Telling the truth about SME life today

Why employees quit (and what you can do to make them stay)

Salary is often cited as the number one reason why people leave their jobs, yet the truth is often more complicated than mere money. Moving jobs is a time-consuming business and involves effort and change – something many humans won’t readily embrace unless they are truly dissatisfied; most fully engaged employees are unlikely to be tempted by anything short of a salary step change in their salary. The big question is: are they fully engaged  

In many cases, people quit their jobs because they dont feel comfortable in the company culture, they dont feel appreciated and they feel that the career bargain that they strike with their employer is faltering – they are investing more time and energy in their work than they are getting back. And according to recent evidence in the Harvard Business Review, it is meaningful development opportunities that largely underpin engagement.

Career development for engagement can never be easy, because every employee has different needs. Our own research, however, shows the prize on offer: employees who feel that at least someone at work is actively encouraging their development are twice as likely to feel engaged and much more likely to stay put when that tempting job offer comes along. 

So, who should this someone be The answer could (and should) be the line manager. The big challenge, however, is that many line managers themselves feel disconnected from the notion of career development. Too often, they see training and development of their team either as an inconvenient short-term loss of resource or an extra burden on an already tight budget. In addition, they feel under pressure from above to keep their teams collective heads down to keep producing more with less.

This may feel like a good short-term survival strategy for line managers, but when this happens, staff retention is reduced to nothing more than a temporary coincidence of interests with employees. Career conversations can then become rather uncomfortable, because they mean peering into an uncertain future, stoking (and possibly not meeting) employee expectations and actually hastening the departure of key staff.

There has to be a better way and there is. A more positive view is to see career development as essential to the growth of key skills for the business, with harassed line manager enabling the employee to take responsibility for their own career development. Employees wanting development have an obligation to themselves to understand their own values, motivators and talents better in order to put together a coherent career plan. Those that do plan, the evidence shows, are much more likely to achieve their goals, with their line managers then more likely to listen, understand their coherent aspirations and provide jobs that challenge and stretch them.

This isnt easy in the modern workplace, but it is possible. With so many organisations pared down to the bone, the method of career development needs to be highly cost-effective and hence attention is shifting towards new online tools. Technology holds the key to a new career bargain between employee and employer one that could stick.
Good people will always get good offers to leave your business, but when they do at least they could know that they and their line manager knows far more about their capabilities and their promotion opportunities, in a way that a potential new employer could take years to understand. And thats enough to make anyone pause for serious thought before deciding to leave their job.

Linda Jackson is managing director and co-founder of 10 Eighty.

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