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Why are remote workers leaving their jobs? 

Remote workers are quitting, too.
The difference between in-office and remote workers, though, is why they quit. And with the incredibly high cost of employee turnover, it’s critical to know what motivates different types of workers to quit. Most studies on quiet quitting, the Great Resignation, and return-to-office quitting ask why people quit, but few, if any, explicitly parse out remote workers. SafetyWing’s survey on Employee Retention uncovered why remote workers are quitting their jobs—and offers takeaways for employers.

Why people want to work remotely

To contextualize why someone might quit, you need to understand why they wanted to work remotely in the first place. The first major thing our study found was that motivations for people who value remote work differ slightly from people who value in-office work. In particular, flexibility. To put data behind the long-held assumption, remote workers value flexibility at a higher rate (65%) than people who work in an office (48%). 
The second overarching trend is that remote workers want more from their job. They want more work-life balance (51%), more mental well-being (38%), and an improved financial situation (31%). They also want a more peaceful life — 24% said their previous lifestyle was too stressful — and they want more travel and opportunities in their lives (18%).

Why people stay in remote jobs

From here, it’s critical to understand what motivates remote workers to stay in their jobs:
  • Flexibility (83%)
  • Being able to work independently (78%)
  • Work-life balance (78%)
  • Good salary (75%).
The key challenges remote workers face are mentally switching off and loneliness, efficiently collaborating with colleagues, along with practical tech and wifi issues.

Why remote workers quit

When a remote worker quits, it’s for reasons you’d expect given their motivations. 
  • Pay dissatisfaction (39%)— even with a good work-life balance, people want to be paid fairly. Pay is also the thing the fewest people say they are satisfied with (only 45% say they are satisfied, compared to 73% being satisfied with the work environment, for instance). Pay being the top motivator for people to quit a job also suggests that flexibility is a form of valued compensation on top of fair financial compensation, not in lieu of it. 
  • Lack of career growth opportunities (37%). One possible explanation is that career growth often correlates with higher incomes, so someone not getting promoted could also mean not getting a raise (or getting a small raise without a promotion), leading to general dissatisfaction at work.
  • After this come factors like burnout and mental health impact (34%), poor work culture (31%), and a lack of compatibility between work and desired lifestyle (26%).
It’s easy to look at these statistics and say they are the same as in-office workers—after all, compensation, culture, and work-life balance are key causes of employee turnover regardless of work structure. However, it’s important to note that the definitions of each term are different for remote workers versus in-office workers.
For example, where an in-office worker might define work-life balance as an easy commute to the office, a remote worker might define it as being able to work from a beach with wifi. So while the categories might be similar, the reasons behind someone’s negative feelings toward a job differ depending on their working structure. 

How to retain remote workers

1. Look at total compensation: The majority of remote workers (62%) said they would have stayed if their employer offered better pay. But it’s not always about their salary—20% of people who quit their work said having benefits would have convinced them to stay. Further, only 43% of remote workers said they have health insurance, only 32% get any additional vacation beyond legal requirements, and only 28% have retirement plans. Companies looking to retain talent may want to look at their total compensation package to ensure it’s not only competitive but offering things employees value.
2. Consider a self-managed work structure: Flexibility is the strongest motivator for full-time remote workers, though each person has their own reason for wanting it. Some want the flexibility to be nomadic or travel while others want the flexibility to be with family, for instance. So instead of thinking about adjusting for employee lifestyle desires (which vary and are likely to change), consider a working structure that focuses on work outcomes rather than people management so employees can manage their own days.
3. Build more opportunities for connection: While remote workers value working independently, they don’t want to be alone all the time. Offering more ways for full-time employees to get together, whether virtually or in person, will help with collaboration, building strong connections, and ultimately associating work with positive interactions rather than loneliness. 
4. Get your tech in order: Remote workers cannot work without technology. Ensuring you have proper systems set up ahead of time (and shipped to remote workers during onboarding) will give you a leg up. And for those times when problems happen, have an empowered IT staff ready to assist and get people working again.

Different motivations, still human

People who enjoy working in office environments thrive in the chit-chat and ad hoc element the office can provide. Remote workers, on the other hand, thrive in independence, flexibility, and focused work. For those that prefer a mix of both, hybrid workplaces can be a great solution.
All remote workers are still human, which means a range of emotions, feelings, and motivations—that’s the other final thing to take into account here. SafetyWing’s study, like many others, helps uncover directional trends. However, this is not the be-all, end-all of workplace intelligence. Instead, it’s intended to provide the raw information and data for leaders to digest and verify before figuring out the right next step for your organization.

If you want to read more about employee retention, check out our new white paper!

About the author

Stefan Palios

Author & Strategist
Stefan is the bestselling author of The 50 Laws of Freelancing. He also created The Growth Blueprint course for helping freelancers grow their business.