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10 reasons top performers leave their jobs

Nick Stanley
by, Nick Stanley

Employee retention is vital to your company's success. Good employees help drive and grow your business.

Nothing hurts more than when a star performer quits your team.

Not only do you lose a valuable team member, you then have to find and train a new employee, which is time-consuming and costly (the general rule of thumb is that losing any staff member who has been with you for 12 months or longer will cost you 3 times their salary). Even then, you might not find a talented replacement.

Sometimes, an employee's reason for leaving has nothing to do with the company. They may move away for family or economic reasons, or decide to raise children, change careers, or further their education.

There is not a lot you can do to influence outside events like this, but there are many factors under your control that can help keep your top performers from leaving.

The first step is to understand why top employees quit. So let’s look at the main reasons.

1. Don't like their manager or boss

You’ve probably heard the saying that people leave managers, not companies. It gets used so often because it's true.

A 2017 survey by Hays recruitment company showed more than half of skilled professional workers left a job wholly or partly to get away from a direct manager.

The boss is an integral part of any employee’s working life, providing direction and feedback, and connecting them to the wider business.

Great people are quick to spot poor leadership and may put up with it for a time, but not forever.

If their manager isn't encouraging, tolerates poor performance, is a nit-picker, or takes all the credit, then you can be assured they will be looking around at their options.

2. Don't like the culture

Everyone likes to feel part of something bigger. If your talented people are not motivated by the company culture, they won't want to be part of the team.

A company's culture is made up of lots of small things, and they need to work in synergy and align with your employee's personal views.

If your key staff feel you have a culture that doesn’t appreciate employees, fosters inequality or discrimination, puts profits over people, or has excessive hierarchy, they may well look for somewhere else to work.

Take the time to understand your employees’ points of view, what they care about and just as importantly, what they won't stand for. Then actively work to create a culture that respects those views.

3. Not engaged

Deloitte’s 2015 Global Human Capital Trends survey found a lack of employee engagement was the top issue faced by 87 percent of HR and business leaders.

Your star performers want to achieve, that’s one of the reasons they are stars. They want their work to be meaningful, both personally and for the good of the company.

Keeping them engaged means working closely with them to ensure they are excited, challenged, and given every chance to contribute and perform.

Link their individual goals to business ones and give them a chance to shine by getting them to tackle the company’s big jobs.

If you let them get disengaged or worse, you’re not even checking, they will take their talent elsewhere and the employee turnover stats will start mounting up!

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4. Their expectations aren't being met

Top employees tend to be competitive and compare what they are getting with what others are getting, both within the business and outside it.

They know what they are worth and what they expect to get in return for the work they do.

That means not only competitive pay, but other rewards and benefits, training, flexible work arrangements, and personal recognition from management.

You need to know what your top employee's expect and make sure you meet those expectations. If you make a promise, keep it.

Highly-skilled professionals are in hot demand, so if you aren't offering it to them, another company will.

5. Bored by the work

A sure fire way to lose good employees is to let them get bored. Boredom leads to unhappiness and resentment, which as well as affecting their own performance, can sap the entire team's morale.

Top performers need to be challenged by the work they do and be passionate about it.

Again, it’s all about knowing what motivates your best people. Do they find the work repetitive? Are there things they want to do that they aren’t?

Work together find ways to make jobs exciting and give your employees every opportunity to be creative.

If your talented employees are inspired to do great work, they won’t want to walk away.

6. Can't use their skills and abilities

Keeping your star performers engaged and challenged means they will get to use all of their skills and abilities.

More often than not, talented employees are fully aware of their talent, so getting the opportunity use it (and be recognised for it) gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment.

This will also make them want to stretch and develop their skills even further, which in turn will further boost their morale and engagement.

If you let them waste their talent, they’ll be looking for somewhere else to use it.

7. Not enough autonomy/independence

Few of us like being babied or micromanaged, and talented employees are typically confident enough to want to have a serious say about their role and responsibilities.

If they feel like they are doing the job because they are obligated to rather than choosing to, you risk losing them.

As an employer, you need to create a work environment that empowers them to make their own decisions and gives them the flexibility to manage their own workload.

You have to balance the need to manage them with their need to get on with the job. Trust their judgement.

8. No career progression

Workers no longer see employment as a static, long-term thing. They want personalised career opportunities that grow with them and give them something to aspire to.

If you give top performers a clear path for growth and development within the business, it will help keep them motivated and engaged.

Talk to them about their aspirations and work with them to create ways to achieve them. It could be promotions or other benefits, such as training or education.

If all you are offering your talented employees is a ceiling, then they will soon start looking for the door.

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9. Their performance isn't recognised

Everyone wants to feel valued. A key part to your employee retention strategy should be to understand this and do your best to make sure you recongnise it. Any employee who doesn't feel valued is more likely to leave.

Star employees are often far more productive than their co-workers and they want that productivity to be recognised.

A lack of recognition can affect morale and engagement, which as we’ve seen, will quickly sap your top performers desire to stick around. 

Your business culture should celebrate success by providing genuine appreciation and recognition whenever possible.

Read more about recognising employee performance.

10. Overwork

The human body is not designed to perform under conditions of prolonged stress.

While it’s inevitable that there will be times of stress in any job, you risk burning out your employees if it goes on too long or happens too often.

This is especially true of your top performers, as they are often the ones who shoulder the largest share of the workload.

To avoid burnout, make sure you provide a decent work-life balance, and look at initiatives that allow your employees to recharge, such as mental health days.

If instead you load them up more and more, it will only lead to exhaustion, unhappiness, and ultimately, detachment. They won’t be sticking around long.

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