16 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Five Reasons Why Employees Quit

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When employees join an organisation they enter into a "psychological contract" with their employer. John Paul Kotter (1973) defined the psychological contract as "an implicit contract between an individual and the organisation which specifies what each expects to give and receive from the other in a relationship."

Many employees tend to feel that their employer is not living up to this psychological contract.

Mis-aligned expectations are common phenomena. When an employee realises that the employer cannot meet a key expectation in the psychological contract, there is often a feeling of having been betrayed, as if a real contract has been broken in bad faith. This can become the "shock" or turning point that begins the downward cycle toward disengagement and departure. In our national employee engagement survey last year, we noted that one in every two Zimbabwean employees feel that their employer is not meeting their end of this contract and as a result they are actively looking for work elsewhere.

The psychological contract changes over time as the expectations of the employee and the organisation change. With each change in expectations, open communication serves to keep both parties in alignment, or may lead to a mutual agreement to renegotiate or break the contract. The problem is many organisations are afraid of getting feedback from their employees. Since 2007 we have been undertaking the Best Employers in Zimbabwe Survey.

The Best Employers Survey is a national employee engagement survey where we assess how involved and committed employees are to their employing organisations. Every year we approach organisations and some of the reasons we get are "we are not yet ready" or "even if we do the survey, in this organisation things do not change." Management in most organisations is scared of getting feedback from their own employees on issues affecting the organisation. My question always is how do you expect to solve the challenges you have if you do not know them? This is precisely how a number of issues concerning employees go for years without being resolved.

Using a sample of 4 000 employees, we tried to determine the levels of engagement amongst Zimbabwean employees. The employees were drawn from the different economic sectors of Zimbabwe. As part of the same survey we asked employees "What would make you want to leave your employer?" We identified five main reasons why employees want to leave their employers. Given that in an earlier question, 46,70 percent had said they were actively looking for a job elsewhere these should be seen as very valid reasons.

Reason five: "They do not value what I do"

We asked over 4 000 employees "what would make you want to leave your current employer?" No recognition was the fifth most appearing response. 5,08 percentof the respondents said they would leave because they feel their employer does not recognise their work effort. Everyone wants to feel important, yet many organisations manage to make their employees feel quite the opposite. This is not a surprise. In the same survey we asked employees: "Does your organisation treat performers and non-performers differently?" 31,16 percent said there was no distinction; performers and non-performers were treated the same in their companies. Performance management is still a challenge in many of our organisation.

Many managers do not know how to manage for performance. If you do not have a system of distinguishing and rewarding good performers and dealing with non-performers what example are you setting to your staff? In many companies, there simply is no incentive to performing well and this is frustrating employees.

Reason four: "I don't like the structure and nature of my job"

10,82 percent of the employees we surveyed said they will leave their current employers because they did not like the structure and nature of their jobs. One in every three Zimbabwean employees surveyed said they simply do not find their jobs fulfilling. Poor person - job fit is in part a recruitment and job structure problem. You have many people simply clinging on to jobs that neither inspire nor challenge them because they can not get work elsewhere. We have also noted that there is another side to the problem which is company policies and procedures. 33,17 percent of the employees surveyed said their company policies and procedures make it difficult to do their jobs with joy. Policies and procedures are a particular area of concern. Many companies in Zimbabwe take policies and procedures very lightly and this is frustrating their employees. It is usually two main cases, it is either that the policies are not there altogether or the policies are selectively and inconsistently implemented. Employers need to be careful; this may be a reason why employees are actively looking for a job elsewhere.

Reason three: "I don't feel I am learning and developing my career here"

Employees are looking for opportunities for growth and development. 12,61 percent of the Zimbabwean employees surveyed said the main reason they would leave their current employer is because there is no opportunity for growth and career development. A lot has changed in the way businesses now operate and the impact of those changes on the careers of individuals working in organisations needs to be acknowledged.

Downsizing has changed the loyalty contract between employee and employer, and it has also heightened the level of stress over job security. Focusing on short-term, bottom-line results has created pressure on management to reduce costs and push workers to do more with less - and an area that is often taken for granted is training and development. It is easy for companies to push for productivity without considering job satisfaction and career development. Managers need to re-look at the development plans of their subordinates and ask "with the resources I have, how best can I make it worth the while for this employee to remain with our company? For those companies that are retrenching, it would not make sense to then go ahead and hire employees from outside again. We urge these companies to assess the possibility of hiring from within wherever possible.

Reason two: "There are no benefits"

18,47 percent of the employees surveyed said they would leave their current employer because the employer does not offer meaningful benefits and if it does offer benefits these benefits are very low so as to make them meaningless. Our assessment showed that employees are willing to make trade-offs with their employers. Employees said they can take lower basic salaries only if their employer was going to provide benefits.

World over, the issue of benefits has been a contentious issue. We believe moving to the total cost to company may provide a win-win situation - where to the employer it provides predictability and makes benefits fairly easier to manage and to the employee it allows more control and exercise of preferences.

Reason one: "I am not being paid enough"

The number one reason why most employees want to leave their employers is because of poor remuneration. 26.85% of the survey respondents said they would leave because of poor remuneration. In a survey we did in 2011 we noted that the biggest expense items for employees were rent, school fees, utility bills and transport. Companies are in a fix. Employees are increasingly demanding higher wages. Civil servants also recently gave their employer an ultimatum. The big question is where will the money come from? Until salary increases are matched by productivity gains companies increasing salaries will be spelling doom for their organisation.

Every organisation needs to track staff turnover and be in the know of why employees are leaving. If your organisation is bleeding talent it is bleeding value.

Memory Nguwi is the managing consultant of Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm. Phone 481946-48/481950/2900276/2900966 or cell number 077 2356 361 or email:

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