I’ve been having two parallel types of conversations with my clients.
CEOs / CPOs / Senior Executives - We are not getting the performance we need from our organizations. We are concerned about engagement and productivity. We can’t find enough strong talent to hire. We are eliminating jobs to improve profitability.
All Others - We are unhappy in our job. We want a new job. We feel exhausted, resentful, overworked, and undervalued. We feel stuck.
Here’s where it left me - Retention, even when it looks good from a percentage perspective, is a false positive. And we often don’t dig deeper, because we want it to be good. But the hard truth is that retention is so much worse than we think.
So, it’s time we get real. I’m going to share the truth about why people stay when they really want to leave. And you know me well enough to know, I’m not going to leave you hanging. I’ll give you some practical actions to create the type of retention plans your organization can feel proud of.
So, let’s get to it! Here are the top 4 reasons employees stay when they really want to leave.
1) They have no time to look for another job because of:
The fire drills and unrealistic deadlines
The deadlines you thought were realistic but are not, or at least not on top of their other responsibilities
The roles you eliminate without eliminating the work, which got piled onto others on the team
Keep it up! They are exhausted, sleep deprived, and delirious. You’ve got retention!
2) The job sucks but…
“I need the benefits.”
“The commute isn’t terrible.”
“I want to retire in five years anyway.”
“I’ve had worse.”
“I know what I am doing, so it’s pretty easy.”
Oh, and keep the pay just low enough that they strive for more, while feeling badly about themselves for being undervalued. You’ve got retention!
3) They are waiting to be seen.
Be it a promotion
A pay increase
The role they really want
Public praise and recognition for the work they have done
A deep connection with their boss that makes them feel special
They are waiting to be seen for their capabilities and their worth. Thank goodness you haven’t done it! Keep up the good work! You’ve got retention!
4) They don’t know their true worth.
Whether it has been working for a demeaning, disempowering, or bullying boss,
Whether it goes back to childhood and other roles and how they were treated
Whether they just haven’t been lucky enough to be in the right job
Or in the right circumstance with people who help them cultivate their genius
They don’t know how incredible they truly are.
So why would they look for another job, or even better, their dream job?
They don’t know it is possible for them.
They don’t know that they are worth it.
You know the punchline by now, you’ve got retention.
This is the sad truth about retention. And we can and must do something about it. Here are some of the techniques that work.
Never assume. Just ask. As the saying goes, when you assume you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.”
Don’t assume the workload is manageable or even worse, a breeze. Ask about their workload. Ask what else they have on their plate. Ask what it will take to get it done. Ask if they need help reprioritizing.
Don’t assume they love their job. Ask what they like about their job, and more importantly, ask what would make the job better or what other job they would love to do. Ask what else they would like to work on and what they would like to learn.
Don’t assume they are okay. Most people are not okay. There has been a dramatic rise in negative feelings and anxiety. You don’t need to be a therapist or fix things that are beyond your control. But you know what you can do? Ask them how they are doing. And then just listen and make eye contact. Showing you care by asking and making the time is more powerful than you can ever imagine. To your employees, it is everything.
Don’t assume this is their best. Every one of us has a next level. To activate it, you need to provide them with belief, so they can believe in themselves + align what they love to do with what your organization needs to make happen + gain the support, the skills and opportunities to grow and make an impact = win-win happy people, thriving business. Belief + Alignment + Support equation, or how I like to help people remember it: Be a “Bad ASs” Boss.
Suffering is overrated. Save them from themselves. The same way you would encourage a friend to get out of an unhealthy relationship, help people to not suffer at work. Don’t let performance situations fester. If someone is struggling, if you are questioning their engagement and productivity, have a conversation. If you have heard too many times how miserable your colleague or team member is, have a heart-to-heart with them. Don’t let these issues go. It doesn’t get better. We need to have more real conversations.
People stay for their colleagues. Invest in teaming. People have lots of feelings about leaders, many of which cannot be addressed. No organization is perfect, which is the result of many imperfect leaders, because imperfect is human. So, instead of focusing on what you cannot change, shift the focus to what you can control…colleague relationships! This is where the magic happens! Invest in the way teams work together.
Do not leave this to chance. When team members learn each other's' strengths and areas of passion, and then organize how they work around that knowledge, they crush it!
And they stay because they are better together.
We don’t need to settle.
We don’t need to continue to say that “work is called work for a reason.”
We just need to acknowledge that there are better ways. And that we play a role in changing the retention narrative.