Are Your Employees About to “Conscious Quit”?

Top reasons employees walk out the workplace door.

“Quiet quitting” was all the rage last year. Quiet quitting is when an employee remains on your payroll, but has mentally checked out and is doing as little work as possible. “Conscious quitting,” on the other hand, is the old-fashioned way of quitting, in which you both mentally and physically leave your job. In other words, you resign and leave the company completely.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Website has an article by Jamie Johnson on why employees quit, which I found interesting to compare to my own experiences, and that of my friends and colleagues. The article is based on research by the Pew Center.

Insufficient Funds

Not surprisingly, low pay was at the top of the list of why people quit. That makes sense. Most people look to earn enough money to live life the way they desire and to be able to provide for their family. If you’re not able to provide that to them, and they think another company can, they may leave you. In addition to the pragmatic impact of insufficient pay is the psychological message it sends. When you feel you are not being paid what you’re worth, you feel your employer is devaluing you. You take away the message that your employer thinks your contribution isn’t worth much and you’re easily replaced. When I’ve had this feeling, I have been tempted to leave just to force the employer to find out, in reality, how much my work is worth.

Lack of a Career Ladder

“No opportunities to advance” also makes it onto Johnson’s list of reasons why employees leave. Like low pay, I find that lack of opportunity sends a message about what the employer thinks of the employee. Do you see this person as only good enough to keep doing what they’re doing, or full of untapped potential waiting to be developed? I like to feel like I’m in the latter category; however, I’ve been placed before in the former. It’s demoralizing to realize your employer sees you as “low potential.” Even if the pay is sufficient, and all else is great, the perception of being limited can drive an employee to leave.


“Feeling disrespected” is another reason Johnson reports that employees leave. For me, feeling disrespected takes the form of low pay, lack of advancement opportunities, and poor communication. Some executives are poor communicators with everyone. However, some are strategic in who they communicate with, and how well they communicate with those people. I have had the experience of a manager who doesn’t feel I need to be in the loop on important decisions, including those that impact my job. When this kind of inadequate communication happens, I am left feeling disrespected.

Family Issues

“Childcare issues,” which also makes it onto Johnson’s list, is not one I’m familiar with, but I can imagine that it would drive a person to quit. This is part of a larger problem of an employer not being willing to work with an employee to accommodate lifestyle and personal needs. With the pandemic giving employees a taste of a more flexible work life, it makes sense that an employer who can’t find ways to enable an employee to have a schedule that works for them will lose that employee. More companies are seeing the wisdom of allowing employees to work where and when they like. A great advantage of that arrangement is it makes accommodating personal needs such as child or elder care easier.

Bad Benefits

Poor benefits is another reason Johnson says people leave their jobs. I have a friend who was recently a long-time contract employee for a company that has full-time jobs, but had not been able or willing to offer her one. She had a small number of sick days, but almost no vacation days. She did have health insurance, but not having paid time off was a huge challenge and source of sadness. Beyond healthcare, it pays back dividends in employee retention to offer vacation time and paid sick leave. She finally was offered, and accepted, a full-time position with benefits, including vacation time. This likely will move her to stick with the job for years.

Inflexibility and Burnout

Company culture and feeling burnt out are among other reasons Johnson reports that employees head for the exit. These two things go hand-in-hand. If you have an inflexible, humorless culture, in which employees are raked over the coals for every mistake, you’re going to have a problem with retention. A workplace where laughter is frequent, employees have the flexibility to create work schedules that accommodate their lives, and where mistakes are treated as learning opportunities is one that will keep most of its employees for a long time.

Have you studied why employees leave your organization? What have you learned about what you need to do to keep them?