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Monday July 4th, 2016 - by Caroline Cameron

Why Your Best People Are Walking Out the Door and How to Stop Them!


Job satisfaction and staff retention – we’ve got them both wrong!

Latest research from CEB’s Global Talent Monitor shows that nearly 40% of workers are looking for new jobs. If you haven’t already lost some of your best people, in the coming months, you probably will.

With falling satisfaction levels and job search activity on the rise, leaders and HR professionals are scratching their heads. Even when they have a clear ‘employee value proposition’, flexible work arrangements and higher than market pay rates, keeping top talent is getting harder.

Have you ever stopped to calculate the real cost of replacing an executive level high performer? When you factor in the cost of your time, HR administration, executive search firm rates, delays and lost productivity (while you find and onboard a replacement), it’s eye wateringly expensive!

The full cost of replacing a star is eye watering.Stop them walking #retention #jobsatisfaction

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Employee Satisfaction Surveys are Too Generic

We hope anonymous staff surveys will give us the magic ‘aha’ answer as to why good people are unhappy and hence likely to leave. While well-intentioned, the reasons offered via pulse and engagement surveys rarely provide anything specific. The insights gained are easy to generalise and misinterpret and difficult to action.

  • Inadequate salary and benefits – whose salary and which benefits are inadequate?
  • Limited opportunities for advancement – advancement to what for whom?
  • Unhappiness with management – some managers are great, others not so much
  • Overworked – some people thrive on big workloads and high pressure, others don’t
  • Lack of recognition – some people need more recognition than others

At best these capture a ‘moment in time’ and those who are actively seeking to leave usually won’t bother responding.

Exit Surveys are Too Late

​Insights gained through exit surveys are more specific, though usually pitched at what’s wrong that needs to be fixed. Exit interviews with departing staff rarely result in honest feedback as most are smart enough to not ‘burn their bridges’.


Besides, have you ever seen feedback provided by an ex employee taken on board and acted upon? Motivation to change is unlikely to be triggered by someone who no longer has any ‘skin in the game.’

Coaching smart people across a wide range of corporates, government departments and nonprofit organisations, I hear both employee and management frustrations. The ever-increasing hoops employers are jumping through to keep their best people just aren’t working as well as they could.

Innovative employee retention initiatives are emerging in a bid to stem the flow of talented people – on-site childcare, flexible work arrangements, well-being programs, mentoring, interesting projects, secondments, cultural change programs. Although admirable, on their own, they aren’t enough.

Why More Employee Benefit Programs Aren’t the Answer

Job satisfaction is an individual and deeply personal thing and ‘one size fits all’ initiatives will never satisfy all the people, all the time.

As long as employers simplistically continue to expect loyalty and commitment in exchange for a pre-canned range of benefits, top talent will continue to walk.

And as long as employees abdicate responsibility for their own satisfaction (expecting management to fix what isn’t right), no job or employer will ever be good enough.

But when employer and employee share the responsibility for job satisfaction , everything changes.

Shared Responsibility Provides the Missing Link

Shared responsibility opens the door to more honest conversations about what is and isn’t possible. Expectations and individual contributions to business goals become shared, aligned, meaningful and rewarding.

Once the responsibility is shared, it’s easier to match a star performer’s interests, skills and strengths to business needs. Shared responsibility creates the best environment to maximise individual motivation and performance.

Joe is a leading sales executive who prides himself on consistently exceeding his KPIs. But he noticed he was increasingly frustrated and unhappy. His work was becoming mundane and predictable and although his company had many ‘employee benefit’ programs, he found himself increasingly scouring online job sites for a new challenge.

Joe’s manager became increasingly worried and baffled as Joe started to check out. He thought the work was interesting. Joe’s salary was above market rates and as a manager, he was both available and encouraging. Neither of them understood what was going wrong.

Through coaching, Joe clearly pinpointed what he needed from his work and specifically what was missing. As a high achiever, Joe has a strong need for challenge and productive, healthy work relationships. His current role just wasn’t stretching him enough or in the best way.

Setting goals and creating a career development plan resulted in a pilot project to attract and engage a new client segment. Leading a high performing team for four months, deepened Joe’s experience and skills, created new business partnerships and delivered a 17% increase in revenue.

This win-win result converted Joe’s fading loyalty into renewed commitment and within 8 months he was promoted to head up a new division.

You may be thinking, ‘But my company doesn’t have the flexibility or capacity to let employees try new things’. I understand – resources are constrained and there’s only so much you can do.

But with three simple changes, you can create an environment that’s simply too good for your best employees to leave.

3 simple ways to make your workplace simply too good to leave. #jobsatisfaction #retention

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How to Create Shared Responsibility

#1 Change the Accountability

When employees recognise and accept responsibility for their own job satisfaction, it’s easier to identify what’s needed to help them grow, achieve, contribute and stay.

When job satisfaction accountability rests too heavily with the employer, it doesn’t matter what sweeteners they offer to entice top talent to stay. Good people will continue to go.

Likewise, when the responsibility for job satisfaction rests solely on the employee, star performers quickly feel unsupported, frustrated and resentful.

A 50/50 shared responsibility model will ensure both employer and employee have equal motivation to bring out the best in each other.

#2 Change the Conversation

If you’re having a ‘What will it take to make you stay?’ conversation, your star already has one foot out the door and you’ve left it too late!

Infrequent Performance Appraisals, with superficial discussions about professional development, won’t nip increasing dissatisfaction in the bud.

  • Discover What Matters Most

Ask your direct reports to complete a Job Satisfaction Stocktake to unlock what matters to them, what is working and what’s missing.

Individuals identify their own Satisfaction Categories rather than choosing from a generalised list of job satisfaction criteria. This significantly increases employee responsibility for their own fulfilment.

  • Set Mutually Beneficial Goals and Expectations

Together identify what and how your star performer directly contributes to the achievement of business goals.

Aligning your employee’s aspirations to the company vision and strategy feeds motivation and creates a clear reason to stay.

  • Check In Often

Schedule monthly progress check-ins and more frequent, informal conversations to stay on top of what’s happening and identify new opportunities.

Avoid the ‘too busy/not enough time’ trap. Remember it will cost you significantly more time and money to replace them.

#3 Change the Relationship

Sharing and aligning expectations helps both employee and manager understand and respect the reciprocal nature of job satisfaction.

Create a partnership relationship and actively build trust. The best place to start is to check each other’s assumptions. Left unexplored, misunderstanding (But I thought you wouldn’t want to do that), generalisations (They don’t encourage taking initiative here) and bias (He doesn’t have the skills to do that) erode trust.

Check your understanding about ‘who needs what’ for the relationship to work for you both.

Inevitably, your best people will eventually move on and that’s healthy. Their needs and yours will change. When that time comes, you want them to look back fondly on their time with your organisation as the most rewarding years of their career.

Past employees can be powerful advocates or brand detractors and it’s in everyone’s interests to ensure the end of the work relationship is positive.

Ex employees are powerful advocates or brand detractors. How will they speak about you? #jobsatisfaction #retention

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Everyone has the right to feel satisfied with their work and know they are making a meaningful difference.  When job satisfaction is a shared responsibility small problems can be resolved early and everyone wins.

And then there’s you…

How satisfied are you in your current job or career?

Complete your own Job Satisfaction Stocktake and discover 6 simple steps to boost your job satisfaction.

Carpe diem

Caroline Cameron

Caroline Cameron

Caroline Cameron is an executive career coach, speaker and author.

Caroline helps mid-career professionals and evolving organisations harness the power of change to achieve success in business, work and life.

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