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November 15, 2006
Top Performers Cite Pay as Top Reason They Leave

Seventy-one percent of top-performing employees say pay is one of the top three reasons they would leave an organization, but only 45 percent of employers cite pay as a top retention issue, according to a survey by Watson Wyatt Worldwide and WorldatWork.

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Instead, employers were more likely to cite promotion opportunities (68 percent) and career development (66 percent) as one of the top three reasons top-performing employees leave.

Thirty-three percent of top-performing employees cited promotion opportunities as one of the top three reasons they would leave an organization, making it the second most common response among top performers.

Only 23 percent of top-performing employees said career development is one of the top three reasons they would leave an employer, fewer than those who cited work/life balance (26 percent) and those who said stress (24 percent).

Twenty-two percent of top-performing employees said healthcare benefits were one of the top three reasons they'd leave an employer, compared with zero percent of employers who said the same.

The survey also found a significant difference between the share of employers and top performers who said the employee/supervisor relationship is one of the top reasons employees leave. While thirty-one percent of employers said the top-performing employees' relationship with their supervisor is a top reason they leave, only 8 percent of top-performing employees said their relationship with a supervisor would be a top reason they'd leave an employer.

"The employer-employee deal is changing, and so are employees' priorities," says Laura Sejen, director of strategic rewards consulting at Watson Wyatt. "Regardless of whether companies are retaining the older 'lifetime career' deal or a newer, less paternalistic deal, it is important to balance business goals with the rewards that employees value. Firms that do not get the pay-benefits mix right risk losing some of their best talent."

The survey also found that 63 percent of employers said they had a moderate or high level of difficulty in attracting critical-skill staff, and 39 percent reported moderate or high difficulty in retaining them. At the same time, relatively few employees (19 percent) cited difficulty in finding another job as a key reason they remain with an organization.

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