Seven Sure-Fire Ways to Lose Your Best Employees

a room with seven doors to choose

Are you forcing your best staff out the door without even knowing it? If employee turnover is a concern for you, then you need to look at what could be causing the problem. There are many sure-fire ways to lose your best employees that managers use without thought everyday. People don’t leave companies, they leave bosses. Here are seven common business practices that are guaranteed to send your best people packing.

Don’t Trust Them

People behave to the level that they are trusted. If you’ve hired the right people in the first place, standing over their collective shoulder isn’t necessary and is instead counterproductive. Worse, enforcing a punch-in, punch-out time clock and having them check handbags and backpacks at the door is sending entirely the wrong message. Besides, if you can’t trust your staff to arrive and leave as scheduled, or not to steal from you, you’ve hired the wrong people anyway.

What good does it do to have a manager give incredibly specific and precise instructions to an Administrative Assistant if he’s just going to stand there and dictate and edit every word as the poor employee attempts to type it? The idea that, “If you want something done right you have to do it yourself!” is a strong sentiment among entrepreneurs. But it’s not going to allow those in a leadership position to use their staff to complete the jobs they are hired for and are good at. It’s also not going to allow those leaders to work on projects that grow the company.

Micromanaging your staff will ensure that your employees are constantly afraid of making mistakes, and therefore they will never gain the decision-making experience they need to excel at their work. They will never move beyond the ordinary to take the initiative and do their jobs on their own…because they are too used to relying on you for constant supervision.

In direct contrast, employees who believe they are trusted, and are encouraged to use their best judgment in how to do their job, feel a much greater sense of ownership and will take pride in their work. They will also feel comfortable sharing the ideas and creativity that your organization needs to prosper.

Impose Lots of Rules

When coaching, one of the first documents that we ask to see is the Employee Manual. Sometimes this is called a Procedures Manual, Employee Guide, or Standards Manual but regardless of its name it’s almost always a very large binder of every possible rule and regulation imaginable down to the minutest detail.

Some managers still believe that these huge volumes of policies, rules, regulations, and procedures are necessary to ensure a “well-oiled” machine and keep the company running profitably. What they really do is stifle imagination and innovation, suffocate employees with bureaucracy, and create timeâEUR’consuming “busy” work that gets in the way of providing quick and productive client services. These tomes are a collection of items created as a reaction to a one-time event, and are not appropriate for the majority of your staff.

Companies that we work with soon discover that one of the quickest ways to engage and motivate their employees is to replace the lengthy manual with a much shorter, simpler, and less restrictive document.

Our employee manual and company policy statement are pretty concise. They read, “Use your good judgment in all things.” I think that about covers all the rules and regulations that we need.

In addition to opening up opportunities for employees to use their own initiative, fewer rules also goes a long way in communicating the trust that we talked about as being key to good employee moral.

Don’t Set a Good Example

It seems obvious that it is an organization’s leadership that creates the corporate culture, yet all too often the stated mission of a company isn’t apparent in the day-to-day activities…especially when looking to the top. So, if you’re not setting a good example–“walking the talk” if you will–then no amount of suggestion boxes, employee satisfaction surveys, or casual Fridays are going to improve moral.

So what is it to set a good example? I define this as doing yourself what you expect others to do. Simple, right? Okay then, if you expect your employees to work extra time on a project, then you work with them. Now I can hear the groans. “But I worked hard to get to this position so I wouldn’t have to do those kind of things.” Sure, I get that, but if you roll up your sleeves and get in there when the going’s tough, imagine what that will do for moral. If your company motto is customer first, and to meet a rush job request overtime is required, then prove to your staff that you stand by the motto and help them get it done.

The first thing to examine is the Mission or Goal Statement. Compare the actions of the organization’s leadership with the stated goal or mission. If you really want good staff that believes in the company, then having your actions aligned with the mission statement is vital. For example, if the mission statement claims that the company is environmentally friendly, but the boss is tossing paper in the garbage and printing everything under the sun, then an employee that signed up thinking they were going to be working for a company that was aligned with their beliefs about recycling will be disappointed.

One of the most commonly stated goals for an organization is providing excellent customer service. But if the organization’s hierarchy, processes, technology, and staff training are not supporting your employee’s attempts to help customers, then management’s claim to aspire to excellent customer service is seen as lip service. Employees begin to wonder what else is just lip service.

The short of all this is that your employees will not work to support company goals if leadership is not seen actively supporting them as well. Moreover, if they joined your organization believing that the company’s goals aligned with some of their personal goals, they won’t stay with the company very long after realizing that is not actually the case.

Keep Your Employees in the Dark

Everyone’s heard the joke of being treated like mushrooms. But if your employees really feel they’re being kept in the dark and fed, well, you know what, then you can tell they don’t believe management is communicating honestly with them. If you let rumors based on both internal hearsay and external media run amuck, you can count on ruined moral and damaged productivity levels.

On the other hand, open and honest communication all across the board energizes your employees. They will surprise you and go on to provide valid and valuable suggestions for saving money, avoiding layoffs, and opening new markets because you have offered up the information they need to really understand what’s going on.

There are many elements to a good communication strategy, and many tools at your disposal. Examples include newsletters, intranets, videoconferences, and question periods with the company leaders. But one of the two key elements in a successful communications program is ensuring that your employees always hear the news from you first…especially bad news. If your company is experiencing difficulties, for whatever reason, make sure that your people hear it from you, not the media. Your employees are an integral part of your company’s team, not outsiders, and so should be shown the courtesy of being told of a difficult situation. Secondly, they should be provided with the opportunity to make suggestions for minimizing any possible damaging results, and have you allay their fears and answer their questions. Also, by letting your staff know of a situation in advance of news coverage, they are better prepared to answer or redirect any questions from their family, friends and the general public. Which reply to a question would you like to hear from your employees: “Beats me, I just work there,” or “I know, and this is what we’re doing about it.”

Ignore Their Advice

Let go of the age-old adage, “The boss must know best or he/she wouldn’t have been made the boss.” Replace that belief with, “The people actually doing the job are the best ones to tell me how to do it.” The people working on the shop floor, processing the customer orders, answering the customer support calls, and shipping the products are the ones who know first-hand what material they need, how much time they need and what could be done with more resources and improved processes. Listen to them. This is the second key element of an open and honest communications strategy; information must flow both ways.

When a sales agent brings in ideas, they are coming directly from the customer because the agent is the one on the front lines talking with them. Yet many companies will tell field representatives to stick to selling and let them handle the products and policies. They rely on the ‘experts’ that have been hired to design and market and plan…but these experts are not the ones who are listening to the customers.

Nothing is more demoralizing for employees than having a home office ignore their advice. Worse even than that is having an “out-of-touch” manager imposing unrealistic goals and targets. No one likes to miss a deadline, and the more a worker believes their job is impossible, the less likely they will continue to make an effort. In fact, in this situation it’s most likely they’ll soon leave for “greener” pastures. And greener won’t necessarily mean more money, as long as the employee has the sense that they are respected, listened to, and the job is possible to complete in the expected time.

Don’t Give Your Employees the Resources They Need

Employees who feel they don’t have the necessary resources (including time) to do their work will become frustrated and angry at the organization for placing them in such a difficult situation. Your employee’s belief that your company supports them with the equipment that he or she needs to succeed is a very powerful psychological motivator. Not being provided with adequate resources is another key factor in an employee’s decision to leave an organization.

As in our earlier example, the employees want to make customers happy but they feel unable to because there is not enough time, training, or technical reference to do what is necessary. Providing your employee with enough of the right resources not only makes a job safer, easier, and more productive, but also provides the employee with what he/she needs to easily offer superior customer service. If providing a high level of customer service is easy, the employee is more likely to try. If, on the other hand, you make pleasing customers too difficult, the employees are not likely to bother. Not only will these employees leave your organization, odds are so will your customer.

Believe That Money Motivates

There’s more to retaining and engaging your employees than throwing money at them. Money can, for a short period of time, retain an employee but it will never engage them in what they are doing. As we said above in regards to ignoring their advice, people will often leave a company and accept less money from their new employer if they believe the new position will provide them with the recognition, development, and responsibility that they’re looking for.

There are lots of theories out there about why money is not a motivator. In the 1940s Abraham Maslow developed his five-step Hierarchy of Needs, where the bottom steps were physical needs such as air, water, food, and then came safety needs like security and safety, followed by social needs of love and acceptance, with the fourth being esteem needs such as achievement, status, and responsibility. At the top, the fifth step, is the self-actualizing needs, which covers the need to fulfill oneself and become all that one is capable of becoming. So money might play into the security and safety, but the fourth and fifth steps deal with achievement, responsibility, and being all you can be. These are powerful motivators!

In the 1960s Frederick Herzberg developed his Two Factor Theory of Job Satisfaction. This theory stated that people are influenced by two factors: motivator factors and hygiene factors. Motivator factors are things like recognition, achievement, promotion, and growth, whereas hygiene factors are things like pay, relationships with co-workers, benefits, and the physical environment. Herzberg claimed that hygiene improvements have short-term effects, and that people are made dissatisfied by a bad environment, but are seldom made satisfied by a good environment. It always comes back to the motivator factors of achievement, responsibility, and recognition.

These and other theories promote the same basic tenant: money isn’t everything.

Herzberg believes that the list of job characteristics that make someone satisfied at work is not the same as the list of things that make someone unsatisfied at work. According to him, there is a neutral point between being satisfied and unsatisfied. So industry level pay will help keep people from being unsatisfied but it is not going to make them satisfied with their job. Money is a neutral point and in and of itself will not create job satisfaction.

Instead, job satisfaction is derived from a wide variety of intangibles such as recognition, and opportunities for personal and professional growth. It also never hurts to offer praise for what’s been done right. Just as in parenting, positive reinforcement produces much better results than punishment and negativity.

I believe there is a better way. And this is what I instill in my clients. If you can trust your staff to do what needs done, and you are setting an example of what you expect, then you will see the kind of loyalty every company wants from their employees. Go ahead, Try it. Treat people like the able adults they are, keep them abreast of what’s going on, and listen to the ideas they have for improvement. At the same time, be sure to provide the proper training and resources to complete the job, and motivate with praise instead of money.

With over 25 years experience, Kathy Legg specializes in the art of employee retention and engagement. “We’re all about employee engagement, enthusiasm, commitment, and helping clients see how they can encourage and foster a successful corporate culture”. Her company, “LittleBrownMouse” partners with business owners to create clear, simple strategies and individualized hiring and employee engagement systems that lead to positive and profitable organizations and businesses.

Kathy is also an accomplished and dynamic public speaker. In addition to regularly delivering lively and informative seminars and workshops for her clients, Kathy has also been invited to speak on a wide range of timely business topics at Train the Trainer Conferences, Executive Training Workshops, and been a Guest Lecturer at several post-secondary institutes.

Kathy has also written a book entitled, “That Book About Hiring People” that is expected to launch this Fall through Langdon Street Press. Learn more about how to get a Sneak Peek at the first chapter by going to []

Subscribe for Free to her monthly Recruiting and Employee Engagement Tips and also receive her latest report, “Seven Sure-Fire Ways to Lose Your Best Employees”

You can reuse this article as long as you include the following: By Kathy Legg, President and Senior Employee Engagement Evangelist at LittleBrownMouse, []

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