WASHINGTON — When someone quits a job, the boss usually wants to know why.
But nobody ever asks faithful employees why they stay.
"We were interested in what kept employees on the job," said David W. Ballard, head of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program. "There are a lot of reports that come out that talk about why employees quit but we see relatively little about what it is that actually keeps them there."
But Ballard had his suspicions.
A few years ago a survey showed that two-thirds of employees said their employers had made cuts due to the recession. Benefits had been cut. Pay had been cut. There were layoffs. Employees were forced to take time off without pay.
"On the heels of the recession, our thinking was that benefits and pay would be of great importance to employees," Ballard says.
So the APA commissioned Harris Interactive, a market research firm based in New York City, to conduct the Workforce Retention Survey in August. The survey asked why people stayed with their current employer — giving respondents several choices and asking them to choose all that applied.
Ballard was right about benefits and pay being important. Sixty percent of working Americans said the benefits were a reason they stayed at their current job. Pay was right on its heels, with 59 percent of workers giving it as the reason why they stayed.
A good fit
But Ballard was surprised those two responses were not the most cited reasons. People gave two other reasons more often. "I enjoy the work I do" and "My job fits well with the other areas of my life" both tied at 67 percent as the top reasons.
"Enjoying what you do and having a job that fits well with the other parts of your life rose to the top," Ballard says. "That communicated to us that, yes, benefits and pay are important. But when it comes to keeping people on the job, it is having a positive work experience and having a good work/life fit."
Ballard says people's jobs fit in with the other pieces of their lives to varying degrees. "I like to look at it as life harmony," he says. "You have various parts in your life, and work is one of those parts. And all of them have to fit together in a way that overall they work for you."
Other popular reasons people gave for staying on the job were "I feel connected to the organization" (56 percent), "because of my co-workers" (51 percent) and "my job gives me the opportunity to make a difference" (51 percent). Staying because of "my manager" was 40 percent.
Deborah Epstein Henry says technology is pushing people to want better work/life fit than in the past. Henry is the founder and president of Law & Reorder, a division of Flex-Time Lawyers, an international consulting firm based in Ardmore, Pa. She is also the author of the book "Law & ReOrder: Legal Industry Solutions for Restructure, Retention, Promotion & Work/Life Balance."
"Technology is affording people to work differently," she says, "and therefore people are expecting that their employers will allow them to work differently."
Another reason why people are more interested in work/life satisfaction is because there is an expectation of 24/7 availability. "The world and the marketplace has become more global, and there is an expectation that people will be available on off hours so they can work with people across the world or they can be more responsive with today's technology," Henry says.
It is a dance of expectations and negotiation from both sides.
"If there is an expectation of flexibility on the employee's end to be responsive on what used to be thought of as off hours," Henry says, "employees are, in turn, expecting that the employer will be more flexible to them and offer a better work/life fit as a result."
Workers 55 and over were more likely to cite enjoying the work (80 percent) and work/life fit (76 percent) than younger workers 18 to 34 years old (58 percent for enjoyment and 61 percent for fit). The younger workers were more likely to say they stayed because of co-workers (57 percent) and managers (46 percent).
The lowest cited reason for staying on the job was "There aren't any other job opportunities for me" with only 39 percent of the workers giving it as a reason.
"But that is still 39 percent of people who were staying with their current employer because they just didn't have any other opportunities," Ballard says.
This is still a large enough percentage, however, for employers to be concerned. Two out of five workers sticking around because they don't have any other options won't last as the economy improves, Ballard says. "You may lose some of those folks," he says.