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Your Worst Employees Quit and Stay

Imagine you have a low engagement employee.  We all know who they are.  They’re the people who show up for work with their body, but they leave their hearts and minds at home.  I refer to them as the quit and stays.  They quit caring, but they stay in their jobs.

The leadership question is, are you better off with them or without them?  Would you rather have them quit?  Or is it easier to just let them stay?

Replacing an employee is costly, searching for and training a replacement will cost you a minimum of 6 to 9 month’s salary.  If an employee making $100K a year quits, it will cost you between $50-75K to replace them.  Numbers like these cause leaders to hold onto low performing disengaged employees.  The assumption is, it’s too time-consuming and expensive to replace them.

In her recent LinkedIn piece, Employee Engagement vs. Employee Retention: Which is More Important?  our McLeod & More VP of Project Management, Elizabeth Lotardo identifies the impact lower performers have on the organization.  She writes, “While most HR initiatives address these two issues (retention and engagement) as one; they are actually separate, and can be impacted independently.

Lotardo’s research revealed: “A disengaged employee costs an organization an additional $3,400 for every $10,000 in annual salary.  If a disengaged employee is making $100,000 a year in salary, their actual cost to the organization $134,000.”

Those are the hard costs; the opportunity costs are even greater.  A disengaged team member has a chilling effect on everything and everyone.  In key roles like product development and sales, they will cost you innovation and revenue growth.  And anyone who has worked for a disengaged leader knows how totally dispiriting it can be.

Elizabeth points out, “Stagnant organizations have high retention, yet low engagement.  Employees stay because, as they’re quick to tell you, ‘the benefits are too good to leave.’  She cites state government as an example where, “only 29% of state government employees are fully engaged in their jobs, yet state government turnover rates average a mere 1%.

A low turnover, high disengagement culture is a recipe for mediocrity.  Those 29% of fully engaged state workers undoubtedly feel the pain of their disengaged colleagues, as do their constituents.

Lotardo’s research confirms, organizations with high employee engagement outperform organizations with low engagement by 202%.  High engagement organizations have 70% fewer safety incidents, 41% lower absenteeism, and 40% fewer quality defects.

If people are quitting left and right, you have a retention problem.  If your good people are the ones quitting, you have something worse; you have an engagement problem.  High performers won’t stay in a low engagement culture.  If they do, they will often cease to be high performers.  They’ll become the quit and stays.

Lotardo suggests “The critical question leader must ask of themselves and their organization: Is your workforce highly engaged? Or just too comfortable to leave?”

Firing low engagement employees doesn’t work long-term.  If you don’t change the culture, you’ll just attract more of the same.  Improving engagement requires an intentional long-term approach.  Leaders can help people forge a better emotional connection to their work by being clear about the impact their work has on customers and constituents (the purpose) and fostering a team environment.

The quit and stays may seem benign.  But don’t fool yourself.  They’re costing you plenty.