3 Common Reasons That Good Employees Leave — What You Can Do To Keep It From Happening On Your Watch

Anyone who has led a team knows that pit-of-your stomach feeling when one of your star employees emails or stops by your desk and says some version of the dreaded words, “Got a few minutes?” In my experience, it almost always means they’re leaving. When it’s an employee who is a poor performer, it’s not terrible news. But if you are worth your salt as a leader, you don’t have many of those folks. What you do have are people you don’t want to lose.

In his excellent book The Truth About Employee Engagement (former title, The 3 Signs of a Miserable Job), Patrick Lencioni lays out 3 conditions that can cause your team members to experience what he calls a miserable job. By “miserable,” Lencioni means “a job you dread going and can’t wait to leave.” They exist in every industry, among organizations of different sizes and structures, and across all levels. And here’s an important fact to know: misery has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual work involved.

Here’s the bottom line you need to know: the very real impact of your employees experiencing misery is that they will head for the exits. And if they are decently performing team members, the costs of replacing them are high. Some studies (such as from the Society for Human Resource Management) predict that every time a business replaces a salaried employee, it costs 6 to 9 months’ salary on average.

The good news is that the 3 things Lencioni mentions are avoidable — or at least, reducible — and it’s not all that difficult. Here are the 3 signs Lencioni lays out and (later) the steps you can take for each to make sure they don’t darken your organization’s doorstep.

1. Anonymity: Essentially this means that the team member does not feel as if he or she is noticed or whether their presence really matters. Lencioni says: “All human beings need to be understood and appreciated for their unique qualities by someone in authority.”

2. Irrelevance: Your team member doesn’t see at least one way in which the work he/she does matters to someone else — to at least one other person, even if it’s “just” the boss.

3. Immeasurement: Your team member doesn’t feel it’s possible to measure their contribution or progress in an objective way. Instead, it seems to rely on someone else’s opinion or whim.

So how do we go about tackling these 3 challenges? Easy in theory but not always easy to implement, let’s take them one at a time.

Anonymity: As your team members’ direct supervisor, one of your most important jobs is to get to know your people as individuals, and then to make sure they know that you know. This doesn’t mean you are their buddy (click here for an article I wrote that addresses that topic), but it does mean that you take the time to understand what makes them tick as a person; to get a feel for what they like, what motivates them, what they don’t like, and what their life outside of work is like.

Irrelevance: Make sure your team member understands the person or people or groups of people who are positively impacted by their work, and how. This shouldn’t be too difficult, and if it is, it may be time to review this team member’s role description.

Immeasurement: To quote Mr. Lencioni, “the key to establishing effective measures for a job lies in identifying those areas that an employee can directly influence, and then ensuring that the specific measurements are connected to the person or people they are meant to serve.” In other words, create a clear line of sight from the objective measurements you create to the people who are served by your team member; i.e., tie measurement to relevance. And take care that the measurements that are created are objectively measurable, not subject to much — if any — opinion.

While these concepts are fairly easy to understand, they can be tricky to implement and it takes conscious effort as a leader to sustain them. Don’t let that stop you. You want to hang on to your best producers for as long as you can. Taking the time now to address these 3 areas will go a long way to having the team you want stick around for a good, long time.

Alan Roby is a Leadership coach based in the San Francisco Bay Area committed to helping professionals new to leadership (or new to doing it well) to find their comfort zone and thrive. Visit www.alanrobycoaching.com to learn more.