Employee Exodus vs. Migration and What's Driving the Current Trend

I recently had an exchange with a manager in a company that just learned that one of his key people was planning to leave because of "burnout". The manager had approached the HR organization with the idea of offering a 6-month sabbatical to the individual as a way to retain the talent. This is not something the company typically did, so there was not a rush to confirm.

At this point, the individual represents a definite "flight risk". Unless something definitive changes, this person will soon be part of the "Great Exodus".

Exodus vs. Migration Metaphors

What's the difference between migration and exodus?

In  the migration metaphor the birds (or people) fly (drive) south (or north) and then return in a period of time.

In the exodus scenario, they leave where they are and don't come back.

In an organization, if the exodus involves a poor performer, then nobody really cares about the exit. (We hope they care about the recruiting and hiring practices that acquired the individual.)

However, if you happen to be in an organization where "the losers don't leave", then the primary candidates for exodus or exit are most often good to high performers. When that happens, you not only lose your investment in that individual's acquisition and development, but also assume the burden of the cost of replacing the talent to the level lost.

Replacement is a challenge and costly--directly and indirectly.

Why Are People Leaving?

Oh, that's easy to answer!

  • Competitors are offering them more money.
  • Other companies let them work from home.
  • They weren't that committed; wanted more "work-life balance"
  • And so forth . . .

What May Really Be Driving Much of the Current Exodus?

While on a case-by-case basis, one or more of the reasons above may be the case, none of the reasons is new. The potential for each has always been there, so there's something new in individuals' decisions to leave.

In a recent strategy+business article entitled "The bullies are back", we ran across to references to research that speak to the question. Here's one:

In an article published in the MIT Sloan Management Review in January, researchers Donald Charles Sull, of analytics firm CultureX, and Ben Zweig, of Revelio Labs, analyzed data from 34 million online employee profiles in the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics database, as well as 1.4 million Glassdoor reviews, and determined that “toxic corporate culture” was the single biggest predictor of employee attrition, ten times more significant than compensation.

This and other research citations further emphasize that something significant has changed. What people want may not have changed, but rather that their awareness of what they want and their tolerance for what they've got (the corporate culture and corresponding basic assumptions, policies, and practices) in combination create the synergistic influence on exodus decisions.

So what?

Board rooms and executive teams will discuss and debate what's behind the statistics if they represent a potential liability for an organization. The data suggest, however, that if they limit the discussion to the options in the "Why Are People Leaving?" section above, they may not arrive at a conclusion which stems the tide of the exodus.

Perhaps, in the example cited at the beginning, if the organization sees fit to offer the individual a sabbatical, they could trigger a migration rather than an exodus.