Why Is Your Top Talent Walking Out the Door?

86535865General Electric CEO, Jack Welch once said, “Any company trying to compete must figure out a way to engage the mind of every employee.” A company’s greatest asset is its employees. Without a dedicated workforce of men and women who enjoy their job and take a special interest in its success, a company can’t survive. As the economy slowly recovers, the talent war is becoming fierce. Retention of top employees is a major battle many businesses are currently fighting. Could you afford to lose your top performers?

So, why do talented employees leave?
While it is definitely one of the top contributing factors, most research has shown that money is rarely the only reason an employee chooses to leave a company. It is usually a combination of a variety of other reasons that often has the biggest influence on a talented worker’s decision to seek new opportunities. In order to keep your best and brightest from walking out the door, it’s important to understand some of the non-money related causes of employee turnover.

Not the Right Fit for the Job
“A round man cannot be expected to fit in a square hole right away. He must have time to modify his shape.” – Mark Twain

Due to layoffs and cutbacks during the recession, many workers were forced to take jobs outside their field of interest in order to pay bills or provide for their families. Now that the job market is beginning to open up, these employees will likely seek opportunities to get their careers back on track. Others may have taken a particular position, but realized it wasn’t quite the job they had in mind.

It’s Just Not Fun Anymore
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

New challenges and experiences are key to keeping top performers engaged in their work. The instant an employee feels their career trajectory has leveled off, work stops being fun and they begin to wander. At this point, it often doesn’t matter how much money they make, they are more interested in finding a job they enjoy doing.

Work-Life Balance Out of Whack
“I’ve learned that you can’t have everything and do everything at the same time.” – Oprah Winfrey

With each new generation that enters the workforce, work-life balance becomes a bigger priority. This is especially true with Millennials, the youngest generation currently in the workplace. When busy schedules and increased stress at work start affecting an employee’s home life or taking away time they could be spending pursuing non-work related interests and hobbies, employees start looking for a job that better fits their ideal lifestyle.

Lack of Recognition
“A name pronounced is the recognition of the individual to whom it belongs.” – Henry David Thoreau

Everyone appreciates recognition for a job well done. When an employee consistently puts forth extra effort to ensure a successful project, works overtime, or takes on responsibilities outside their job description, being recognized for their hard work is often more important to them than bonuses and incentives. In a work environment where this kind of encouragement is lacking, it is easy for even top performers to become apathetic about their job.

Poor Relationship with Immediate Supervisor
“So much money has been thrown at the challenge of keeping good people – in the form of better pay, better perks and better training – when, in the end, turnover is mostly a manager issue.” – Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

A poor relationship with an immediate supervisor has shown time and time again to be one of the biggest reasons top talent decides to leave their job. A positive rapport and mutual respect is absolutely necessary in creating a productive manager-employee relationship. Hardworking employees don’t want to waste their time and effort on a manager who is not in their corner. Bottom line, great leaders retain great talent.

One of the biggest differentiating factors that helps a company drive innovation and stay competitive is its ability to attract and retain top talent. It’s a correlation that is clearly shown by companies that are consistently recognized for their strong corporate culture, such as Southwest Airlines and Zappos. If you’ve noticed your peak performers heading for the door, before offering them more money or bigger perks, it may be more beneficial to dig a little deeper into why they really want to leave.

20 Responses to Why Is Your Top Talent Walking Out the Door?

  1. Tom June 8, 2011 at 12:29 pm #

    Hi All,
    Great article – it’s all so true!
    But alas, I am stuck here (and I realize how lucky I am to have a job in this day and age and at my age of 53) but the joy was ripped from my soul. I’ve been here for 10 yrs and was once thought I had promising future but was used, re-used and abused! So now I come in do the best job I can, do it better than the people next to me (I still have pride in my work), and just go home. I don’t participate in any extras and I definitely no longer give ideas away, I don’t share trends, or make suggestrions for improvements – no more!(I’ve given at least 8 that were taken and incorporated into current policy or teams were made as a result of my ideas.
    Anyway, sorry to vent – great article -it was right on the money!
    Best Regards,

    • andy_mcf June 9, 2011 at 7:13 am #

      @Tom… appreciate the sentiment you expressed. Believe you have more to offer than current employer recognizes. Hope you will consider making a change. 10 years of unhappiness behind you with 12+ in front is not healthy. Believe! Change! Achieve!


    • Marc June 9, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

      Tom: You are so right on. I headed for the exit 3 months after starting Full time (salaried). I was hourly part time the 7 months before that. In the 3 months salaried, I put in 115 hours of OT. No way was I going to be compensated either in time off or pay. I saw the writing on the wall. The guy I replaced told me before hand about this full time position and I had resverations. Boy if he wasn’t right! Oh they loved me in that job. I’m sure it threw a big monkey wrench in their operation when I walked. You’d think they’d come up with a plan to try and keep you? Not this place.

    • Valerie Iravani June 13, 2011 at 12:33 pm #

      Tom, I heartily agree. Lack of recognition, and slap downs from management threatened by either my smarts or energy (rather than investing in or smoothing the relationship between us) has been my biggest bain. Now,in my early 50’s, I’m glad to have a job, but am hugely under utilized and am trying to decide what I want to do next. The reason I have left most often – boredome and frustration with my immediate supervisor.

      I love to work and work hard, I am a great manager of a team and know how to keep my employees engaged and productive. Too bad most companies, managers, HR departments do not make the effort to really know their employees capabilities.

      Yes, I’ve made many mistakes, huge and small, and I have no clue how to promote myself within any political system. Does that mean I can’t help a company meet or exceed it’s goals – NO! I’m silimar to Gen Y’rs in so many ways. I love working with them!

      Thanks for the article.

  2. Diane June 8, 2011 at 12:36 pm #

    The above are all reason that I am walking after 18 years- particularly the immediate supervisor. I have been rated in the high 90s consistently, receive national recognition and ignored recruitment attempts until this past year. I never thought I would leave my home but I can hardly wait.

    • Refresh Leadership June 8, 2011 at 2:34 pm #

      That’s very exciting! Congrats and good luck!

    • Valerie Iravani June 13, 2011 at 12:35 pm #

      Diane, I wish you every happiness and good luck. It will energize you, and I congratulate you sincerely for working in one place for 18 years. Never made it past 3 myself, and not because I didn’t want to stay. Succession planning sucks in most organizations. Good luck!

  3. Mary June 8, 2011 at 1:22 pm #


  4. Marcia Reynolds June 8, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

    There are some other items to add to your list, especially with the younger generation of top talent:

    1. Development opportunities. This doesn’t have to mean promotions, but top talent want to keep growing.

    2. Frequent new challenges. Top talent, especially women, don’t like doing the same things over and over. They want to apply their skills to new things and learn along the way.

    3. Collaborative and positive work environment. They don’t just leave their leaders, they might leave if they don’t like their co-workers.

    I describe these elements in more detail plus more information on why retention is a looming crisis on an article for Training Magazine at http://www.trainingmag.com/article/employee-retention-calm-storm.

    • Mrs. Smith June 8, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

      I love my job because the very reasons you have accurately stated above. I have a great supervisor who makes me aware of growth opportunities, recognized achievement, actually asks my opinion about decisions, allow some flexibility to work at home and appreciates the value of everyone on the team. Your article is right on. And I am willing to work for slightly less pay than the market average for these reasons.

    • Refresh Leadership June 8, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

      “…the knee-jerk reactions of leaders to the economic crisis have spawned a pervasive sense of betrayal. The deep cuts, pressure to perform with less, and lack of recognition sapped commitment.”

      Very well said.

      Great article! Thanks for sharing.

  5. arun June 9, 2011 at 2:24 am #

    Very well said! I wish every company takes necessary actions.
    For me the most important thing is opportunity to learn and work, secondly it comes to pay.
    I really dont want a company to hire me for FUTURE project and keep me on bench. This type of strategy by companies need to change. As a company propesctive it might be a good idea, but when it comes to an employee it ruins the career being on bench and doing nothing.
    Hope every company follows the best strategies to keep employees happy, so that they make the company happy.

    Nice article

  6. Louis June 9, 2011 at 6:18 pm #

    I agree totally with the article. My supervisor is a drunk and gets away with everything. He comes in late takes a long lunch and leaves early. He’s one of those “know it all” people that will tell others thier stuff is crap or they don’t know anything. When I fix a problem he is quick to say “I took care of that.” I do his job most of the time. I have been dealing with him for the last 6 years.

    Aside from that I would feel better if I did not have to pay out of pocket for training. I do it to keep up with the constantly changing technology enviroment, and the benefits are seen in the job. I am significantly below the average pay for a systems admin and I am OK with that. I just believe that training is important and should be paid by the company. It is hard enough to get by on my salary. I finally got a 2% raise after 3years, But considering my pay it is not much and we moved to a city that has higher taxes.(less take home) So it is just a wash. Especially with gas prices they way they are. I am actually probably making less now. Although if I had my school and training paid, I would at least stay for a few more years. I have been applying everywhere.I am glad to have a job, I feel for those who don’t it is a lot harder to find a job when you don’t have one. Atleast that how I always felt between contracting jobs. Good luck to everyone in need of a job. I hope you all get back on your feet soon.

  7. Derek Irvine, Globoforce June 11, 2011 at 7:48 am #

    Great post. It’s not just top talent to worry about, though. I’ve written a good bit about the need to “respect the average” — the vast majority of “middle tier” employees who make it possible for the stars to shine.

    What happens when you don’t respect the average? You get horror stories of “elites” rubbing the noses of the “average” in the rewards only available to the “elites.”

    What happens when you do respect the average? As one commenter recently said: “Sometimes it can be cool just to know someone noticed.”

    My recommendation – structure a strategic employee recognition program that intentionally targets the top 80-90% of employees for recognition. Yes, the “stars” will still likely receive a higher proportion of praise and recognition. But the “average” will also be formally noticed and appreciated for their contributions that make it possible for your stars to shine.

    (More from that particular post is available here: http://www.recognizethisblog.com/2011/05/stop-focusing-on-top-performers-for-recognition-rewards/

  8. Dr. Marty Shoemaker June 14, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    Great article and the comments personal and show lots of feeling energy on the issue or retention. Now that the economy is stabilized and some growth is likely to appear there will be recruiters and dissatisfied employees looking to change boats now that they aren’t drowning. HR managers should evaluate or have at hand metrics to see who they don’t want to leave their rising stars and assess satisfaction and have a development plan in place so when they are approached they feel they are making progress at their current company. All companies are going to see shifting their workers and managers so be prepared and prioritize your efforts in the months ahead.

  9. Jan June 18, 2011 at 11:16 pm #

    Good article.
    As an upper level manager, it is always a struggle to focus on each employee especially if the employee doesn’t make their goals/needs known. Make your ideas and goals known prior to the boiling point of dissatisfaction. No one in upper management can successfully remain in upper management without a supportive and mutually respectful team, unless the Board turns a blind eye.

    That said, sometimes the strategy of upper management is to toss out project ideas and tasks just to see who picks up the gauntlet. Sometimes the strategy is to leave the over-achiever hanging because it is known or suspected that the person is poaching. Sometimes it is a waiting game to see if the average employee will step up. Sometimes the workplace culture is simply not a good match.

    Regardless, if you are unhappy, move on. Life is too short to remain where you don’t feel challenged. Just be sure you have given the decision maker an opportunity to retain you! You may be walking away, unaware of future plans, which could include you!

  10. Love the Job, Hate the Boss August 2, 2011 at 8:18 am #

    You hit the nail on the head! The top 3 reasons I’m looking.

    Poor Relationship with Immediate Supervisor
    Work-Life Balance Out of Whack
    Not the Right Fit for the Job (more of job WAS the right fit NOW it’s not)

  11. Walt October 4, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    The story is a timely piece for those who listened to parents and grand parents tell them find a good job and hold on till retirement for happiness.

    At 47 after holding middle to upper management jobs for almost 20 years with no formal education. I found myself out of work and a need to retool for the workforce. I completed my bachelor degree 4 years of college in 18 months. Using free money from the school and government programs. Found a dream job with a 30% increase from past salaries. At 52 I again found myself with out work and needing to create money to survive. Now in my 50’s doors were being closed simply when one looked at a resume with 30 years experience (my age) and a challenge to my future bosses job security.

    At 53 I came to the realization today’s employment market reflects our society. It is a throw away environment / what have you done lately to make me look good mentality in management. I saw those in the work force first struggle in finding a job then in keeping sane as they balance work and personal life goals.

    I wanted out, so I took on menial jobs i.e. tending bar, cutting lawns and handy man work as I evaluated my options. I then realized that 80k as a worker is really less money then 25k in ones own business. I started a business form a hobby I enjoyed and formed a LLC to protect what I have.

    My advice, If you can leave the rat race leave it! It is not easy but rewarding. No one will pat you on your back but you will be satisfied. You will make less money but need less.

    I now love my life and what my future holds. You will be happier and realize life’s real pleasures. He who dies with the most toys still dies.


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