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The shocking reason people are quitting tech companies (No, it's not money)

When it comes to employees quitting, tech sits very high up in the attrition rate table. Why might that be? And why might employees be quitting?
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Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributor on
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Me and my backpack just don't belong here.

Image: SrdjanPav/ Getty

Have you had enough?

Do you lurch into your home office every morning and think: "No more bloody project management/software engineering/electric car building/making the world a better place for me?"

I only ask because a lot of people have been doing it lately.

It's less China's Great Leap Forward, more America's Great Leap Outward.

Naturally, when it comes to tech companies, I usually assume money is the biggest motivator.

Tech companies are desperate for staff. They crave more sentient bodies and inspired minds. They have the money to buy them.

Every day, it seems that employees from Apple and Microsoft are being poached like eggs at a polite British breakfast.

Yet I've just driven my mental truck into a new study from three large brains -- Donald Sull from MIT's Sloan School of Management, Charles Sull, his co-founder at a, oh Lordy, "culture solutions" company called Culture X and Ben Zweig, CEO of Revelio Labs, who appears to occasionally moonlight at New York University's Stern School of Business.

They have pored over quitting data and poured surprising thoughts into my mind.

Which industries experienced the greatest average attrition rates during the Great Leap Outward? Trucking, I hear you cry. Fast food, perhaps.

Well, the number one home of the I Quit community appears to be apparel retail.

The next three, however, have significant tech ramifications. In second place is management consulting, which has desperately infiltrated the tech sphere over the last many years.

You might think those who offer wise thoughts on how to manage would be good at it themselves. Perhaps not.

In third place came internet businesses. In fourth, enterprise software.

Yes, they came ahead of such more obvious industries as hotels and leisure or general retail.

You might be moved by the data point that controversial company SpaceX suffered more than three times the attrition of (arguably) even more controversial company Boeing. Or that Netflix suffered at twice the rate that did Warner Bros.

I was most short-breathed, however, at the top predictor of attrition, relative to employee compensation.

Here's your money shot: "A toxic culture is 10.4 times more likely to contribute to attrition than compensation."

Can it be that employees are ten times more likely to walk because of their bosses and their heinous management skills -- and I'm not specifically pointing to SpaceX and Netflix here? Or Tesla, for that matter.

Although the study did mention that employees were 3.8 times more likely to quit Tesla than Ford.

Can it be, though, that toxic corporate cultures are as widespread as toxic attitudes in Congress?

Astonishingly, at least to my life-pickled eyes, failure to recognize employee performance was around a third as influential as toxic culture in quitting decisions.

You might be desperate for a more exact definition of toxicity. Well, these researchers indicated "failure to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion; workers feeling disrespected; and unethical behavior."

Unethical behavior can't possibly be rife in the tech industry, can it? And no, I am absolutely not casting a single aspersion toward SpaceX, Netflix, or any other vast and deeply honest tech company.

I wonder how many tech leaders realize, though, that their corporate culture is toxic.

And I wonder how many actively encourage it because it makes them feel more, well, powerful?

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