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One of the top issues facing any organization is the retention of top talent. It is one thing to attract and hire excellent employees — it is something else altogether to keep them happy, engaged, and loyal to your company.

Because the costs of losing a top performer is so high — the average financial cost to replace an employee is around $5,000, and that is not even considering the potential hit to morale and productivity — it is important to understand the most common reasons that people leave their jobs, an how to avoid them.

Reason #1: Too Many Policies

Some managers see policies as the defining line between a functioning organization and a free-for-all. Granted, some policies are important, as they provide structure to the organization and help ensure fairness and prevent legal problems.

However, when there is a policy for everything, and the employee handbook can be used as a doorstop, employees do not feel like they are trusted. Establishing too many policies creates an environment of fear, and no one wants to spend every day fearing a reprimand for a minor infraction.

Instead, trust your talent to perform, and give them some freedom. Individual problems may arise from time to time, but overall you will see an increase in satisfaction, engagement, and performance, as well as more long-term employees, when you limit the number of policies in place.

Reason #2: Failing to Support Engagement

It is a common refrain: “The recruiting process was great. It seemed like a great company to work for, but now that I am here, I am not so sure. I feel like I was thrown to the wolves.”

Keeping top talent requires more than enticing them with a good salary and benefits. It is important to foster engagement, and that includes:

  • Establish a relevant onboarding process. Integrating a new employee into your company is more than just paperwork formalities. The first few weeks can set the tone for the rest of someone’s time at your company, so it is important to take time to have conversations about how he or she fits into the bigger picture. Pair him or her with a mentor to help ensure a smooth transition, and make leaders available to answer questions and address concerns.
  • Provide training and development opportunities. A “sink or swim” approach to management is not going to keep people happy. Provide training from day one, and offer opportunities for your best people to develop their skills and talents.
  • Set goals and establish expectations. You have to give employees a reason to engage; otherwise, they become drones waiting for their paycheck. Work with them to establish goals and plans for achieving them, and make it clear why they are important to the mission. When employees feel that their contributions matter, they remain engaged.


Reason #3: Failure to Adhere to the Psychological Contract

Employers and employees have a psychological contract, an implicit agreement that the expectations and needs of both sides will be met.

From an employee’s standpoint, those expectations may be to grow in his or her career and earn a promotion while doing meaningful work. An employer expects diligence and commitment to the organization.

A breakdown on either side of the contract leads to problems. Employees who do not feel that their employers are holding up their end of the deal — for example, it becomes clear that a promotion is never going to happen, despite it being dangled like a carrot for months on end — are likely to become disenchanted and will begin looking for other opportunities. Employers who want to keep top talent, therefore, need to understand and acknowledge the psychological contract, and make sure it is healthy and everyone’s needs are being met.

Reason #4: Poor Leadership

There are dozens of theories and millions of pages written about leadership, but despite all of the training and resources available, poor leadership still abounds in many companies — and it is driving people away. Leaders who do not effectively manage conflict — or even “stir the pot” via their own actions, fail to trust their employees, do not listen, are not willing to accept new ideas, or lack consistency are routinely cited as the reason employees leave their jobs.

If your employees do not have strong leaders, they will not succeed, so it is important to ensure that managers are up to the task and receive ongoing training and support to ensure that they keep the best employees happy and engaged, and not looking for new opportunities.

Reason #5: Lack of Opportunity

Very few people take a job expecting that it will be their last. They want to move into new positions as they develop their skills, not stagnate in the same place they have been for years. Yet too many companies base promotions on seniority, not ability, or leaders hesitate to advance talent out of fear of competition or a desire to keep that talent for themselves. Even if a promotion is not possible, engaged employees want to take on new responsibilities and challenges, but when they are thwarted, dissatisfaction sets in. Keeping the best people under your roof requires giving them the chance to grow, not holding them back.

Of course, there are times when nothing is going to keep a top employee on staff — sometimes, other options are just too enticing to pass up. However, if you avoid the most common reasons that people leave their jobs, you will retain your top performers.

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