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Strategies to Retain Your Star Employees and Top Performers
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Talent Acquisition

Why Your Top Performers Leave

One Minute Takeaway

  • The “Great Resignation” saw many Americans quitting their jobs due to reasons beyond just compensation, and organizations need to understand these reasons to retain top talent.
  • 6 key reasons why top performers leave their jobs include a lack of challenge, insufficient growth or professional development opportunities, lack of recognition, poor leadership, burnout, and a lack of trust and respect.
  • Companies that struggle with finding time to focus on retaining their star employees should re-evaluate their HR technology and allocate time to leadership.

The “Great Resignation,” which has dominated headlines, prompted business leaders to ask why so many Americans are quitting their jobs. And it’s not over yet. While the rates are dropping, April 2023 saw 3.8 million people quitting their jobs. The churn rate is staggering, and many organizations are rightly concerned that their star employees will be snatched up in what may be the hottest job market in recent history. 

Understanding the Star Performer

It’s easy to recognize a highly productive employee, or top performer when you see one. This is someone who consistently surpasses expectations, demonstrates a strong work ethic, possesses exceptional skills, is often self-motivated and motivates others. Top performers excel in problem-solving, maintain a positive outlook, and greatly contribute to the success of the organization. Naturally, these are individuals you want to retain. However, ensuring the satisfaction of star employees doesn’t happen by accident.

How to Retain Star Employees

The key to retaining your top talent amid these challenges is to first understand the reasons why star employees leave. For one, it’s not just about wanting higher pay, competitive benefits, and more flexible working arrangements. While competitive compensation remains critically important to retaining your top talent, it’s far from the only factor.

Here are 6 reasons beyond compensation why exceptional employees leave their jobs in search of a better opportunity—and how to address them.

1. Not Enough Challenge  

High-performing employees thrive on being challenged. To be satisfied in their roles, they need to be engaged in their work, provided with interesting problems to solve, and given the autonomy and ownership to achieve their potential.

A common reason top performers leave jobs is boredom and stagnation, which can lead them to start looking for their next challenge elsewhere. Employee training programs are one way to get high-performing employees engaged and provide them with new challenges, but it doesn’t stop there.

Managers also need to understand their employees’ career goals and help them find interesting projects that expand their roles and stretch their abilities.

2. Not Enough Growth or Professional Development Opportunities

Tied to the lack of engaging or challenging work is an absence of growth and development opportunities.

Great employees are constantly looking for ways to expand their skills, level up their careers, and realize their potential. Many are eager to advance their careers — including taking on new responsibilities, assuming more senior roles, and becoming recognized as a leader in their organization.

When career development is limited, those top performers will start to look elsewhere to find the next step in their career. That’s one of the reasons it is critical to invest in employee development now. 

3. Lack of Recognition

Top performers will also quickly become disillusioned if their hard work is overlooked.

Recognizing employee accomplishments is key to keeping good employees motivated and happy in their roles. Recognition can take on a lot of different forms—from shoutouts and 1:1 feedback from their manager to more formal accolades and monetary awards. As with any feedback, recognition should be both timely and specific!  

4. Lack of Trust and Respect 

All employees need to feel like they are trusted and respected. Micromanagement will quickly make high-potential employees feel stifled and unable to do their best work under so much unnecessary scrutiny.

In addition to the trust and respect needed to do their jobs autonomously, employees also require trust and respect as individuals. In an increasingly diverse workforce, mutual respect and trust among employees and leadership are critical to fostering an inclusive work culture.

Star employees who don’t feel comfortable being their authentic selves at work or feel they cannot trust the organization’s leaders are more likely to leave the organization to find a better fit. 

5. Poor Leadership—Particularly from Their Direct Manager 

As the saying goes, “People don’t quit bad companies, they quit bad managers.” While this is an oversimplification, poor leadership throughout the organization can cause good employees to run for the hills. A person’s direct manager remains one of the most vital relationships throughout the employee’s tenure at the company. Studies have found the cost of bad managers in the US to be at least $960 billion so this is not something that can be ignored (Gallup).

In many cases, managers are ineffective because they’re thrown into the role with little to no training. Often, managers were once top-performing individual contributors, but success in their previous roles doesn’t mean they will automatically excel in a leadership role or don’t need training to thrive with their new responsibilities. This is one of the key reasons why leadership training is a must for everyone in your organization.   

6. Burnout 

Finally, it is all too easy to overwork a top performer, especially with how most organizations are working today. When a star employee produces consistently excellent work, managers naturally tend to assign more and more work to these individuals, who often have difficulty saying “no” until they are well past burnout.

People managers need to ensure manageable workloads across their staff and encourage employees to take time off to recharge. To retain top performers, create a culture that recognizes the importance of mental health and wellbeing. 

What’s holding you back?

If you feel like there’s just not enough hours in the day to focus on retaining your star employees, then you should re-evaluate your HR technology and find time to lead.