Why Perfectly Happy Employees End Up Leaving

In a post-industrial economy, more of us are able to choose what we want to do for work. What we want is something personal. Something unique.

A recent study by the London School of Business and Finance found that 47% of professionals in the UK want to change jobs. That figure jumped to 66% among Millennials (people aged between 20 and 34). Another report found that nearly half of workers in the UK plan to quit their jobs this year. Cheating on your company is in, it seems.

The question is, why do happy employees leave? Moreover, why do they leave jobs they genuinely enjoy? For the past 10 years, I’ve worked in the ‘people’ business. Either as a recruiter or startup founder, I’ve met with thousands of company leaders, all of which have had trouble keeping top talent. This is my best attempt so far at explaining why:

Increased connectivity, increased temptation

It’s never been easier to cheat on your employer and it’s never been easier to get caught. Changes in technology, attitude, and lifestyle have led to huge levels of job dissatisfaction. The emergence of increasingly convenient job platforms and communication apps have practically eliminated the time taken in moving jobs. From setting up alerts from job board aggregators like Indeed to searching hashtags, the pain in looking for suitable openings has been reduced.

Less dependence on salary as income

Even in an economic downturn, many skilled workers are confident that they can easily find a new job if they get fired for getting caught interviewing elsewhere. The emergence of supplementary income streams from the sharing economy, such as selling our things on eBay and renting our house on Airbnb, to becoming a part-time Uber driver has reduced the fear of losing our jobs.  With exponential advancements in technology, the long-predicted adoption of portfolio careers might soon become a reality.

Cheating is less obvious

What constitutes cheating on your company? Is it attending a job interview behind your employer’s back? Is it attending an event hosted by a competitor? Is it following companies of interest on social media? As the lines become blurred, what it means to cheat becomes harder to define, and consequently, the associated taboos diminish. Attending job interviews whilst still employed is universally frowned upon yet universally practiced, and will continue to exist unless a radical approach is taken by companies to resolve it.

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Constant social connectivity has had a huge effect on how happy we think we are at work. By relentlessly comparing our work lives to others on social media we have raised our expectations as to what we want from a career. Paul Harvey, professor at the University of New Hampshire has studied Gen Y workers, and comments:

“A great source of frustration for people with a strong sense of entitlement is unmet expectations. They often feel entitled to a level of respect and rewards that aren’t in line with their actual ability and effort levels, and so they might not get the level of respect and rewards they are expecting.”

Worse still, we’re not even comparing ourselves in a fair way. For a post to be shared on Facebook it usually needs to be inherently remarkable, so we end up comparing our back catalog to our friends’ greatest hits!

Loyalty is the new shame

Career monogamy used to mean one company for life; today it’s more like one company at a time. We used to hope a company would pick us, thank our lucky stars if it did and then wait patiently to climb the career ladder.  Today, we pick the company and stop courting other companies, if only for the time being.

Where leaving a good job at a good company used to cause shame, today choosing to stay with a company when you can leave is the new shame. No one is specifically congratulated for staying with their company. No likes, no comments, no emojis. Everyone gets to brag about their awesome new job. Loyalty is the new shame.

Increased expectations

We expect so much from our employers today. A place where I make some of my best friends. A place that constantly challenges and progresses me. A place that motivates me intrinsically. A place that stimulates me intellectually and supports my wants and my desires, and believes me to be indispensable, irreplaceable, and exceptional.

Today we’ve never been more inclined to stray, not because we have new desires to pursue, but because we live in a world where we feel entitled to pursue those desires. It is a culture of ‘I deserve to be happy’. We used to leave a company because we were unhappy, today we leave because we could be happier.


When a career as an economic enterprise, then getting caught interviewing elsewhere threatened our economic security. Now that careers are increasingly becoming designed by personal preference and not a necessity, we no longer need to find a sensible and safe job to hold onto. Instead, we can find ways to do something we love and fund our lifestyle in various other ways.

It’s not that we’re ungrateful; we’re just lured by the power of the forbidden. Ever since Adam ate the apple we’ve been naturally curious. It is not so much that we are looking for another job, as much as we are looking for another version of ourselves. A more adventurous one.

Author: Chris Platts is Chief Rocketeer at TalentRocket, a company culture recruiting platform for London based startups and scale-ups.

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