7 reasons your star-performers are quitting

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The Director of Operations hands in her two-week notice. The CEO and her colleagues are shocked because she’s one of their hardest workers and the company has turned around and benefited from her performance. They try to understand what went wrong and why their star-performer is leaving but it’s too late. Scenarios like this play out every single day.

Many employers are caught off-guard when an employee submits their two-week notice, especially a star-performer. When asked, some claim the sudden resignation blindsided them, while others argue they had no role to play in the employee leaving.

In the U.S., more than 3.2 million people quit their jobs in May 2017 alone. Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that 3 million employees have voluntarily left their position since June 2017. These are scary numbers, and the cost associated with this loss is even more frightening. Facts are it’s 1.5 to 2 times the employee’s annual salary, according to Deloitte.  

There is plenty of evidence of unhappy employee and unsatisfying work cultures – if leaders are willing to investigate.

A more in-depth analysis of why people leave reveals some interesting patterns, and the good news is – I’ve narrowed these down for you.

Pay close attention to this article, and get real honest with yourself. If any of this sounds familiar, make a note, and then address the issues with your team.

Here are seven reasons your star-performers might be leaving:

1. The company is self-centered.

Employees know when leadership views them as nothing more than cogs in a machine. They are not huge fans of companies who only care about their bottom line, and who do so at any cost.

THE FIX: It starts from the top. Senior leaders need to make their people feel valued and indispensable. Don’t just make this about your needs. Ask them about theirs. Be genuine in your concern for their professional goals and understand how these relate to their personal goals. Show employees they are needed, recognize them as individuals, give them ownership of their work. Give credit where credit is due. Many employers are surprised and were unaware when an employee submits their resignation.

2. Toxic work environments

Some people consider their office a second home. They spend most of their time here, so the environment in which they work matters. No one wants to be stressed, aggravated or living in fear 8-10 hours a day. No one!  Toxic work environments are emotionally draining and kill productivity.

Star performers would be so much better at their job if the workplace didn't have gossipers and bullies. When they notice too much negativity, they start looking for colleagues and leaders who are gentler and kinder. Who wouldn’t want a place where morale is high, and people are supportive? Employees surrounded by bullies, gossip, and harassment every day aren’t going to stick around, no matter how much you pay them.

THE FIX: Your policies, your people, and your workplace culture should protect employees from toxic work environments by being firm about behaviors that won’t be tolerated. Remember one thing amidst all this - talk is cheap. When words become actions, that’s when people believe.

From hiring and training to retention and engagement, keep reminding people that the company doesn’t promote gossip, bullying, and harassment. Host regular workshops to ensure the message sinks in and is top of mind. The key - don’t wait till something bad happens. Be proactive, not reactive.

3. Bad bosses

People don’t leave companies; they leave bad bosses. When the leadership team isn’t leading the way and setting the example for how people should treat one another, you end up with bad behaviors. Think about Uber and sexual harassment. It’s the perfect example of poor behavior. And one day, this stuff catches up with you and costs the company their reputation.

THE FIX: Think carefully about who you place in positions of authority. Use emotional intelligence assessments to understand how people in management roles interact with others, and respond to stress. Psychometric assessments are also a great indicator of behavior. Once hired, always evaluate your senior leadership on their actions, not just output. Gather ongoing feedback from every employee who reports to the manager.  

4. Lack of support and appreciation

The easiest way to lose good people is to avoid supporting them and acknowledging their efforts. According to a study by Psychometrics, 58% of employees surveyed replied with “give recognition” when asked what leaders could do more to improve engagement. And in a study by Socialcast, it was found that 69% of employees say they would work harder if they felt their efforts were more appreciated.

THE FIX: Before placing work on someone’s plate, make sure they’re equipped with the skills and resources to do their job, and do it well. Coach them regularly and help them improve. Match them with internal or external mentors to help them further their career goals. Set milestones for each employee and team, and reward these publicly. It can often motivate others to push harder. Here are some great ways to show your employees how appreciative you are of their efforts:

  • Employee appreciation gatherings
  • ‘Star Performer of the Month’ award
  • A simple thank you
  • Conversations about their goals and how you can support their success  

5. All work, no play

Surprisingly, cutthroat organizations that are all about results and process are less productive. According to Harvard Business Review, ruthless organizations inevitably lead to stressful environments and disengagement. When it’s all work and no play, people become stressed, don’t get emotionally involved, and start to detach. Eventually, they burn out and begin to resent their workplace.

THE FIX: Sometimes all it takes to cultivate fun at work and improve employee engagement is to break the routine occasionally. It can be as simple as arranging a company-sponsored lunch for the team or setting up friendly scrabble tournaments between teams. If you have space, create a designated lounge fully equipped with gaming stations, popcorn, couches, and anything that can help employees de-stress and unwind. Encourage people to have casual conversations on couches, and around fireplaces. If people like each other and don’t have to feel guilty about talking to a colleague for 10 minutes, they are likely to be more productive when they put their heads down to work.

6. Incompetent team members

Employees don’t like being led by incompetent leadership. They are also not fans of working alongside people who slow them down or disrupt their workflow. It is particularly important for high performing staff whose work relies on other team members.

THE FIX: The best way to fix this is from the start. When hiring, never underestimate the essential good fit – concerning skills, personality, and team culture. People often think of the first one but forget the second and third elements. Ask a couple of non-management members of the team to sit in on interviews to determine if someone is a good fit.

When it’s time to promote someone, be sure they’ve earned their stripes. If you have what feels like a good cultural fit, but someone lacking in technical expertise, invest in training them and be sure to coach them.

7. Lack of safety

Google’s extensive study discovered the #1 element to a high-performing team – Psychological Safety. Employees need to feel safe to share their opinions about concerns. If they can’t trust their colleagues and the people they report to, they disconnect from the company and eventually walk out the door. When an employee is fearful of speaking up (whether it’s offering an idea or sharing honest opinions about their peers or the work), you have a significant problem on your hands.

A lack of safety stems from a lack of trust and a high degree of fear. Too often the role of managing people and creating safety is offered to HR departments, and countless employee stories have proven that sometimes HR is the problem. Managers and policy enforcers should provide protection, but when a star-performer doesn’t feel safe speaking to these individuals, they will find refuge in the arms of another organization.

THE FIX: Build a workplace culture where people are heard and understood. You may not agree with every opinion, but they all deserve to be heard. If people matter, what matters to them needs to be heard – the good, bad and the ugly.

Vulnerability creates safety. Leaders can set the tone by admitting to their mistakes and becoming more vulnerable. Raise psychological safety by being a role model for engagement. Resist placing blame; focus on solutions instead. Be inclusive in decision-making by soliciting feedback and input from teammates.

Now that you have these seven tips get back to your team and ask them to audit your organization on these categories. They’ll thank you for it and who knows - you might save yourself from losing a star performer who was about to walk out the door.