Why top talent leave top jobs

Sometimes, you come across high-flyers who’ve packed in their jobs at big multinationals to do something new, somewhere much smaller. To those of us on the lower rungs, it can seem like madness. Why leave corporate nirvana when you have everything you could want? Let’s delve into the reasons why top executives leave their well-paid and prestigious roles.

Future proofing

One of the reasons for leaving a big corporate role is that the business is too slow. A top job at Blockbuster Video or HMV doesn’t mean anything if it disappears overnight. When talent can see the company needs to change to stay relevant, but it can’t, or it won’t, that’s when the resignation letters come out.

It’s not always as dramatic a move as that. Sometimes, people can just see farther ahead and realise that working for a smaller company can deliver a lot more value for both clients and career. For example, Zar Amrolia left a prominent role in the City to join a London fintech company that is innovating in foreign exchange by using large data sets and algorithmic trading. A change in lifestyle and a role that offers a cutting-edge service can be more appealing than traditional corporate prestige.

Misaligned skills

Companies have a responsibility to promote or hire the right people into management jobs. Too often, they assume that just because somebody is a great worker that they will be a great manager too. And then, when they have been given the responsibility, they are left to fend for themselves – no coaching or mentoring. The result: their skills and their duties don’t fit, they get frustrated, and start looking elsewhere.

In fact, three economists – Alan Benson, Danielle Li & Kelly Shue – found hard evidence in 2018 from studying 200 companies: promoting the best sales people actually hurt future sales. Whereas promoting those more suited to management, boosted them.


Let’s face it. Working in a high pressure job can sometimes be… highly pressured. Burnout is a huge issue and it comes for people who love their jobs as well as those who don’t. Ellie Hunt, a journalist at The Guardian, wrote last year that “many people are labouring in prisons of their own making”, working to self-imposed deadlines and becoming overwhelmed, showing that it is not just a case of pressure from on high. Companies can’t do much about an employee’s personal life – which can be the main source of stress – but they can take care to sound the alarm when they see someone suffering at work.

Lack of purpose

If your company is a big one, then you will most likely have a mission, a vision, and a set of values. For many employees, life goes beyond financial remuneration; and this is an anchor they can reach for when they ask themselves why they get up and go to work every day. If your mission is vague or it doesn’t match up with the management’s behaviour, it can leave people asking why they are there.

Sinking ship

This may be an obvious one, but when there is a scent of doom in the air, nobody wants to be the last one to jump ship. If the company is in decline, top talent might not want it to stain their reputation for future employers so they leave while the going is still good. In fact, the Center for Management & Organization Effectiveness says that it is one of the top five reasons employees start looking for another role.

Bad work-life balance

These days, work-life balance is on everyone’s minds. Technology has made it possible to work from anywhere 24/7, and so we often do. Gone are the days of punching out at 5pm and being unreachable until the next day.

If companies are demanding the constant brainspace of employees, then they should offer ways to make life easier. It can be as simple as good food and drink at the office, a dry-cleaning service, flexible working and policies that prevent overwork. A commitment to the health and wellbeing of employees avoids burnout and talent looking for a better lifestyle somewhere else.