Why People Quit Before They Leave

Have you ever lost a great employee?

Guess what?  The process of quitting happened months before they handed you their resignation letter.

Leaving a job starts with moments of discontent, it’s the events that erode emotional engagement.  It’s kind of like falling out of love with your car.  You don’t wake up one morning and decide you hate your car.  Instead, you gradually like your car less and less.  Then you see an ad or a friend gets a new car, and you realize, I don’t like this one, I want a new one.

For example, I have a talented young friend who works in software sales.  When he started his job, he loved it.  His morale began to erode when face time with his boss lessened.  Despite being at the top of the numbers, he wasn’t getting much positive feedback.  Then his boss handled a few customer situations poorly.  She was lackluster in several sales meetings.  Then he overheard her talking about the customer service team in a negative way. There was no single big moment, but over time my talent friend became less engaged.

A few months after this started, he met some people from another firm at a social event.  They were excited about their company.  He remembered feeling that way himself.  He went home saying, “I should probably have an up-to-date resume.”

Guess what he did over the holidays?

He updated his resume and LinkedIn profile.  He’s not actively seeking new opportunities, but he’s open.  He’s also talented, so it’s only a matter of time before he takes a recruiter call, and he’s gone.  His boss will probably be surprised when he quits.  She shouldn’t be.  The moments of discontent were happening right under her nose.

Turnover is costly.  Replacing someone costs a minimum of 6-9 months’ salary.  And that’s just the hard costs.  There’s also the cost to morale, the market impact, and the burden on the manager trying to fill the gaps, while key initiatives fall further behind.

What can you do as a leader?  A lot, and it starts with language.  Employees may say they’re leaving for higher pay.  But they become open to options when their engagement erodes.  Here are three no cost ways managers can keep people engaged:

  1. Feedback – Employees lose their emotional connection quickly when there’s no feedback from their manager.  Companies that implement regular employee feedback have a 14.9% lower turnover rate (HubSpot).  Shouting “do better” six times a day doesn’t count.  It’s simple; when an employee does a good job, tell them.
  2. Meaning – If you treat your employees like a number they’ll return the favor. They’ll treat their job like a transaction.  Employees who derive meaning and significance from their work were more than three times as likely to stay with their organizations — the highest single impact of any variable according to a global study from Tony Schwartz.  It costs you nothing to tell an employee how their actions make a difference to the team, your customers, or the world at large.
  3. Horizon – When people don’t know where the company is going or where their job is going, there’s no connection to the future.  Make a practice of sharing your future vision, and tell your team what’s on the horizon.

The key to long-term retention isn’t a series of counteroffers.  It’s spotting these moments of discontent long before your employees take that recruiter call.