Why Great Employees Quit: What You Can Do To Keep Them

by Anderson, Brian Thursday, March 02, 2006
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So you've gone to significant expense to recruit some top talent. With recruiting expenses at about 35% or more of an employee's first year salary, any employer would want to recoup those expenses by retaining their top talent for at least a few years. How do you keep them once you've landed them? We'll look at seven reasons why employees leave, according to Leigh Brahnam who wrote the book, "The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave," which can also help you answer the other side of the retention equation: "How do you keep them?"

According to Leigh the seven reasons employees leave are:
  1. The job or workplace was not as expected
  2. Mismatch between job and the person
  3. Too little coaching and feedback
  4. Too few growth and advancement opportunities
  5. Feeling devalued and unrecognized
  6. Stress from overwork and work-life imbalance
  7. Loss of trust and confidence in senior leaders
  1. The job or workplace was not as expected. Too frequently in the rush to hire, employers will over sell the job and/or not talk about any challenges the company is facing. Unfortunately, it becomes painfully obvious to the new hire once they get on board that things aren't what they were touted to be and that breeds both dissatisfaction and mistrust. The question in the employee's mind will be, "What else is wrong?" "What else are they lying about?"

    Employers have to be confident about their company's future even with blemishes…and all companies have them. Prospective employees will self select into companies based on the challenge and opportunities that are most congruent with their personality. Some people like startups, some prefer more mature "secure" companies and some people love turnarounds. Truth in packaging will help ensure the proper fit between employee and work environment because top employees will select the company that fits them best.

  2. Mismatch between job and the person. Don't try to fit a square peg into a round hole no matter how much you love the person or how desperate you are to fill that too long vacant job. Be sure the person has both the competencies necessary for the job and is the right personality fit. Competency fit is the easier of the two. However, being sure the person has the right personality for your job has to be considered. For example, most introverts do not make very good external sales people in the long run. They can go through the motions but get exhausted schmoozing because they aren't energized by being around people as true extroverts are.

  3. Too little feedback or coaching. Busy managers easily ignore top performers. They are low maintenance employees who bosses love because they can set them loose and forget about them...big mistake. Just because someone appears to be self reliant, don't make the mistake and think that they don't need or want feedback and coaching. In my work with top performers I frequently hear that these folks feel guilty taking up their boss's time. Therefore, they often don't ask. You will need to reach out to them.

  4. Too few growth and advancement opportunities. The number one reason people stay at companies has to do with developmental opportunities not how well they are paid. Top-flight employees want and need to have growth opportunities. They will not stay very long where they don't feel challenged and where they don't feel their bosses take their development seriously. Similar to number 3, ignoring low maintenance employees is a mistake.

  5. Feeling devalued and unrecognized. Again, top employees frequently don't ask for recognition but...they're human and I haven’t met an executive who doesn't appreciate being recognized. However, more importantly, it's imperative that employees are not treated disrespectfully. Screamers and mean bosses tend to churn top-flight employees. The least competent and most fearful employees are generally the only ones who continue working for jerks. They stay because they are fearful that they can't find another job.

  6. Stress from overwork and work-life imbalance. "Company leaders must determine whether their organization’s culture is unhealthy, or even toxic. When you force workers into choosing between having a life and a career, your organization has a toxic culture," according to Leigh. Hire good people, treat them respectfully, and give them latitude to act like adults.

  7. Loss of trust and confidence in senior leaders. Leaders who don't provide a clear vision and understandable path for execution are at risk. Leaders who are unethical and narcissistic (extremely self-centered) will chase good employees out the door. Leigh listed three things you can do to combat these impressions, to offset and reverse a loss of trust in senior leaders:
    • Inspire confidence with a clear vision, a workable plan and the competence to achieve it. The first ingredient of trust is competence. People will only follow someone they feel is competent. Articulate your vision, provide a workable plan and then execute.

    • Back up words with actions. If you don’t follow through with your commitments you will engender "cynicism and disengagement."

    • Place your trust and confidence in your workforce. Demonstrate that by delegating well and not micromanaging.
Jim Collins, the author of "Good to Great," found that the best leaders are known for "getting the right people on the bus." He didn't mention that the tougher challenge is keeping them on the bus. These seven steps should help you retain and motivate your valued employees.

Brian Anderson is the principal founder of BA Search Group an executive search, coaching and consulting practice in the Naperville, Aurora, IL market. www.basearchgroup.com