The Real Reasons Your Reps Are Walking

By Heather Baldwin

Ask any sales manager why employees leave and 85% will tell you they left for a better opportunity or for higher pay. After all, that’s what the vast majority write down when asked in an exit interview why they are leaving. But don’t believe it, says Leigh Branham, founder and principal of consulting firm Keeping the People, Inc. ( and author of The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave (AMACOM, 2005). Regardless of what they tell you, 80% to 90% of employees leave for reasons related not to money but to the job – the manager, the culture or the work environment. Here are three of those reasons and what you can do about it.

1. The job or workplace was not as expected. Every day new hires enter organizations with a range of illusions and expectations. Some stay and adapt, some stay but disengage and others leave. Whether their expectations were realistic or not doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that unrealistic and unmet expectations cost businesses millions of dollars. “Unmet expectations may well be the number one reason most employees leave,” says Branham. “It is the main reason 4% of employees walk off the job on the first day. It is most certainly the main reason that more than 50% of American workers quit in the first six months.” To foster realistic mutual expectations, Branham recommends conducting realistic job previews with every job candidate, creating a realistic job description with a short list of critical competencies, allowing team members to interview candidates and creating a way for candidates to sample on-the-job experiences.

2. Too little coaching and feedback. Branham says estimates show that about 50% of the nonperformance problems in business are due to of lack of feedback. Moreover, roughly the same percentage of what appear to be motivational problems in business are actually feedback problems. Want more numbers? In December 1996, Training magazine pointed out that the number one cause of performance problems in 60% of companies was poor or insufficient feedback from supervisors. Another survey found that 80% of employees who had been coached by their managers felt a strong sense of commitment to their organization, versus 46% of employees who received no coaching. The message is clear: Coach your sales reps and provide feedback on their performance, or be prepared to lose them. Branham recommends providing intensive feedback and coaching to new hires, creating a culture of continuous feedback and coaching, and making the performance management process less controlling and more of a partnership.

3. Feeling devalued and unrecognized. Everyone wants to feel important, but too many organizations manage to make people feel just the opposite – extremely unimportant. Recognition means a lot more than a lapel pin after 10 years. It’s about expressing appreciation on a regular basis, treating employees with respect and trust, listening thoughtfully to their input, paying them what they’re worth with incentives and bonuses that reward great performance, ensuring workspaces are modern and clean and so on. If you want to keep your employees around, you need to recognize them and make them feel valued. Branham recommends offering competitive base pay linked to value creation, using cash payouts for on-the-spot recognition, creating a culture of informal recognition founded on sincere appreciation, making new hires feel welcome and important, asking for employee input and then listening and responding, and giving employees the right tools and resources.