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Why People Really Quit Their Jobs—and How Employers Can Stop It


By Polly Kang, David P. Daniels, and Maurice Schweitzer

High employee turnover remains a key problem facing many organizations across a broad range of industries. For example, despite making high salaries, 66% of senior product managers and 58% of IT program managers say they are planning to quit their jobs. Meanwhile, 60% of emergency room nurses and 58% of critical care nurses report that they are planning to quit, too—despite having already invested a huge amount of time, effort, and money on specialized training for their current job. Turnover is costly because, when workers quit, it can be difficult to replace them. Therefore, it’s essential to understand why workers quit, especially when it can help organizations find effective ways to reduce turnover.

While workers decide to quit their jobs for a variety of reasons, our new research has identified one trigger of quitting that seems to be a mistake on the part of workers. Intuitively, it seems like being assigned to do many “hard tasks” should make a worker much more likely to quit. Surprisingly, however, this isn’t really the case. Instead, it was being assigned to do a streak of many hard tasks in a row that really made workers quit. This means that managers can reduce turnover by a substantial amount by simply re-ordering their workers’ tasks, so as to break up hard streaks. We call this strategy “task sequencing.”