Why Good Employees Leave (And How You Can Keep Them)

It's tough when good employees leave: Productivity sinks, morale suffers and colleagues struggle with an increased workload until you find a replacement. On top of that, recruitment and search costs, training and on-boarding new hires can make for a difficult and expensive transition.

The best solution, of course, is keep your workers happy so they don't want to leave. But before you can implement a plan to increase employee retention, you need to determine why valuable employees are leaving.

"Most people don't quit their jobs, they quit their managers," says Wendy Duarte, vice president of recruiting at recruiting, hiring, and consulting firm Mondo.

While that insight might be hard to swallow, understanding that your organization's management philosophy could be part of the problem is the first step to improving retention, she says.

Are You the Problem?

"When you lose your top talent, the first place to look is at management," Duarte says. "Managing teams as a whole is hard. You have to manage to each individual, and invest time into discovering what each member of a team needs both at work and outside of work to do their job to the best of their ability," she says.

One of the key things -- if you're really listening to employees -- is to find out if they are getting the resources to add to and change their roles, to take on more and different responsibilities, to spearhead new projects, to experiment. -- Wendy Duarte, Mondo.

Do your employees feel that they're all "in this together"? Do they feel their suggestions, concerns and challenges are acknowledged and, when possible, acted upon? Do they feel valued? Are they being listened to, or just heard?

While it may sound inconsequential, Duarte says, simply listening to employees' concerns and doing what you can to address those -- or at least explaining why they can't be addressed at the present time -- can go a long way toward keeping the best and brightest, she says.

Having a strong set of corporate values, a mission statement and specific goals (for the company, departments, teams and individuals) can help direct employees' energy and help them see how their individual contributions are part of a greater whole, says Rona Borre, CEO and founder of hiring, recruiting and consulting firm Instant Technology.

"That gives them a stake in the company, a way to measure success. But they also need to feel valued as part of that bigger whole," Borre says.

Helping employees feel valued isn't difficult, says Borre, but it may involve investing a bit more time to listen, gather feedback and then incorporate that feedback into company policies and mission statements, she says. In addition, it could require a bit more capital to make sure that compensation is tracking with national averages and offering perks that match or exceed those available at similar firms, she says.

Teach Your Tech Employees Well

Another way to help employees feel valued is to recognize and help them achieve their full potential. That means making educational and career advancement opportunities available, and encouraging employees to use those resources, says Duarte.

"Make sure employees are aware of available opportunities to grow and to expand their knowledge," she says. "One of the key things -- if you're really listening to employees -- is to find out if they are getting the resources to add to and change their roles, to take on more and different responsibilities, to spearhead new projects, to experiment," Duarte says.

"Most people don't want to come to a job every day and just slog through, doing the same thing day after day. They want to learn new things, try new things, and if you can support their efforts to do that, you'll inspire loyalty and that can help with retention," Duarte says.

Especially in the IT field, keeping your technology environments and solutions platforms current can help keep valuable employees excited about and engaged in the direction the company's going, says Borre.

"We have two clients right now who can't necessarily afford to pay top-of-the-bracket salaries, but they are always updating their platforms and making sure they're on the cutting edge of technology," Borre says.

If you can't change your platforms, or solutions upgrades aren't in the budget, she says, then consider sending your employees to training on cutting-edge systems to emphasize that you value their education and their emerging skill sets.

"Make sure they can get some new skills and experiences, even if they can't do it at work," she says. "Give them the flexibility and the freedom to play around, and also the opportunity to get exposure for themselves working with the new technology."

Duarte adds that not all educational opportunities have to be job- or career-focused. At Mondo, she says, a two-week sabbatical program is available for employees who've been with the company for three or more years.

"The sabbatical program is a huge motivator," she says. "If you've always wanted to travel, you can take the time and go to an exotic place, learn a new language, learn about a new culture and then come back and tell everyone about the experience and what you've learned," she says.

"Want to be a yoga instructor in your spare time? We have tuition reimbursement programs for almost any kind of program that employees can take advantage of to make their lives richer, both inside and outside of work," she says.

Do You Strive to Create a Work/Life Balance

These approaches are mostly initiated from the top-down, and, in and of themselves, aren't a cure-all, says Duarte. Paying attention to employees' struggles to manage work and home life also can go a long way toward keeping top talent, Duarte says.

At Mondo, says Duarte, employee retention efforts are focused on the little ways to make employees lives easier, both at work and at home, she says.

"At Mondo, for example, it can be as simple as having a bowl of fresh fruit in the break room. It can be something like offering a dry-cleaning service that picks up and delivers items for employees while they're at work. Little things that emphasize the importance of work-life balance go a long way toward making employees feel that they're not just disposable cogs in a wheel, but a valuable asset to the company, and to their families," says Duarte.

With such a high demand for top IT talent, you can't afford to have their top employees jump ship. By constantly inviting feedback, listening to employees' concerns and incorporating that into the fabric of everyday life -- both for the company and for employees' home lives -- you can ensure they're keeping and nurturing the best and brightest, Duarte says.

"There is a talent shortage, and you're going to have to give a little to be able to retain top talent," Duarte says. "You don't have to be a mega-billion-dollar corporation or spend tons of money to give people luxury perks or rockstar treatment; what you do have to do is give people the opportunity to grow, and to evolve and change to meet the needs of your employees," she says.

Read more about careers in CIO's Careers Drilldown.