Tech Start-Ups Tend to Lose Many of Their Employees for the Same Reason, and it’s Completely Avoidable

Without mindful communication and intentional planning, role confusion is inevitable.

marrio31/ Getty Images
marrio31/ Getty Images
  • Many employees at mid-sized tech companies quit because their job has evolved, and they’re not sure what their new responsibilities are.
  • That’s according to data from Namely, a human-resources software company.
  • Role confusion happens often when start-ups scale into larger organizations.

New data from human-resources software company Namely sheds some light on a key reason why employees at mid-sized technology companies are quitting: Their job isn’t wasn’t they thought it would be.

Namely defines mid-size companies as having between 200 and 500 employees. According to a survey of roughly 1,200 firms using Namely, 46% of people who quit these organizations because they were dissatisfied were upset specifically with the misalignment between their job requirements and what they wanted their job to look like. Namely said this might happen because a job was misrepresented during the interview process or because a role has changed over time.

At small tech companies (20 to 200 employees), just 37% of employees felt the same way, and at large tech companies (500 or more employees), 26% did.

Based on her own experience working in mid-sized tech organizations, Lorna Hagen, chief people officer at Namely, said that role confusion might arise when start-ups begin to scale into mid-sized tech companies.

At a typical start-up, Hagen told Business Insider, “everybody has linked arms and is doing everything together and they have absolute transparency into all the information.” A larger organization, however, is “possibly a little bit more siloed, definitely more structured, and with some fences that make it a little bit harder for people to see information in a way that they used to.” That is to say, when you don’t know what other people are doing, it can be hard to know what you should be doing.

Hagen said this role confusion is often compounded by the fact that employees don’t have the skills to meet their new expectations. She gave a hypothetical example of a designer at a retail company. “As your company grows and grows, that person has maybe never … done anything bigger than that,” she said. But then questions arise: “Can they be a leader of people? Do they have followership? How are they in project management? Can they influence? Can they credibly speak in front of a board?”

Other experts have observed a similar phenomenon. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Tammy Erickson, author of “Workforce Crisis,” says that clearly specified roles for individual employees are even more important to effective collaboration than a clearly defined approach toward achieving the goal. “Without such clarity, team members are likely to waste energy negotiating roles or protecting turf, rather than focusing on the task,” Erickson writes.

Corporate reorganizations and a culture of internal mobility may contribute to role confusion

Even well-intentioned efforts to redesign a company’s structure can backfire. For example, The Wall Street Journal reports on the growing prevalence of corporate reorganization, in an effort to facilitate growth or keep up with market changes. Sue Shellenbarger writes that some companies reorganize every 18 months, causing “reorg fatigue” among their staff.

Meanwhile, tech companies are known for promoting internal mobility, allowing employees to make lateral moves onto different teams that might be better fits. It’s possible that when one person quits or joins a team, everyone else is left wondering how that will affect their day-to-day responsibilities.

While tech companies can take steps to create greater role clarity, particularly as they scale, Hagen emphasized that employees need to be proactive, too. It’s OK to be vulnerable, and to let your boss know that you’re confused.

Hagen said, “The onus is very much on the individual to be very, very intentional about what they’re looking for.”

Originally published on Business Insider.

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