Quitting a job is rarely an easy decision and it’s unwise to make assumptions about why people do it. For every professional who leaves a position because they are unhappy, there are others who love their current colleagues and employer and are simply looking to take their careers to the next level.

In a competitive hiring market, companies can’t afford to “forget” about talented employees who leave on good terms and who could be tempted to return if the opportunity arose. That’s why many employers now have return programs that allow them to keep in touch with their alumni and, if circumstances allow, re-hire them.

To learn more about why people quit and whether they would consider re-joining a former employer, we surveyed 5,453 job applicants across Europe. Let’s look at what they said.

How many people quit — and why?

More than seven in 10 (73%) respondents said they’d quit a position voluntarily at least once . So what factors triggered their decision to leave?

  • 41% said they wanted to acquire more responsibilities and boost their career development.
  • 31% were simply looking for a change — a new job title or career, a different sector, etc.
  • Other factors (cited by around 20% of respondents in each case) included a desire for improved salary and benefits, a feeling of not sharing their current company’s values and personal reasons.

The gender breakdown is interesting. The desire for greater responsibilities is more likely to be a trigger for men than it is for women (45% vs. 37%). On the other hand, more women decide to leave for personal reasons (moving houses, family-related issues, etc.) than men (25% vs. 17%).

A key takeaway from these results is that a feeling of having reached their limit is a critical factor in many people’s decision to leave. Some employees have aspirations and ambitions that simply can’t be satisfied by their current employer. Steps companies can take to retain these workers include fast-tracking their career development and offering improved compensation packages. However, if an employee wants to change industries altogether or needs to leave for personal reasons, there’s little a company can do to stop them.

To quit or to switch?

Not everyone who leaves a company has another position lined up. Almost half (43%) of respondents said they’d resigned from a job at least once in their careers without having a new job to go to.

Do leavers regret their decision?

A substantial number do, considering it was their own choice to leave. More than one-in-five (22%) respondents said they’d left a position and later regretted it. Of these:

  • 47% said the new company was not what they expected or hoped for
  • 19% missed their former colleagues

Breaking down these “regretful leavers” by age, we find that younger respondents were the most likely to miss their former teammates, with one in three (33%) citing this as the biggest factor. Older respondents tended to feel differently. Over half (51%) of those over 49 cited their new employer’s failure to live up to expectations as the main reason for their regret.

What can we learn from these findings? First, they confirm what most professionals already know: moving to a new position is always a little risky and not every opportunity lives up to its billing. Second, they underscore the importance of the human factor. Employees often form very close and mutually rewarding relationships with their co-workers. Even people who don’t regret leaving a job often miss their former colleagues. Given this, does it not make sense to think about former employers when considering your career options? Let’s look at the data…

To return or not to return?

Can going backwards in one sense take you forward in another? A full 70% of respondents said that they have either taken a position with one of their former employers or would consider doing so if the opportunity arose.

That’s a big potential talent pool for companies struggling to plug gaps in their workforces! But are companies doing enough to promote their return programs and encourage these former employees to return to the fold?

It appears not. Almost eight in 10 (78%) respondents said they hadn’t even heard about these programs.

Companies clearly have their work cut out to make these initiatives more visible. At the same time, they need to be continually reviewing and improving their organisational culture, with 78% of survey respondents agreeing that this is a critical factor in whether an employee decides to return.

The good news for companies is that only a minority of respondents thought that returning to a former employer was a mistake. More than half (54%) disagreed with the statement that candidates should never go back, while 36% neither agreed nor disagreed. Furthermore, a slight majority (52%) thought that, in the end, returning was a win-win solution for companies and their former employees.

These are encouraging statistics for companies considering making re-hiring part of their recruitment strategy. By setting up return programs and using social media and other channels to make them as visible as possible, employers can broaden their talent pools to include familiar as well as new faces.

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