Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR

Key to keeping the “Best Employees”

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Employees leave their current job for lots of reasons. I’ve seen people leave for fabulous opportunities elsewhere. But often times the reason are more half-hearted.  A friend of mine recently switched between very similar companies, in essence, because the second company gave slightly more vacation days than the first.

While congratulating her on her new opportunity, I couldn’t help thinking, what a missed opportunity for her current company. When you add up the lost productivity from her winding down her employment, how long it will take to find her replacement and how long it will take that replacement to achieve something approaching this woman’s expertise, you could have easily granted her an extra week of vacation. Or two. Why didn’t her employer do that?

My guess is that her manager didn’t want to set a precedent. (I use to be that way) If she got three weeks of vacation instead of two, everyone else would want three weeks. It’s understandable, but it’s also a very limited way of thinking. For starters, so what if everyone wanted three weeks? In a small department, turnover is a huge source of stress. Avoiding it is worth trying to treat employees better than the competition does. And second, people and their performance aren’t all the same.

While vacation days were her particular source of unhappiness, other people might have completely different problems that would make them walk out the door. Some examples:

A bad commute. Not your fault, to be sure, but something you could improve with a policy allowing people to work from home once or twice per week.

Inflexible hour. A meeting that starts every day at 8 a.m. might interfere with a parent from dropping his children off at school. Since he can’t do that, he winds up paying for more childcare than he’d need otherwise, and this financial stress leads him to look at other job opportunities. Why not let people call in, move the meeting later or get over the idea that you need a daily meeting to establish that people are still doing their jobs?

A bullying co-worker or worse Boss. Yes, companies are supposed to do something about employees who pick on others, but it’s easier not to — until one of your best people leaves over the situation. Addressing that problem would have let you keep your talent and make life better for everyone else, too.

These are all fairly easy addressed pain points. The problem for managers is that your people often won’t tell you their particular source of stress — until you get a LinkedIn message from a team member and realize that it’s because their updating her LinkedIn account as part of their job hunting.

So how to find out? You can always ask. How are things going? Is there anything that would boost your already great productivity? What would make this a better place to work? What would make your job more sustainable and enjoyable? A smart manager who takes even a little interest in his/her people would have discovered this employees desire for more vacation days and figured out a subtle way to grant her what she wanted. That would have kept the office running smoothly — far more so than letting her leave in the hopes of not setting a precedent.

As a manager, how do you keep your best employees?

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