Why Do Good Employees Leave?

In any employment market, good companies want to keep their best people. But when labor becomes scarce, as the US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects it will for the next decade or so, employee retention becomes an increasingly critical priority.

What, then, can companies do to retain the people they worked so hard to recruit? From an informal survey I conducted of more than 100 executives recently in a career transition, several important facts emerge.


The Issue: While just 31 percent of respondents indicated making more money was their primary reason for job hunting, it's evident that paying competitive salaries is an important retention tool.

What You Can Do:

  • Use industry surveys and other data tools to stay informed on wage trends.
  • To benefit both company and employees, tie increased pay to meeting specific goals aligned with business objectives.
  • Collect data from exit interviews to document trends from your departing employees, then use this data to make a business case for increasing salaries across the board.
  • Survey employees to find out what perks, benefits and forms of compensation other than money will help keep them on board.

Management and Retention

The Issue: In the survey, comments about poor management abounded. For 29 percent, the fact that they "did not like, respect or get along with their manager" was a significant factor in their decision to leave.

According to Irving Stackpole, president of healthcare consulting firm Stackpole & Associates, "It's absolutely clear that the reason people stay in jobs are the relationships that they have — primarily with their supervisor." And when those relationships are strained, many people leave.

What You Can Do:

  • Improve managers' leadership, communication and interpersonal skills through coaching, training and feedback. Rate these key skills in their evaluations, and tie compensation to performance.
  • Create a safe environment and process for employees to bring up concerns with their managers. Address problems quickly.


The Issue: When asked what advice they would give management to keep talented staff on board, survey respondents repeatedly mentioned better communication of company goals, performance expectations and value/appreciation of staff work.

What You Can Do: Consider this sampling of ideas from the survey, and compare how your own company and its managers operate:

  • Provide clear vision, strong and consistent communication, teamwork and respect for workers' efforts.
  • Share the company vision/mission clearly and regularly.
  • Collaborate, communicate and listen. Happy employees accomplish amazing things.  

Case Study: Why One Good Employee Left

For one senior executive, the decision to leave his job came down to listening and respect. After leading a successful turnaround of his division, he was excited to learn that the board of directors was launching a CEO search to replace the departing top executive. Because of his knowledge of the company and undisputed successes leading one of its most challenging divisions, he felt he was a strong candidate.

After drafting a resume and cover letter that put forth his vision of the key challenges and growth opportunities facing the organization, he assembled a strong list of references and alerted each to expect a call from a board member. He sent in his package with confidence that he would be able to expand on his ideas during an interview.

A few months later, he is actively searching outside the organization. His interview turned out to be a 20-minute meeting with a board member who clearly hadn't read his documents or contacted any references. "I felt disrespected," the worker says. "It's not that I thought I was a shoo-in for the job, but I expected to be given a fair shot."

Thus, the company will lose a top performer, because an executive didn't take the time or extend the courtesy to listen.

Be Proactive

Rather than finding yourself in a serious staffing shortage a few months or years down the road, take the time now to address retention issues at your company. You can create strategies to improve your company's ability to carefully preserve and develop its most valuable asset: Its people.