“I Quit!” Taking Action When Talent Walks

October 19th, 2010 | Workplace Resources | No Comments »

Let’s suppose Dan is one of your best employees. He’s incredibly intelligent, highly productive, and worth every top dollar you put in his pocket. Everything seems to be going great, when out of the blue, he quits, and you’re left with an empty desk and the realization that you’ll now have to pour his salary into hiring and training a newbie.

So what happened? Did he find a better, higher paying job? Did he have a fight with his supervisor? Was he overwhelmed with too much work, or bored out of his mind? You may not be entirely clueless, but it is hard to grasp the big picture when faced with a highly talented, highly paid individual who quits. It’s obviously not a scenario you’d care to imagine, but it is worth a thought so that you can remedy the situation before anyone leaves.

Don’t Take It at Face Value

It’s easy to assume Dan’s priorities and the reasons why he left. But at the end of the day, no matter how well you think you know him, you just never know. There is often dissociation between what managers believe their employees want and what those employees really need. Keep this is mind when learning of Dan’s decision to quit.

Dig Into the Truth

Many companies put considerable effort into onboarding practices, including orientation, training, and more. But at the opposite end, there isn’t usually as much thought beyond termination policies. It’s important when Dan quits that you say a little more than “Bye, have a nice life…” If you don’t ask outright why he’s leaving, you won’t know if something needs to be changed to prevent more talented people from leaving. If you haven’t already, implement an exit interview process, and have an unbiased third party conduct it. Be prepared to dig; there are often deeper issues that aren’t immediately obvious. The following are some exit interview questions that will help you get to the root of the problem:

• What is your primary reason for leaving? (Asking outright instead of dancing around the issue leads to more honest answers)
• Did anything trigger your decision to leave? (This is intended to dig behind that primary issue to get to the deeper problem)
• What did you like most and least about your job? (Will help you relate the previous answers to your company and workplace)
• What improvements would you make to our workplace? (Will help you evaluate the current status of your work environment)
• Did this company help fulfill your career goals? (Will determine if your company is fulfilling employee motivations)
• What can your supervisor/manager do to improve? (Will provide a new perspective on management styles in your workplace)
• What made you choose your new company over ours? (Will give you a direct comparison to a potentially similar company)

The Real Reasons

Below are some of the top reasons why people leave, other than unavoidable, personal reasons (i.e. family changes, relocation, etc.):

• Poor supervisor leadership skills, including poor communication and lack of respect
• Limited career growth or lack of challenges
• Negative work environment or conflict with coworkers
• Burned out or stressed from being overworked
• Lack of recognition for accomplishments and achievements

The Right Reaction

So you have Dan’s reasons, and there’s not a whole lot you can do about his quitting. But you can strive to understand how his reasons relate to your company and it’s work environment. First determine what Dan’s and other talented employees’ motivations are. These will typically include values like open communication, recognition, involvement in decisions, and a sense of worth and competence (note that for truly talented employees, it’s rarely compensation). Are your company and its work environment fulfilling these values? If not, the emotional health and productivity of your employees may be negatively impacted, eventually leading to departure. Figure out the root of the problem before it’s too late and more employees leave for the same reasons.

Taking Action

As much as I hope that you don’t have to experience that sinking feeling you get when your best employee utters those fatal quitting words, if you do, keep these few things in mind. Discover the real reason your employee is quitting, and determine what that reveals about your company’s work culture. Look to your supervisors and managers, your work environment and team dynamic, and the position itself. Don’t let any more of those diamonds in the rough slip through your fingers.

Clare Webster – Marketing Director at Ashley Ellis