Why Quitting Is Contagious and What to Do About It

Tara Klein
Posted by

High turnover can be a difficult pain point for many organizations. Retaining talent is imperative to the success of the business but even more so, turnover is detrimental. For one, turnover is very expensive. According to a study by Gallup, employee replacement can cost up to 150% of that employee’s salary. This includes the cost of hiring and on boarding, the loss of productivity and other effects on the business. And the truth is, the problem is much worse, because quitting can create a chain reaction of turnover. We have all seen it where one employee leaves and soon after other employees are making the same decision and this ripple effect can be difficult to deal with. So why does it happen and what can you do about it?

Emotional Contagion

This is not something from a Sci Fi movie, but in fact a real phenomenon that scientists say can occur in the workplace. The same way people can catch a cold, people can catch the emotions and behaviors of those they work with. When one person is complaining, creating a negative environment, others tend to jump on that same train. So, when someone leaves, people begin to question their own job and future without even realizing it. If there are bigger systematic issues, they will start to examine those and may be pushed towards the same conclusion.


There are times where employees are completely disengaged with the big picture, but they are still highly productive. In some cases, they are working for one or two people that they align with. So, if one of those people leave, they realize their motivation went with it. This can cause the ripple effect on an entire team. Employees must be engaged and align with the organization, not just one or two people that they work with.


If multiple members of the same team start jumping ship at the same time, it may have to do with the leadership of that team. For example, an inexperienced manager on a team that is struggling to guide, motivate, and engage its employees may experience a large cluster of turnovers if not addressed.

So, what can you do to stop this domino effect from happening in your organization? When a company experiences significant turnover, realize that something is going on and it is the perfect opportunity to take a closer look and make improvements.

Engage your managers and your employees

There needs to be immediate damage control on the teams affected. Employee engagement happens from the top down. Make sure that managers are equipped to handle questions and concerns about the team members moving forward. It is important that after a critical resignation that there is transparency with the employees about a plan moving forward. Without that directness, employees will develop doubt and concern about the future.

Conduct Exit Interviews

It is critical for the future of your retention to have an exit interview. And not a one-page sheet the resigning employee completes, but a thorough and helpful exit interview. This is a candor opportunity for you to find out how your employees perceive their workplace. Take this process seriously and more importantly, put the information to work after.

Focus on Improvement

Accept that what you are doing isn't working. So, once the dust settles, take this opportunity to reevaluate your employee engagement and retention strategy. Ensure that you have a process and plan in place to ensure that this is not a reoccurring issue. Companies that are constantly in flux with employee turnover will have a hard time being successful.


Become a member to take advantage of more features, like commenting and voting.

Jobs to Watch