional growth.
  4. Health Impact: The job might have taken such a toll on the employee’s well-being that they see taking a break as a matter of preserving their health.

In these situations, it’s crucial for the company to engage in honest and open conversations with the departing employee to uncover the true reasons behind their decision. This requires genuine inquiry, active listening, and a willingness to address the issues raised. If the employee trusts that their feedback will be taken seriously, they are more likely to provide candid insights.

Once the root causes are identified, it’s essential for the company to make necessary adjustments, whether in processes, policies, or company culture. While it may not be possible to retain every employee, the goal should be to understand and rectify any systemic problems that might contribute to high turnover.

Ultimately, even when employees choose to leave, it’s important to leave the door open for them to return if circumstances change. The goodwill and respect shown during the exit process can have a lasting impact on the organization’s reputation and future relationships with former employees.

04 – When an Employee Says They Want to Pursue Opportunities in Another Field

When an employee decides to leave and cites a desire to pursue opportunities in another field, it may seem like they have a clear, new career direction in mind. However, the truth is often more complex, and their decision might not be solely based on a genuine passion for that new field.

So, what’s the underlying truth behind this statement? In many cases, the employee’s departure isn’t primarily about the appeal of the other field but rather a deep sense of weariness and dissatisfaction with their current job.

In reality, the employee’s chosen field might not necessarily be the best fit for them; it’s just a perceived escape from their current state of fatigue. Their desire to venture into a different area is more a reflection of their discontent with their present role or work environment.

This situation should raise concerns for the company because it suggests that a significant portion of the workforce is experiencing burnout and dissatisfaction with their core responsibilities. When employees reach this point, it not only affects their own job performance but can also have a negative impact on the entire team and organization.

The reasons behind this fatigue can be multifaceted and may include:

  1. Lack of Fulfillment: Employees may feel that their current job doesn’t provide them with a sense of accomplishment or purpose.
  2. Unrecognized Contributions: They might believe their efforts and contributions go unnoticed or unappreciated by the company.
  3. Internal Struggles: An organization plagued by internal conflicts, a toxic culture, or a lack of effective communication can quickly lead to burnout.
  4. Stagnation: When employees feel they have hit a ceiling and there’s no room for growth or advancement, they may seek opportunities elsewhere.
  5. Negative Workplace Environment: An unhealthy work atmosphere, a lack of teamwork, or issues with leadership can contribute to overall dissatisfaction.

In such cases, the employee’s statement about pursuing opportunities in another field often serves as a wakeup call for the organization. It’s an indication that there are systemic problems within the company that need to be addressed.

To retain talent and improve morale, companies should proactively identify and rectify the root causes of employee dissatisfaction. This may involve reevaluating internal processes, revising policies, fostering a positive workplace culture, and providing opportunities for growth and development. It’s crucial to create an environment where employees feel valued, challenged, and fulfilled in their roles.

While some employees may still choose to leave to pursue new opportunities, it’s essential for the company to learn from these departures and strive for continuous improvement. Remember that retaining employees goes beyond salary and benefits; it’s about creating an environment where they can thrive and find purpose in their work.

05 – When an Employee Goes to a Company That Seems Inferior to Yours

In a departure interview, you express your regret about their decision to leave and offer to write them a recommendation letter, hoping they’ll find a better opportunity in the future. However, the employee surprises you by saying they’ve already found a new job, and it’s at a company you consider inferior to yours. You can’t help but feel a sense of dissatisfaction and wonder why they chose a seemingly less prestigious company.

The truth behind this scenario can be quite revealing. It often comes down to factors beyond financial compensation. Talent tends to flow towards environments where they feel valued, respected, and have opportunities for growth. Here are some key reasons:

  1. Better Team Dynamics: The new company may offer a more supportive and collaborative team environment. If employees feel they can thrive in a positive and cooperative atmosphere, it can outweigh other considerations.
  2. Effective Communication Channels: Improved communication between management and employees can be a significant factor. If the new company excels in facilitating clear and open communication, employees may find it more appealing.
  3. Broader Growth Prospects: Opportunities for professional development and advancement are essential for ambitious individuals. If the new company offers a clearer path for career growth, it can be a compelling reason to make the switch.
  4. Respect and Recognition: Feeling valued and recognized for one’s contributions is crucial for job satisfaction. A workplace that appreciates and respects its employees can be more attractive than one with a higher salary but a poor culture.
  5. Superior Company Culture: A positive company culture can be a strong draw for employees. A more inclusive, diverse, and employee-centric culture can make a significant difference.

In essence, it’s not always about the money; it’s about the overall experience and work environment. People often prioritize job satisfaction, career growth, and personal well-being over higher salaries. If employees believe they’ll have a better experience at a seemingly less prestigious company, they’ll make that choice.

This situation highlights the importance of fostering a positive workplace culture, effective leadership, and clear pathways for career advancement in your own organization. It’s a reminder that while competitive salaries are crucial, other factors such as recognition, respect, and opportunities for growth can be equally, if not more, important in retaining top talent.


When employees resign, there are often many reasons, but companies typically struggle to uncover the true underlying causes. Even if you have a good relationship with employees, what you hear is often your perception, and it may be far from the reality. In some sense, company managers are the loneliest individuals because they believe they know everything when, in fact, they know nothing.

If resigning allowed for complete honesty, what would employees mean when they say they are “too tired”? The truth might be:

  • Lack of regular positive feedback in their daily work.
  • Chaotic company decision-making processes.
  • Constant changes in directives.
  • A focus on individuals over tasks.
  • Too many ineffective company meetings.
  • Excessive formalism.
  • Inefficient communication channels with superiors.
  • Erratic leadership management styles.
  • Inability to adapt to the management style of their immediate superior.
  • A lack of opportunities for promotion and personal development.
  • Insufficient compensation.
  • Feelings of emotional distress and dissatisfaction.

When an employee says they want to take a break, what’s the truth? If an employee would rather rest than work, it indicates they are thoroughly fed up with their current job, to the point where it’s affecting their physical and mental well-being. This is why they’ve decided to leave. At this point, self-reflection is crucial. If a job is generally well-suited to an individual, and there are no special circumstances, most people won’t leave easily. However, the underlying reasons often reflect issues within the company.

When an employee says they want to pursue a different field, what’s the truth? If employees can’t find a sense of accomplishment in their current roles and their talents aren’t recognized or respected, and if they’re living in a perpetual state of internal conflict without positive feedback, they’ll seek opportunities elsewhere.

When an employee goes to a company that seems less prestigious than yours, what’s the truth? Money tends to flow toward security, and talent gravitates toward respect. The new company may offer a better team atmosphere, smoother communication channels, and more extensive growth opportunities.

In summary, uncovering the real reasons behind employee departures can be challenging, and it often involves underlying issues within the company’s culture, management, and work environment.

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