Reduce Turnover by Learning Why Good Employees Leave

A woman carries her box of stuff out of the office after quitting her job.

You offered your new hire a generous salary, decent benefits, and some fun office perks (including Friday happy hours), but they left for a competitor after a few months. What went wrong? Knowing the answer to this question—and why good employees leave, generally—is key to retaining top talent.

It’s often said that good employees leave bad managers, and there’s quite a bit of truth to that statement. In a broader sense, successful employee retention depends on cultivating the right company culture, one that values honesty and encourages open communication. Other than a paycheck, workers want the opportunity to grow and contribute in a meaningful way, and be recognized for their achievements.

Understanding why you’re losing your best people is a critical part of maintaining a harmonious, high-performing workforce. There are countless reasons why good employees leave their jobs, but typically it’s because they:

  1. Are stifled
  2. Are not being challenged
  3. Have not been given developmental opportunities
  4. Don’t feel appreciated
  5. Are discouraged by a toxic work environment

Of course, adequate compensation is always important, but it’s often poor management and lack of motivation that drives away your best employees. We’ll take a closer look at all of these potential stumbling blocks to retaining your best and brightest workers.

1. Stifling Your Employees

Companies have goals to meet and tasks to perform, but this shouldn’t come at the expense of stifling employees’ initiative to explore new ideas or share insights. The best ideas will be left unshared if your employees believe their contributions aren’t appreciated, and they decide to look elsewhere.

Even if you need them to focus on specific tasks, be sure to encourage their creativity and initiative by giving them the space to pursue other ideas. Google, for example, encourages its employees to devote 20 percent of their efforts to creative side projects. In fact, it has been shown that such initiatives not only help with retention but also are good for the bottom line.

2. Not Enough Challenges

As with employees who aren’t encouraged to pursue new ideas, bored workers are less productive and more likely to leave. Whether it’s work that’s assigned to, or generated by, the employee, make sure they’re adequately challenged. One idea to consider is cross-training your team. That not only provides opportunities to learn new skills, but it also helps with coverage issues when team members will be out.

Although there will always be some mediocre employees who are happy to get by doing the bare minimum, not being challenged is one of the key reasons why good employees leave. Those are the employees you want to keep.

3. Lack of Developmental Opportunities

Managers may be inclined to have their high performers do the same task day in, day out (consider the maxim “no good deed goes unpunished”). But the most driven professionals want to expand their skill set and explore other roles within the organization. Of course, they will explore roles outside of your organization if you fail to provide career and skills development opportunities.

4. Failing to Show Appreciation

Even if you encourage the creativity and development of your employees by providing them challenging work and training opportunities, you may still lose them if you fail to recognize and appreciate their biggest achievements. Bonuses and merit raises are important, but a simple acknowledgment and “thank you” often is sufficient.

Other ways to reward, recognize, and ultimately show appreciation for your best employees include:

  • Team lunch or lunch with the boos
  • Employee of the month award (with corresponding plaque on office wall)
  • Extra time off
  • Redeemable points (there are plenty of third-party vendors offering these programs)
  • Recognition among peers (website, company newsletter, etc.)

5. Tolerating a Toxic Workplace

Office bullies, and the failure to respond appropriately, can make an otherwise rewarding job a daily drudgery. A toxic workplace culture has been cited in numerous sources as one of the top reasons why good employees leave. All it takes is one bully to sour the spirit of your workplace and drive your top performers to your competitors.

As the manager, it’s your job to set the tone and create a workplace culture that’s healthy and welcoming to all employees. Even if an office bully is also perceived as a top performer, the damage they’re doing to your team will overshadow any individual contributions they make to the bottom line.

Use Exit Interviews to Learn Why Good Employees Leave

When your best employees abruptly leave for another company, it may be too late to find out why. That is, unless you conduct an exit interview. Employees may be more candid about their reasons for leaving once they’re on their way out; however, others may be reluctant to burn any bridges. One remedy is to offer an exit interview via email after they’ve left the building.

Therefore, you’ll want to prompt them effectively. For instance, asking why they started looking around for another job may be more effective than asking why they left. The former question may elicit a more circumspect answer, whereas the latter may get them to say something positive about the new employer that your company is lacking.

Employee Retention is Every Manager’s Job

The best way to improve your employee retention efforts is to understand why people leave in the first place. You may not be able to accommodate certain departing employees, such as those who are shifting careers or wanting to work for a larger corporation. But where you can, it’s vital to provide the right environment for retention.

The low-hanging fruit may be an increase in compensation (including benefits), but beyond that you’ll want to take a check-up of your company’s culture. Do you encourage innovation? Are employees challenged and provided with opportunities to grow? Do they feel appreciated? Are you adequately addressing toxic elements in the workplace?

The boss (and, in turn, the lower-level managers) are responsible for reading these cues and responding accordingly. You’re in business to succeed, which won’t happen if you can’t hold onto your talent.

Learn Why Good Employees Leave and Retain Your Best

Employees come and go, often for reasons that are well beyond your control. But, in order to maximize employee retention, it’s important to understand why they leave and what steps you can take to keep them. Sign up to learn more about retaining top performers, recruiting top candidates, and building a winning workforce.