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What Are the Common Causes of High Attrition?

By Sandi Johnson
Updated: May 17, 2024

Attrition typically refers to the wearing down or reduction of previous levels, as well as other forms of loss as they relate to human capital. Most commonly, the term attrition is used to reference the loss of employees due to retirement, death, or resignation. Other types of attrition include diminished student enrollments, loss of customers, or decreases in military personnel. No matter the specific population referenced, the single biggest contributing factor to high attrition rates is low satisfaction on the part of employees, students, or customers. Fear is another culprit in the battle over elevated attrition rates, whether fear of war or unrest, economic hardship, heavy competition in the workforce, or poor future prospects.

High attrition rates for employees are often due to poor job satisfaction, an aging workforce, spending cuts, or increased competition. Student enrollments suffer elevated attrition due to heavy competition in certain occupational fields, poor learning opportunities, increased tuition coupled with poor economic conditions, or decreased demands for certain professions. Certain branches of the military may see high attrition rates during times of conflict or immediately following governmental budget cuts. Customer attrition is often attributed to increased competition, lack of or waning interest in certain product lines, poor customer relations, or hard economic times.

Numerous researchers, human resource professionals, and statisticians have studied high attrition rates and their respective causes across a variety of populations. Employee turnover and elevated attrition rates are a subject of considerable concern to human resource professionals. Given the expense to business from elevated attrition rates, it is understandable that the majority of research covers human resource attrition. Exit interviews, employee surveys, and other tools used to help human resource professionals determine the cause behind high attrition rates typically show similar results, regardless of industry, pay grade, or employment status.

Job satisfaction, or lack thereof, is the most commonly reported reason employees choose to leave an organization. Lack of opportunity for professional growth, disinterest in repetitive tasks, poor leadership, and unwelcoming work environments all lead to poor job satisfaction. Seldom are pay and benefits cited by employees as the primary reason for high turnover within a particular organization. Only the military reflects different trends regarding reasons behind attrition levels, with world conflicts and budget cuts being the most common contributing factors according to published studies.

Similar studies among college students highlight parallels between student attrition and attrition in the workplace. College students typically seek the same level of challenge and opportunity for growth as employees. Likewise, poor leadership or lack of confidence in leadership lead to similar attrition issues at the collegiate level as seen in employment environments. Campus culture also plays an important role in turnover rates among college students. As such, the same common complaints resulting in abnormally high turnover in the workplace will likely produce elevated attrition rates among student populations.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Certlerant — On Feb 17, 2014

You are right, Glasis. Many hiring experts debate the need for college education and predict that the post-secondary education scene will look completely different in the next decade or so than today.

Online courses are more and more common, and some universities offer free tuition.

Traditional schools and colleges can't compete well with this new world order, especially in the case of public schools, whose funding is frequently cut by state and federal sources.

By Glasis — On Feb 16, 2014

A big factor in student attrition is large or frequent increases in tuition and student fees.

Most students are already paying for their education through some form of financial aid, including student loans.

Graduates' struggles to pay off student loans have been well publicized in recent years, and the movement of interest rates is uncertain at best.

As a result, a student will be more likely to transfer or drop out if an already imposing bill continues to get larger every semester.

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