Finding the Right Fit: Why Do People Quit Their Jobs?

To find the right job fit, one needs to have passion, be competent in the work, and also believe in what one does.

PEOPLE don’t seem to stay long in their jobs these days. According to the US Department of Labor1,

  • One in four workers has been with his current employer for less than one year.
  • One in two workers has been with his current employer for less than five years.
  • It is estimated that today’s learners will have 10 to 14 jobs by their 38th birthday.

Recently, there have been some resignations in my organization. I have been reflecting on why this is happening, why people do not stay in their jobs for long.

Retaining talent is indeed a great challenge for organizations today. It often boils down to the elusive concept of “Fit”

Job Fit

Finding the right job to fit the right person has become a much sought after skill. Headhunters and recruitment managers tasked with the job of recruitment have not found it easy. They find that interviewees today are better trained in giving politically correct answers.

Many interviewees have gone for interview training and are better equipped to answer questions from interviewers. Some are armed with impressive track records and even testimonials designed to sweep interviewers off their feet.

It is therefore not easy to find the right person for the right job.

Another challenge is that often in this tight market we do not dwell too much on a person’s soft skills. It is almost a truism that we hire people for their competency but we fire them for personality.

To find the right job fit, one needs to have passion, be competent in the work, and also believe in what one does. We call this the “CAN/WANT/SHOULD” alignment.

An example of this alignment is Raj who is an executive coach par excellence. He is in his element every time he coaches. He is passionate about coaching. He is also very good in what he does (judging from his trainees’ consistently positive feedback) and he really believes that coaching can change people’s lives.

Finding the right job fit has indeed become a real challenge. For the leader and individual, it is finding that “CAN/WANT/SHOULD” alignment. Then, the individual will “flow”!

Team Fit

However, just having the right job Fit is not enough. Even if a person has a good Job Fit, the next factor is Team Fit.

Some people have resigned or have been asked to leave because they cannot Fit into a team. To get staff members to give the extra discretionary effort, Team Fit is equally important.

Susan, an Englishwoman, had joined an advertising company as a sales manager. She really enjoyed her work. However, she had much difficulty with her peers. She was unable to adjust to Mohan, the Indian administration manager; Tan, the PR manager who has a completely different personality from her; and Tony, the Canadian Finance manager who had quirky work habits and communication styles.

Staff need that extra emotional quotient to help them fit into a team. A Gallup Q12 study has found that having a best friend at work is an important factor that will raise the engagement level.2

Boss Fit

Another “quit factor” has to do with Boss Fit. The oft-quoted statement, “staff don’t leave bad organizations, they leave bad bosses,” is a truism. The ability to work with bosses is an important factor. But this is not easy because bosses have idiosyncrasies. They come in all shapes and sizes.

Jack is a visionary leader in an event management company but he is, to put it mildly, rather disorganized. He is not into and does not like details. A one-page executive summary will do for him. But he drives his PA crazy because she is hard-nosed, task-oriented and detail-loving. After three years, she quits.

Other bosses are meticulous and enjoy massively detailed information. They get frustrated with staff who are more fun-loving and creative, and not into the nitty-gritty. These bosses can make life difficult for others as well.

There are other bosses who are very direct and aggressive. The soft-spoken, more sensitive staff may take negative comments personally. These clashes can drive staff away.

Hence, Boss Fit is another reason why sometimes people do not stay long in their jobs.

Organizational Fit

Every organization has its own culture. Values are best seen in behavior. We can claim to be generous but if we are calculative and money-pinching in our treatment of resources, people will heed what we do rather than what we say.

Similarly, organizational culture is not reflected in nicely printed words framed on a wall. An organization’s culture is seen in the behavior of its leader and people.

This is one factor that may cause staff to resign. They may like what they do, enjoy the team, like their bosses but somehow feel that the culture does not fit them.

If we have been working in a global organization like Citibank, we may find it difficult to fit into a family-based, hierarchical organizational culture.

Some organizations thrive on driven-ness and creativity. Staff who are stodgy and rule-abiding will not survive very long in such dynamic organizations. Hence, it is important that we recruit people who can fit into the culture of our organization.

One thing is for sure, an organization’s culture is hard to change. It is easier for the staff to adapt and change rather than the other way round.

Life Stage Fit

In my years of consulting with organizations and executive coaching, I have found yet another factor that makes someone quit: “Life Stage” Fit.

There are individuals who have had enough of corporate life and prefer a more sedentary lifestyle. Some have joined nonprofit organizations to pursue “a higher calling”. Some call this a “half-time” call so that they can lead a more meaningful life.

Recently, I had a good friend, Lee, who left his job of 25 years in a global drink-packaging company, to teach English to a group of Lahu children in northern Thailand.

Or Jane, who really liked her job as the PR manager in a hotel, loved her colleagues and bosses, and enjoyed working in the hotel; but quit her job because she wanted to spend more time with her children.

To me, this is the best type of quit. It is unfortunate that an organization has to lose good staff in this manner but it is a lifestyle choice that the staff member is making. And usually, there is nothing the organization can do about it.

This is an adapted excerpt from John’s book “Dim Sum Leadership”. His latest book “Dim Sum Leadership: Your Second Serving” continues the powerful and insightful series on leadership for busy executives.