The Real Reasons Employees Leave, And
How To Keep The Best
By Jim Welch
Why do people leave teams and organizations?
The #1 reason people leave jobs is because they fail to connect with
their bosses as leaders and as people. People are rarely honest
about why they leave a company. Too many associates that depart
follow Jimmy Conway�s advice in the 1990 hit movie Goodfellas,
who told Henry Hill, �Never rat on your friends and keep your mouth
There is no upside incentive for the employee
to be open and honest. Think about it! The primary reason people
leave companies is because of the relationship and lack of emotional
connection with their boss. However, it is almost never talked about
in the exit interview. Why? Who wants to burn a bridge with a boss
they may need for a future job reference? It is easier to talk about
work/life balance, moving on to build your skill sets, or the need
to make more money.
Salary is much further down the list as a
reason to leave than what is usually reported in exit interviews.
What is your current game plan to keep your best people? While most
companies talk a great deal about the need to retain the best people
to sustain growth, they lack an integrated game plan to create
As a leader, you are personally accountable to
acquire and retain the very best people. It is that simple. If you
fail to recruit and retain the top talent, you will not sustain
growth over time. At the end of the day, the effective leader must
embrace a plan to retain the very best talent.
Emotional Connection Points
Emotional connections provide the fuel that
greatly enhance retention. It is driven by the trust and development
of your individual team members. It starts with building your
emotional connections with each team member.
The power of the �unexpected� is the most
powerful way to emotionally connect with another person. Think about
it! Do you get more credit with your significant other for sending a
hand written note when they least expect it? Of course you do! The
same concept applies to you as a leader. It is the �unexpected�
things a leader does that really make the difference. Some examples:
1. Write a personal, handwritten note or send a
greeting card to the spouses or significant others telling them what
a difference their partner is making to your business.
2. Take the employee to breakfast, lunch or
dinner (if appropriate), asking them what �really matters� to them
and what you can do as a leader to help them build their future
3. Take your entire team out together to
celebrate a special event. For example, when I was with Hallmark, I
would take my team out every year for a holiday dinner in the
private dining room of a local restaurant. I would go around the
room and say something special about each of the team members at the
end of the meeting. The primary message delivered in front of the
entire team focused on the unique skill sets each person brings to
the table throughout the year to make us all successful.
4. Place a call to a significant influencer or
key family member in their lives. You should make phone calls to
fathers and mothers if you believe it will make a difference to your
best employees. Always ask permission first if you are going to
contact anyone beyond the spouse. It is impossible to know without
asking whether a call to someone�s parents would be comfortable for
an employee or not. You also should follow any laws or rules
regarding employee privacy.
5. Create a surprise outing as part of a team
business trip. For example, I took my team on a business trip to the
West Coast. While on the trip, we made an �unexpected� stop at �The
Rock� (Alcatraz) in San Francisco. This created wonderful
experiences that directly enhanced team bonding.
6. Create local, enjoyable activities for the
team. These events are fun team activities that should be done
during regular business hours to truly be appreciated. Weekend team
activities that cut into individual personal time are almost always
guaranteed to land with a giant thud. Remember, your team wants you
to be a great leader. They are not looking for another weekend
7. Utilize your boss to deliver special praise
for a job well done in a one-on-one meeting with your team member.
If you are not a CEO, you can engage the person you report to, to
conduct a one-on-one meeting with your best performing team members.
Again, this meeting should be unexpected and
focus on results and accomplishments as well as the recognition of
the unique strengths of the individual. If you are a CEO, having a
key member of the Board of Directors call one of your best people
just to tell them how much they are appreciated will go a long way
8. Create an unexpected personalized memento
for individual team members celebrating the accomplishment of a
Ron Cox, an Ace TruValue Hardware owner in
Appleton (WI), represents a great example of emotionally connecting
with employees. Ron sent a handwritten note and gift card to the
significant other of each of his star employees, to let them know
how much their spouse meant to his store as a highly valued employee
These emotional connections will be transferred
to the customer as Ron�s staff �pays it forward.� In the 2000 movie
Pay It Forward, Kevin Spacey indicated that sometimes the
smallest things make the biggest difference, and by using random
acts of kindness you can �pay it forward.� This will work very well
from you to your employees, and in turn to your customers.
I have always had a habit as a leader of
stomping my feet when I walk down the hallway. People could always
hear my size 12 loafers before we made visual contact. This habit
has followed me throughout my career. During my early years I was
counseled to walk slower and talk lower if I really wanted to move
into senior management ranks.
My teams always had fun with my foot stomping
on a regular basis. In fact, I was given the unexpected gift of a
�big boot� from my team that was placed on a plaque with the
inscription �Big Foot�Keep on Stompin�.� Everyone had a great deal
of fun with this award at my expense. I loved it!
Combine all of these emotional connections with
self-effacing humor. Always remember, humor at the expense of your
team almost always removes deposits from the emotional connection
bank. Take your job seriously, but go crazy making fun of yourself.
Your team will love it. Humor also relaxes your team and reduces
tension. Why was the movie and television series M*A*S*H so
successful? They conveyed humor that was so necessary to maintain
sanity in a horrific situation.
Don�t forget how the little things can make a huge
difference. For example, instead of always having your people meet
with you in your office, go visit them on their home turf. It is a
sign of mutual respect. The ironic part is that by going to their
home base, you give up your legitimate management authority to that
person. They will actually see you as a more confident and caring
leader. The location of the meeting is a little thing that makes a
big difference. You will increase your effectiveness as a leader
when you visit your people�s home turf regularly.
Remember, people do not usually leave
organizations. They leave their leaders. If you lose enough good
people, your organization will be unable to grow. The effective
leader understands that emotional connections to the leader are the
most powerful retention devices in the tool kit.
If this is all true, why do leaders so often
fail to build these emotional connections with their people? Because
it takes time and places many leaders outside their comfort zones,
thus increasing their vulnerability. It is easier to tackle those 85
e-mails sitting in your in-box.
What many leaders fail to realize is that they
are actually more vulnerable if they choose not to invest the time
to do it. How does the time needed to replace all your top talent
compare with the investment you need to make to emotionally connect
with your people? You need to invest every day.
Jim Welch is
founder and president of The Growth Leader, a business leadership
consulting firm, and principal owner in LeadershipFuelNow, working
with Fortune 500 clients and entrepreneurs. Welch was previously
Senior VP of Marketing at Hallmark, and played a key sales role in
the marketing of products for Procter & Gamble.
He is the
author of Grow Now: 8 Essential Steps to Flex your Leadership
Muscles. His web site is