26 Apr 2024

Navigating attrition: unravelling the impact of learning and development on employee retention

Toby Barnard, Managing Director of QA explores the current labour market and how learning & development can keep people in the workplace.


Attrition has meant many things over the years, but the term is now synonymous with the state of our employment. Whether it’s due to the Covid pandemic, Gen Zs or the economy, there are many views on why attrition has become such a key feature in employer and employees’ lives. But is it not simpler than that? Motivation theories have changed over the years, but good employers, investing in their people, in roles that are believed in, has surely always been the cornerstone of great business.

Where’s the labour market now?

In the last Employment in the UK Report by the Office for National Statistics[1],  they reported a decrease in employment rate compared to the previous quarter, whilst the unemployment and economic inactivity rates increased during the period May to July 2023.

According to a study by Remote, a global HR firm, staff turnover rates have increased in the UK over the last 5 years from 25.8% to 35.6% which suggests a continued increase in attrition unless significant steps are taken.

Why are people leaving?

People are leaving roles because they aren’t getting what they need. In basic terms, people are driven by requirements and when those aren’t fulfilled, they will look elsewhere. This is not something new, and it’s not the sole ownership of Gen Z’s to lay claim to. What has changed in the last 30 years is not just the people, but that careers are no longer for life. Companies fail and restart, SMEs are much more prevalent and even the bigger companies are more likely to make regular redundancies.

These ‘needs’ have been characterised in many studies, from Maslow to McClelland and described as motivational theories. Psychology Today reports that motivation varies from person to person but typically includes a combination of everything from external incentives such as financial gain, to maintaining a positive self-image, and having access to beneficial social relationships.[2]

A CIPD report[3] states that there are 4 evidenced motivational theories, which includes social exchange, social identity, self-determination and self-regulation theories. But when you distil them down, essentially people require purpose, reward and psychological safety.

What keeps people from leaving?

Research[4] has shown that there are factors that drive motivational theories. This includes goal setting, feedback, recognition, monetary rewards, perceived work meaningfulness, perceived supervisory support, empowerment/autonomy, psychological safety and perceived fairness/justice.

But it’s also been found, in the Journal of Business and management Studies that, “If employees are engaged through various training and development programmes, they will prove to be more productive for the organisation. The more the employee is engaged, the lower the turnover rate is as the satisfaction levels become higher.” [5] The report also goes on to state that learning and development “will keep them engaged while learning new skills, and it will help them in boosting their confidence and provide them with a sense of belongingness. This will, in turn, curb the menace of employee turnover, and the retention rate will be higher due to training and development.”[6]

To support this, a Gallup survey found that “employees who are actively engaged are less likely to be actively looking or open to a new job opportunity. In fact, low engagement teams typically endure turnover rates that are 18% to 43% higher than highly engaged teams.”[7]

Furthermore, ExecuSearch research shows that professional development is critical to employees with a reported 86% of professionals[8] stating that they would change jobs if offered more professional development opportunities, and 92% of employees[9] think that having access to professional development is important or very important. This is reinforced by LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report where they found that “94% of employees say they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their learning and development.”[10]


In summary, L&D has been proven to be a significant factor in employee retention. Whether it makes the employee feel invested in, have a sense of belonging, become more engaged or less anxious in their role, it’s clear that in these circumstances we find ourselves in, L&D has a significant part to play.

In the UK, according to the CIPD, the median cost of hiring ranges from £1,500 to £3,000.[11] Other reports suggest this could be as much as £6,000 and when an agency is included, that can add another £4,500[12]. When compared to the average expenditure on learning in the UK per employee being £1,780[13] it seems sensible to invest more to retain an engaged employee than risk losing a valued and productive staff member.

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