What makes good employees stay

What makes good employees stay? Is it the pay and perks? Is it the promise of a promotion and professional development? In this video, I explain why most good employees leave and offer practical advice on what you can do to keep them from leaving and make them happy working in your business.

Here’s what most experts believe are reasons why good employees leave:

  1. When goals and objectives keep shifting or priorities aren’t made clear.

Exceptional employees work towards a goal and will focus on a set of priorities. At the same time, many understand that priorities will sometimes shift or goals will change when situations call for it, goals or priorities that change often and unnecessarily can lead to frustration and demotivation.

This situation disempowers employees, preventing them from doing their best work. It creates frustration from having to switch gears often. It also makes them unproductive because they keep second-guessing themselves. If they don’t feel confident that they can do their best work, they will likely leave.

  1. When leaders fail to create a psychologically safe environment—or when they create a working environment that is too safe

A Google study showed that high-performing teams are created and nurtured in psychologically safe environments. When employees feel safe, they are more likely to experiment and find better ways to do their jobs and accomplish their objectives. Some experiments will work, and others won’t. Team members are not admonished for their mistakes—instead, the focus is on what they learned from these failed experiments. It’s this growth mindset that pushes the team to do better each time.

Just imagine what happens when employees don’t feel safe making mistakes. It’s disempowering because you’re constantly looking over your shoulder—the goal shifts from doing your best work to avoiding making any mistake.

On the other side of the coin, it’s the same thing when employees feel too safe. It’s also disempowering. Because when the working environment is too safe, employees either begin slacking off or think that nothing they do matters.

A too safe environment where people do not get penalised for slacking off or doing poorly on their job also reduces morale. It not only disempowers but also demotivates. While nurturing a psychologically safe environment entails giving people room to fail and make mistakes, there should be an expectation of learning from those mistakes. But if people are allowed to repeatedly make mistakes without learning from them or worse, not suffering from consequences, you risk creating and nurturing the wrong kind of culture: a toxic one.  

  1. When there are too many constraints that prevent people from doing their job

What kind of constraints prevents people from doing their job? One example is having too many unnecessary meetings that don’t contribute to overall objectives or take away attention and effort from productive work. Another is having too many gatekeepers or unnecessary process steps that make workflows cumbersome, where people end up waiting for something longer than it takes for something to get done. Yet another typical example of having too many constraints is not providing adequate tools, know-how, or training for employees to succeed in what they do. The lack of work flexibility that will allow employees to work where, when, and how they want to work may also constrain good employees.

If we think about the three reasons above, the common theme is that good employees leave because their position in the organisation does not allow them to do the work they want to do. It doesn’t allow them to feel good about what they do. This is because good employees are intrinsically motivated—they do the work because they enjoy it.

To keep good employees, you must allow them to do the work they want to do, and you must also show that you care for their well-being as much as they care about helping you achieve your goals. Caring about their well-being means giving them what they need to succeed. That means:

  1. Being clear about their roles in the business and being clear about their targets, goals, and objectives. This is not to say that their roles and goals should NOT change. These roles and goals should grow over time. However, they should not shift often and unnecessarily because too many shifts take precious energy away from doing the work that matters.
  2. Keeping processes clear of constraints. Alternatively, empower employees to improve workflows and eliminate process constraints.
  3. Provide them with the flexibility to work as they see fit, provided they deliver the work needed. Autonomy is empowering, and it also nurtures intrinsic motivation.

In summary, good employees leave when they can’t do the work that they want to do because goals and priorities continue to shift unnecessarily, because they don’t feel safe or they feel too safe in the organisation, or because they encounter too many constraints that prevent them from accomplishing their goals. The key to retaining employees is to be crystal clear about their roles and goals, empower them to eliminate constraints and provide them with flexibility and autonomy to do the work they set out to do.



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