Why good employees leave and what to do about it

While a certain amount of turnover is healthy and normal, when you’re hemorrhaging staff it can take years to recover. And let’s face it, retention is tough in a lot of places. While you can’t make people stay, you can take some critical actions to address the main reasons people say, “See you later.”

1) Employees want a better relationship with their managers

If you haven’t done a good job cultivating a good relationship with your direct reports, today is the day to start. Evaluate your behavior. Would you want to work for you? Would anyone else? Look for patterns. If people don’t stick around and they don’t cite another plausible reason for their decision, guess what? It’s probably you. You never hear from any of them after they depart? It’s definitely you. Get honest with yourself. Are you a yeller? Inconsistent? Punishing? Self-centered? Uncommunicative? It’s time to get to work. Identify the behaviors that would cause someone to leave and stop doing them.

Next, identify the behaviors that would encourage someone to stay, and start doing those things. Needing to be a better manager is a simple diagnosis with a hard prescription. If you don’t know how to get better on your own, take a class, read some leadership books, craft an action plan, hire a coach or take a combination of those actions.

2) Employees are bored or no longer challenged

While people outgrow jobs and sometimes there is nowhere to move them, you can solve this problem. If people can do the job and become restless, look for special projects, cross-training opportunities and other extras. At a minimum, that extra attention could slow their departure. If the problem is reoccurring, ask yourself what kind of person would be right-sized for the position and consider hiring for those attributes the next time.

3) Employees want a better work-life balance

It’s called a job, not purgatory. While there are certain people who live to work, most people want some semblance of a life outside of work. Ask yourself if you’re running a sweatshop. Does everyone need to be in the office from 9 to 5 Monday to Friday? If not, a little flexibility can go a long way toward building loyalty and making a job attractive.

Next, think about measuring people based on output instead of the hours worked. If employees must type on a keyboard a few times to satisfy some sort of monitoring software, you’re most likely not endearing yourself to your team. You don’t trust them to do their work? Then here’s a simple answer for you: Anyone who needs to be micromanaged probably shouldn’t have been hired in the first place. 

4) Employees don’t connect with the business or its purpose

Not every business touches the heartstrings, but every business should tell its story in a compelling way. If it’s not a story about the business itself, perhaps it’s a connection to the role. Still nothing? If what your business does isn’t setting the world on fire, think about other selling points. Could it be you have a warm and inviting family atmosphere? Are you a great training ground for something else later down the road? Can employees stop thinking about work the minute they walk out the door? With a little bit of thought, you can find a meaningful story for almost any organization.

5) Employees can get more money elsewhere

As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. So, if you’re paying 1983 salaries, why are you surprised when people leave? They can do better elsewhere. Nothing personal, it’s just business. If you pay below-average wages and have nothing to balance the shortfall, you’re going to lose people. You don’t think the job is worth more money? That’s too bad — your competitors do, and you lose. Stay aware of what’s happening in your industry, your market and so forth. Also, don’t only offer money when people let you know they’ve gotten another offer. At that point, it’s often too late.

Economies fluctuate. Sometimes the market favors employers, and other times employees hold a more favorable hand. Smart managers realize the cyclical nature of retention, and they do what they can to minimize the goodbyes in good times and bad. What do you need to do differently?

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works Inc., a talent development firm. She and her team provide onsite, virtual and online soft-skills training courses and workshops. For more information, visit businesstrainingworks.com.

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