Why your best employees leave you

Why your best employees leave you

Employee retention is tough and losing a great employee is a terrible thing.

It’s expensive, of course, to find and hire and train a good replacement.

More than that, sometimes fear and uncertainty set in with the folks who remain; often the team who worked with this person tends to slow down while they figure each other out.

Usually it means someone else carries the load for this role, until you find a replacement — that seldom means they get to give their best and it seldom means the organization receives the best.

Sure, sometimes there’s a good reason that really is out of your control for why good employees leave. Maybe there were personal reasons, career goals that couldn’t be met or something came along that was just too good to pass up.

But they’re not the ones I’m talking about. I’m talking about the times where good employees leave and you wonder if you could have done something more…

Keeping your best employees starts with understanding why people leave. Here are some of the top reasons:

You’ve got the wrong motivators

I’ve managed people most of my career and I’ve worked in teams all my life.

If you had asked me five years ago what motivates someone at work I probably would have told you, “having a good salary,” maybe, “having a spiffy title,” and of course, who doesn’t think a big bonus is motivating at the end of the year?

As a leader of people, I had learned about motivating with “carrots and sticks” but in my gut, I knew that it was too simplistic and my own experience of managing people started to disprove that theory.

Some of you may have read a book called Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. The book talks about the evolution of motivation from survival instincts, to carrot and sticks, to its latest form, what the author calls Motivation 3.0, which replaces carrots and sticks with values and purpose.

What was most interesting for me was the proof that carrot and sticks don’t work, especially in work that is complex, or requires creativity or problem solving. Pink’s work demonstrates that the short-term financial motivators actually reduce creativity, and foster very short-term thinking at the expense of long term results.

In reality what he found was what really motivates people is:

  1. Autonomy
  2. Mastery
  3. Purpose

People want to be in control of their own lives, be continually improving, and to be working on something that matters.

Disconnected from the Big Picture

In other words, good employees leave when they find themselves not aligned with the company vision.

First of all, the company vision has to be more than profit-based to get folks excited about contributing. Assuming it is, it also has to be clearly shared with everyone. And, most importantly folks have to see how their role connects to and delivers on the vision. (i.e. Purpose, from Pink’s book).

According to the Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Survey; which has been around nearly 20 years and has surveyed over 25 million people, one of the 12 essential needs identified by staff is a clear understanding of how one’s particular job contributes to the company’s “reason for being.”

This can be a powerful form of emotional compensation.

No Development or Poor Feedback

Coming back to Pink’s point about Mastery – people want to get good at what they’re doing and they need feedback to assure and to guide them.

We know different people have different needs, some will need more feedback than others but if you find yourself thinking, “She knows how much I appreciate her,” or, “He’s doing what’s required of his job, I don’t have to acknowledge that,” or worse, if you’re thinking you have a problem with an employee and hoping it will fix itself without you saying anything to them, you’re definitely not giving enough feedback and you’re probably at risk of losing good people.

The good ones need to know they’re appreciated and how their skills are contributing to a greater success. The strugglers need help to meet expectations.

And, perhaps less obvious – if someone continues to not meet expectations, you as leader must make the tough decisions. In part because good workers won’t stay where they see poor performers allowed to coast.

Their Career Path Isn’t Clear

Not everyone wants to climb the corporate ladder. Not everyone wants to manage people.

Taking time to learn from your staff what they want out of their career (and possibly coaching them to figure it out, if they don’t know) is the first step in a critical two-part process. Too often we assume we know what someone wants out of their career, or we don’t even think about it and leave it entirely to them.

The second step is then helping them see how they can achieve their aspirations in your organization.

Sure, everyone has to take responsibility for their own career, but if you don’t engage and take an interest, don’t be surprised if they feel they have to leave to advance their goals.

Co-workers are Making Them Crazy

As a reader of this blog and adept people-focused leader, you’re probably well aware of how different things motivate different people and hopefully you’ve been able to use that knowledge to adapt how you engage with different staff and colleagues.

But, have you helped your team to learn those skills? When people with different personality types and/or different behaviour types have to work well together, or simply have to work closely together, frustrations can erupt.

Helping your team to adapt to each other, to develop strong emotional intelligence and to learn about how different folks see the world, and how those differences can be helpful, is essential. When a strong and capable employee is struggling because they seemingly can’t get along with a colleague, you run the risk of losing good talent simply because they haven’t yet developed their relationship skills.

Help them get there with our Golden Rule Program for teams.

You’re Making Them Crazy

There’s an often-quoted adage – “People quit their boss, not their job.”

I’m sure most of us, at some point, when losing an employee have wondered, “Was it something I said?” I haven’t scientifically polled that adage, but I know from working with a lot of leaders and from leading a lot of people in my own career, it’s true a lot of the time.

Maybe it’s because they feel overloaded by the work you assign them, or they feel micro-managed, or you’re absent and they don’t get the input they need. Or worse, they feel bullied or embarrassed. If it’s any of those things, now’s the time to work on it.

Grab a mentor, hire a coach, find someone on your team or among your colleagues who can be brutally honest with you and will point out challenges and help you with them.

Coach’s Questions

Which of the things we’ve talked about might be happening in your organization? And, what are you going to do, starting right now, to do something about it before you lose any more good people?