In my many years as a recruiter, I've probably asked candidates the question "why did you leave that job?" fifty thousand times, and gotten a wide range of answers.
Sometimes it was a layoff and sometimes they were fired, but often they quit by choice.
In my experience, most people's reasons for turning in their resignation letter fit into one or more of these seven categories.
1. Problems with the Boss
Trying to escape egotistical or stubborn management is a theme in many people's career stories.
Strong performers are discouraged when a good idea is turned down without fair hearing, a new business tactic has been dictated without explanation, or the boss is condescending or a micromanaging.
The best bosses know innately how to communicate strength without being overbearing. The other 99% of us need to learn the skills of management so we encourage and support our best employees.
2. Bureaucracy and Unnecessary Rules
Most workers, especially young people, avoid unnecessarily formal or bureaucratic environments, but many old-fashioned companies continue with structures like inflexible hours or too much paper pushing.
For instance, one very talented software developer quit because her boss was insistent that she be at her desk at 8:30 a.m., and reprimanded her when she was five minutes late, even though she worked late every night, and could have done her work from home.
High performers can be sensitive to red tape that keeps them from doing that job. I worked with a sales rep who sold $25 million of company products every year, and who went to work for a competitor in large part because his manager continually nagged him about filling out his forms wrong.
Putting the rules before the person cost his company a lot in lost business and training costs, when it could have been avoided if his manager had an admin help with his reports.
3. Underemployed / See No Future
We all want, and deserve, to be challenged and to use our special skills and talents.
If you need to take a job that only uses a portion of what you can do, make sure to find an outlet for those other skills in some other way, or you might grow bored.
As an employer, it can be a benefit to have someone highly qualified on your team, but look for ways to mix up their projects and get them involved in something that's more of a stretch whenever you can so they are more engaged and connected.
4. Feeling Underpaid
Salaries usually trigger issues of self-worth, and carry a sense of secrecy, so it's no wonder that discontent from feeling underpaid is so common yet not usually openly talked about.
If you love your job and only want to quit for more money, do yourself a favor and make sure you let your manager know. Check the going rates for jobs like yours on GlassDoor.com and if you believe you are underpaid, talk to your manager about it to understand if it's just you, or the company as a whole.
If you're a manager, don't take advantage of weak negotiators. Give people fair salaries, and be willing to talk about what they'd need to do to get more. Honesty and fairness get more productivity from people because they feel a sense of control and respect.
5. Too Much Work / Unrealistic Performance Expectations
Layoffs often leave more work for the people left behind, and sometimes managers have unreasonable expectations of how quickly, or how well, a project can be done.
If you're a manager, set realistic expectations, and ask for the input and agreement of the employee, so you are setting your employee up for success, not for failure.
6. Not Feeling Recognized
Many bosses think that being hypercritical or withholding acknowledgment will make people want to perform, but instead, it makes them want to update their resume and take that call from the recruiter.
To show your people you value them, find something they are proud of, and genuinely acknowledge them for it privately and in front of other people. Make a habit of recognizing each person for one contribution every week so they know you value their contribution, and they'll be loyal.
7. Negative Company Culture or Poor Ethics
Companies that tolerate or encourage gossip, lying, unethical behavior and unfair competition within the team or with customers are toxic to most high performers, particularly young workers who hold high standards of teamwork and fairness.
The tone of a company is set from the top, and it's important as a manager to make sure that you are part of the solution and not part of the problem. If the negative or unethical culture comes from above you, it might be time to work on your own resume.
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