Why Key Employees Leave

Every company has their key employees. The reasons they are “key” vary greatly but most every company knows who they are. They want them to stay and they frequently take actions to ensure that they do stay. They may compensate them better, increase their benefits, allow them greater flexibility and even let them bend a few rules. (Not recommended)

The company believes they are doing everything they can to protect and keep their vital people but they forget one thing…

Nothing and no one is more motivating or demotivating then a key employee’s immediate supervisor.

If the person your key employee works for is impossible to work for then the key employee won’t work for them. They will find a way to leave. More money is a short term fix, they may accept it but they will continue to look for a way out. The younger or more talented they are the more likely they are to leave.

There is nothing you can do to keep them if their immediate supervisor is a terrible leader. It’s often said that people don’t quit a company, they quit their manager. It’s often said because it’s very often true.

Your key people may prefer to stay but if they can’t escape the clutches of a poor leader their preference to stay will take a back seat to their need to prosper. Talented employees will find it difficult to prosper under the guidance of poor leadership. Sometimes it’s so difficult that they leave despite liking the work and their co-workers.

When you’re considering your options for keeping your high-value employees don’t forget to look one level above them and make sure that they are reporting to someone who can and will help them grow.

11 thoughts on “Why Key Employees Leave

  1. You are absolutely on target here. I’ve left more than one position after a change of leadership above me. In fact, one school administrator I worked for confided that she got her current events (news) only from the Daily Show. It was in line with how she presented herself in other situations, sadly. I left teaching entirely, not just that position or school division, while working under her. My reasons for leaving were mostly due to how the school’s new administrators were handling their positions. This is an important post you’ve written today and I hope it gets wide circulation. Best wishes, WG

    1. Thank you, it’s just so easy for an organization to overlook this rather basic principle, who we work for will greatly affect the motivation we have to do the work.

  2. I totally understand this as an administrative professional. The Admin Pro’s role centers around the “leader” in need of support then the rest of the team. I would say over 90% of efforts are focused on the leader’s (immediate supervisor) expectations (relationship), especially executive leadership. A shift in “key” leadership can effect a shift in other “key” employees. The goal should be for “key” people to shift “with” the organization not one person. Left to their own devices, demotivators can destroy an organization. We are witnessing this at an alarming rate. However, we are also witnessing a change for the better. I see more discussion on leadership than ever before. After all, emotional intelligence should begin with and imparted to others by leaders. If you are only as good as your people, what type of people are you producing. Thanks for the great post.

    1. Thanks, I agree that we are seeing more “discussion” on leadership than ever before. Hopefully that will lead to improved leadership down the road.

      You also make a great comment that it would be better if people could “shift” with an organization and not one person. That’s true but humans follow humans, not organizations or positions or titles.

      We follow people and the person most likely to affect our performance is and always has been, the person who has the biggest impact on our working future…. That person is usually our boss.

      1. So true Mr. Keating – people follow people.

        What happens when the boss leaves or falls and you remain? Do individuals shift more than organizations? Can it be dangerous to get so caught up in one individual?

        Hopefully, it’s not about a title or position but “the” mission and “your” role in achieving it. Some of the greatest and most impactful people don’t have the biggest title or position. Good leadership doesn’t have to garner followers because they are known to have the best interest of others. Most will follow good without being pushed by the impact of the pen (performance ratings/recommendations/investments). I have been impacted by others more than “the” boss. You can spend so much time doing “for” the boss that you don’t receive as much “from” the boss. #ImpactofCharacter

      2. I had to return to expound on “receive from” after one of my youth asked me if I am referring to consistent communication. Yes, receiving is about taking the time to receive feedback consistently. Don’t be so busy that you don’t have time to sit down with the one to whom you report until it’s performance review/rating/evalution time. Try to sit down once a month and receive feedback. Don’t be afraid to pop in when necessary either. It can mean growth on your part as well as the leader. It can also foster better working relationships and minimize frustration. Yes, leaders need to do the same with direct reports. Talk “with” them not just “to” them.

        On a side note, we need to encourage young people to spend more time on professional blogs not just connecting with friends and others on Facebook and Instagram. I have noticed that there are not as many as should be on Twitter either. We need to let them know that what they have to say is important regardless of their age. It’s great to connect and learn now. They should not fear offering commentary.

  3. People don’t leave jobs they leave managers or lack of leadership.

    This leads to turnover or people doing the minimum vs. tapping into their discretionary effort.

    These same companies see coaching or leadership development as an expense vs. an investment.

    1. That’s a great point Steve. If the overall “culture” of an organization is one where employees are thought of as an “expense” it will impact, negatively, pretty much every aspect of the organization.

      I am always amazed at organizations that say their people are their greatest resource and then they decline to invest in that the improvement of that resource.

      Sadly, most American companies spend far, far more on the maintenance of the computers and copiers than they spend on the development of their people, the same people they describe as their greatest resource.

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