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Stressful Times in the Talent War

Posted by: Diane Brady on October 22, 2007

Everyone knows it’s tough to find great employees these days. The stress is taking a toll, according to a new study by Watson Wyatt Worldwide and WorldatWork (a global group of HR professionals).

66% of the 946 companies surveyed report difficulty attracting top-performing workers, while a 70% percent have trouble attracting “critical-skill” employees. The U.S. had the highest median voluntary turnover rate, at 11%, while Latin America has the lowest, at 5%.

Part of the problem is a disconnect between employee priorities and employers’ perceptions of those priorities. When employees were asked why they left a job, they have this list of reasons (in descending order): stress level, base pay, promotion opportunity, career development opportunities and work/life balance. When asked why their people leave, employers cited pay, career development, promotion opportunity, relationship issues with the boss and work/life balance. Stress wasn’t on the list.

Reader Comments


October 23, 2007 4:56 AM

The #1 reason people leave their jobs? Their bosses. Make no mistake about it because if the boss is good, he or she will stay. I'm deeply convinced of that. If it's not their bosses then it's family related reasons, such schools, relocation of spouse, move closer to other relatives, etc. Everything else listed seems secondary.

Brandon W

October 23, 2007 9:50 AM

I wonder if the "flattening" of organizations has contributed to stress levels and turnover. Increased responsibilities are being placed on workers as organizations flatten; workloads are higher and more complex. Managers may be increasingly confused about their roles, and thus are not providing the proper leadership. The flat organizations also limit promotional opportunity; there's no place to "move up" to!

HR Wench

October 23, 2007 4:20 PM

Ann Bares has a great post (and comments) on this topic at

I know that once I am dissatisfied with one fairly big thing at work it is easy to get the snowball rolling and become dissatisfied with everything in no time flat. Then, hating everything, I become stressed and bored at the same time. Sometimes it passes, sometimes it doesn't.

The Breakroom

October 23, 2007 5:02 PM

I think there is a difference of opinion between companies and workers as to what a top-performing worker looks like. I know lots of talented people who are over-stressed, but under-utilized. These people want the opportunity to use their talents, but often get stuck spending time in meaningless meetings and beauracractic games. We feel more stress when we are spending time on activities we feel are a waste of time. I think HR Wench hit it on the head with "stressed and bored at the same time."

And can we please stop calling this a "war"? I write about this topic in my blog "The Breakroom"


October 23, 2007 8:40 PM

Your comments remind me how quickly we journalists can descend into cliche ... "war" is probably up there. That said, I do think it's the dominant issue for a lot of leaders I speak to. They worry about getting the right people, training them, retaining them and -- ultimately -- finding someone who will replace them.

Dr. J. Robert Beyster

October 25, 2007 5:06 PM

I believe that those companies that are having a difficult time finding good talent need first to look closely at their own organizational cultures before blaming a lack of potential recruits within the United States. When I started Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) with a handful of scientists and engineers in 1969, I was faced with much the same problem. In my case, however, the problem was convincing talented people that they should leave their relatively secure government and aerospace employers and take a chance on my unproven upstart. I quickly realized that the solution wasn’t looking outside the United States for talent, but instead adopting workplace practices that would attract America’s most talented tech employees – and then convince them to stay once they arrived. The first thing I did was share the company’s equity through a variety of stock purchase programs. The second thing I did was encourage our employees to participate fully in making decisions that would impact the company’s future. Today, SAIC has grown into an $8 billion company with more than 44,000 employees worldwide. I attribute this result to the culture of ownership and empowerment that we created at SAIC—a culture that attracted some of the United States’ very best and most highly motivated tech employees. America’s talented workers hold the solution, it’s up to our business leaders to create organizational cultures that are worthy of their loyalty and commitment.


January 1, 2008 5:45 PM

Dr. Beyster,

I'm interested to know how SAIC has suceeded to retain and manage those outstanding employees you've been so successful in recruiting. I'm with a small company in CA.


June 30, 2009 12:50 AM

There can be many reasons for the separation of employees. However, to avoid this and reduce turnover an effective way is to have a sophisticated hiring strategy which includes various assessments and proper pre-employment screening. When the person selected is fit for the job then the chance of him leaving it or not performing well becomes amazingly low! For assistance:

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