How to Keep your Best Employees from Jumping Ship

If you are an employer, you probably have a few superstar employees that really make your business or organization thrive. They bring outstanding skills, intelligence, a positive attitude and a professional approach. In fact, you don’t even want to contemplate the effect it would have on your success if they decided to leave. And if you do have a nagging fear that they might do just that, you probably want to try and preempt it by making sure they are really happy with you.

The ABCs of happy employees

If you want to ensure that your workers are happy, of course there are some baseline issues to look at. You will want to make sure that your employees have ample opportunities to use their talents, as well as options for professional growth, so that they don’t consider moving on because they feel stagnated.

It’s also a good idea to proactively check that you are compensating your employees competitively for their value in the current job market, instead of discovering that you were underpaying them when they inform you that they have found a new job with better compensation.

And of course, you will want to make sure that your best employees know how much you appreciate them, by directly complimenting their work, showcasing their accomplishments within the company, and rewarding their successes in tangible ways.

Beyond ABC

And yet, sometimes you can do all of the above, and still find yourself unpleasantly surprised to hear that your best employee has decided to move on. You are left wondering what you did wrong, and how you might have prevented your star from leaving.

In fact, there is a simple and virtually foolproof way to find out what you should do to make sure your employees stay on board.

Ask them.

As both a recruiter and a career coach, I see both sides of this issue all the time. And what I have found is that people decide to leave their jobs for a very wide variety of reasons. In fact, one person’s reason to stay can be another person’s reason to go.

Although the causes enumerated above – professional growth, compensation and appreciation – are common motivations for many professionals, people and their life situations are far more complex; so it makes sense that for each individual, a variety of different considerations come into play. As the employer, there is no way that you can divine all your employees’ reasons, unless you actually ask.

For example, you may think that by granting your employee a raise, you will keep her happy in your employ; while in fact, she was pleased with her compensation, but drained by the pressures of increasing responsibility in her position. You may try to reward your employee by giving him some public recognition for his great work, when in fact he is already suffering from the jealousy of his less successful colleagues, and your “reward” has made him even more unpopular – and unhappy.

Bottom line: there is just no substitute for an open conversation with your employees. This conversation can truly impact whether they decide to stay with you or look elsewhere. And it’s really not so hard to do.

The employee satisfaction conversation

Set a time to meet for a relaxed talk, either in a closed office / conference room or outside the office at a café or other professional venue. Share with your employee that you are very happy with their work, and that the purpose of this conversation is to hear whether they are happy in their current role, and if there are any changes that could make their work experience better.

Don’t pressure your employee to come up with a list of things they want. Instead, ask them what they enjoy at work, and what they find difficult or challenging. Listen to whatever they have to say with patience and warmth, and if relevant, even take notes.

If your employee is having trouble focusing, try to raise various areas in your conversation: the work environment, the hours, the compensation, the challenges, the pressures, the opportunities etc.  You want your employee to be doing most of the talking, while you ask respectful questions to make sure you understand the issues. You may be surprised by what you hear.

Don’t reach conclusions together at that first meeting. End it by saying that you are glad you opened the topic together, and that you should both give it some more thought and then sit together again to reach more concrete conclusions. After the meeting, write up a summary, send it to your employee, and invite him or her to meet again in the near future to consider any changes that you both would benefit from.

The long term value of listening

If you truly value your employees, you will give them the greatest motivation for staying with you by demonstrating your willingness to hear their needs. First of all, if you are really listening, you will be able to make the right adjustments to keep them happy. But even more importantly, by demonstrating your openness to listen to their needs, you will have opened the door for other conversations in the future. And that means that you will be in a position to respond to their changing needs as time goes on.

One person may need less pressure now, perhaps because she has small children or other personal challenges at the moment; however a few years down the line, that same employee may feel underutilized or bored, and will welcome more responsibility; another employee may be feeling under-compensated now, but at a later stage may be perfectly happy with his salary but dissatisfied because he wants more opportunities for professional development.

If you demonstrate that you are always open to hearing your employees’ needs and interests, even if you can’t always give them what they are seeking immediately, you will win their trust, their loyalty, and their deep appreciation. And those feelings make up the central motivations for remaining at any job for the long term.









About the Author
Gila Weinberg, CEO of Mikum Consulting, is a recruiter and a career coach. She helps organizations and companies find great employees, and helps great people figure out their next career move. Gila is also the author of Not So Grimm: Jewish Fairy Tales, a comparison between tales from the Talmud and classic fairy tales.
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