Why People Leave: The 4 Keys To Organizational Retention

By: Ron Patulski

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Recently, I read an article entitled “Why are so many teams joining XYZ?” The article boiled the reasons down to these three factors:

  • Potential financial incentives they didn’t have or couldn’t find anywhere else
  • A domino-type effect of watching other influential people make the jump
  • Potential opportunities for collaboration and growth

We all can agree that financial incentives are important, so it can look like money is a driving factor to making a change. It’s also natural to be influenced by others we respect, so it’s not surprising that a domino effect is created by a high-profile professional making the first move. This trend attracts attention creating what many refer to as FOMO, Fear of Missing Out, or a curiosity of potential opportunity, collaboration and/or growth. There is no doubt that these reasons play a part. The question is, are they really the only reasons? Could there be another dynamic at play here, even if it appears to be invisible? Based on 25 years of coaching, talent development, and examining human behavior, I propose there is.

A few years ago, I was part of a task force assembled to determine why a company was losing its people to a competitor. This company wanted to know what they could specifically do to stop people from leaving. As part of the task force, we focused on identifying the true reason why people were leaving. As you can imagine, the reasons mentioned in the article above were factors, but they were not the driving force. The driving force went much deeper than this. People were leaving the company because they had four driving needs that were not being met. These unmet needs created a lack of fulfillment, causing the people within this organization to look elsewhere. By understanding these needs you will increase your retention and fulfillment for everyone on your team. As you can imagine, the more fulfilled someone is, the more effective and productive they become. 

The Four Keys To Organizational Retention

In Human Needs Psychology, there are 4 specific driving needs that operate in all of us as human beings: Certainty, Variety, Significance, and Connection. Each of us must get these four needs fulfilled to some degree. The degree to which each need must be met is unique to each individual. As you read through these needs, you are likely to find that one or two of them are more important to you than the others. 


A feeling of certainty is the way you make sense of a chaotic world. It is the need for stability and grounding. Certainty is having a sense of confidence, assurance, and security at any given time. Think about how unnerving it is when you aren’t sure where you stand in a relationship. You may even experience this when you are in a new environment and you aren’t sure what to expect. Too much uncertainty creates anxiety. Money can play a big role in compromising one’s need for certainty. Consider how stressful it is when you don’t know where your next paycheck is coming from. 

An organization or environment that lacks clarity can also jeopardize one’s certainty.  It’s not uncommon for us as coaches to hear a client who is a part of a team say they feel uneasy because the environment is confusing. An organization that lacks a defined destination, clear policies and processes, fails to provide certainty to those in the environment. In your business, a lack of clarity always precedes a lack of certainty.  If a team or organization is undergoing change and there is a lack of communication about the change, it creates stress and anxiety. The stress and anxiety are due to the lack of certainty of what’s happening. and what impact the changes will have. 

On the task force, we found that certain areas of the company were chaotic and somewhat unpredictable. This threatened the amount of certainty experienced by the people within the environment. For some, this chaos gave them immense uncertainty when it came to their future with the company. For others, the uncertainty fueled a sense of resentment and they blamed leadership for the lack of certainty. 


Once you have your need for Certainty met at an acceptable level, based on your own unique needs, you also need Variety or a level of Uncertainty. At first, this may seem to be contradictory, but it’s not. Imagine you have so much certainty that your daily life has become predictable and mundane. This can feel unexciting, uninspiring, and lead to boredom. Have you ever had a personal relationship that feels like it’s flatlined? Consider that this feeling comes from a lack of a “pulse” in the relationship or a lack of variety. Variety is created by new desires, opportunities, and experiences. As human beings, we have a strong desire to experience something new and unexpected. These experiences are how we learn and grow. In your business life, you need energy in your environment that is forward-thinking and focused on new opportunities. Variety provides inspiration to create and accomplish new things, allowing you new experiences. These new experiences make your business life more interesting and satisfying.

In our interviews, some individuals who left felt the company had flatlined. There was a lack of innovation and focus to meet the market where it was. The company was stale, and they found it taxing to operate within that energy. 


Every one of us needs to feel that we matter, that we are significant to whatever we are a part of. As you experience life, you seek to be accepted, acknowledged, and included. On a personal level, this need appears very early in your life as you seek out the attention of your parents and the adults around you. In a personal relationship, it is essential that you feel like you matter to the other person. Notice what happens when you’re with someone and their head is buried in their phone.  Does it bring up hurt, anger, and/or frustration? Do you feel like you are less important than whatever their focus is on? Consider it’s your unmet need for significance that fuels the emotion. As a leader, if you don’t provide time for your direct reports, will they think they matter to you or your organization? How are you filling this need for those around you? What impact is this having on your personal and business life? When you make individuals feel like they matter, you prevent value drift, increasing the likelihood of them growing within your organization.

In our interviews on the task force, many individuals shared that they felt they didn’t matter as they once did. The company’s growth seemed to be more important to the company than they did as individuals. Many of those that left were in key strategic roles and what they did contributed directly to the company’s bottom line, yet they doubted their value. They felt like a number, which caused them to look elsewhere for a sense of significance.


The last human need is the need for Connection. The ability to connect with another person or to the mission and values of a company is important. Connection allows us to relate to one another and have a sense of what another values. It allows us, as human beings, to know that we are not alone and that, although we have unique gifts and qualities, at our core, we are very much alike. This type of connection provides a depth of relatedness in the relationship. Connection provides the glue for each of us to be more, do more, and have more, both personally and professionally. 

Individuals we interviewed shared they didn’t feel connected to the company. The environment of supporting and caring for each other was no longer fostered as it once was. They lost their connectedness to the organization and the people within it.

These four driving needs are considered to be essential to your personality and have to be met in some way. If they aren’t currently being met, you will seek out an environment that allows them to be met.  This means finding a way to get these needs met outside of an existing relationship, whether the relationship is business or personal.

What was interesting in the feedback we accumulated is that once people felt their needs would be met at a much higher level within the new company, the financial incentives, domino effect of others moving to the new company, and the opportunity for collaboration and growth, as mentioned in the above article, became the secondary factors in solidifying their decision to make the move.

How do I satisfy these needs in my team? 

Here are four points to enhance the dynamics of your personal relationships and increase team synergy in your business:

  • Be intentional to provide a sense of stability in your relationships. Do what you say you will do so your team can count on it. Be your word. In business, honor your systems and policies. If you change them, communicate the change to everyone on the team before adopting them. Help everyone understand their role and the expectations within the role. Remember in every conversation you are creating clarity or chaos for those you lead. Do you have enough clarity in your personal and business life to provide certainty for yourself and those around you? 
  • Are you presently acting like the CVO, “Chief Variety Officer”? Be mindful of the importance of variety to create new possibilities. Begin with your relationship with yourself. Question your routines to create new experiences. Do new things with your spouse, significant other, or team members to create new experiences together. Ask yourself, how am I fostering innovation within our organization? Where am I creating the space to test new ideas or do things differently?
  • Be present with others and intentional in demonstrating that they matter. Focus on truly listening to them when they speak. In both personal and business relationships, Dr. Gary Chapman’s book “The 5 Love Languages” provides a way for each of us to show others that they matter. Use “words of affirmation” for those who value acknowledgment. Spend “quality time” with those in your world who value time spent. Some people feel they matter when they “receive gifts,” so take advantage of this where it applies. Make those in your life feel important by doing things for them through “acts of service.” “Personal touch” is the last language and you will want to use this with appropriate awareness in a business environment. Providing a high five is one way you could implement this language in a business environment. 
  • Make a commitment to connect with others. For some of us, this may come more naturally. For others, it requires more focus and intention. Are you listening to understand or listening to respond? One way to gain a deeper understanding and connection with another person is to listen to what they are saying, then ask “This is what I’m hearing, is that right?”. If they say yes, more insight can be gained by asking them if there is anything else they want to add. In a business context, find out what a person values and use that to relate to them. This will create a deeper connection. 

Start this process of taking your relationships to a deeper level by taking small steps. Begin with the person you realize you have the biggest opportunity with and pick one need that can be enhanced. Over time, as you build the awareness with others to meet these at higher levels, it becomes an automatic way of being. As this occurs, you’ll realize that it’s one of the best gifts you can give to another person. This provides you the experience of dynamic, fulfilling relationships, and unparalleled team synergy.

If you have an interest in how you can shorten the learning curve as a leader in your organization, reach out to us. We have made it our business to help leaders like you identify and live out their inspired life both personally and professionally.

Ron Patulski