Why Top Performers Leave Your Company — and How to Prevent It

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Employee turnover is as inevitable as death and taxes. Employees come and go; it’s only natural. But it can be especially painful when a company loses one of its top performers. After all, a high-performing employee can be as much as 400 percent more productive than your average staff member. With so much at stake, it’s important to prioritize the retention of your best workers.

To understand how to retain top performers, we must first understand why top performers leave companies. There are various factors to consider — including the personal motivations of a given individual — but once you are aware of the general patterns that drive high-performers to depart, you can start taking action to keep your top talent on your team.

Problem No. 1: Growth Opportunities

Top performers tend to be ambitious people. They are always looking to grow professionally. If an employee doesn’t feel challenged or feels there is no room for career progression at your company, they will get frustrated and start looking for other companies that will encourage their growth.

Solution: The best way to combat this problem is to show your top performers a clear career path within your company. Sit down with every employee — but especially your best ones — to talk about their short- and long-term goals. Then, collaborate on a plan to help your employee reach those goals at your company. When a top performer knows their manager is on their side and wants to help them grow, they will stay longer at the company.

Problem No. 2: Compensation

Money isn’t everything, but it would be a lie to say it isn’t an important factor when an employee is considering leaving. Top performers know what they are worth, and if they feel they are underpaid, leaving becomes an easy decision.

Solution: Where possible, a company should do its best to provide competitive compensation to all employees. The best way to do this is to research market rates on at least an annual basis. What is the average salary for a person with your top performer’s skill set and seniority level, and how does your compensation package stack up? In addition to this, managers should talk to employees directly about their compensation. Candid communication allows a manager to gauge what an employee feels and whether a more robust compensation package is in order.

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Problem No. 3: Autonomy

High-performing employees don’t need to be told what to do every second of every day. In fact, they may feel offended by a manager looking over their shoulder all day. These performers want to be entrusted with the responsibility to get their job done and do it well.

Solution: The antidote is simple: Assign top employees more opportunities for leadership and responsibility. Your best workers have already proven they can be trusted to lead a project or a campaign, so why hesitate to delegate those tasks?

Problem No. 4: Recognition

Everyone wants to be recognized for their achievements. Your top employees contribute a great deal to your company’s overall success. An employee who feels undervalued or underappreciated is likely to look for a different employer — one that will recognize their achievements.

Solution: Every employee should be recognized both privately and publicly for their achievements. Every win — a new account, a successful campaign — should be celebrated. A well-deserved bonus, extra perks, and even a simple “thank you” can go a long way in showing top employees they are valued.

Problem No. 5: Broken Promises

When a company brings any new employee on board — but especially a top hire — it makes various promises about compensation, career growth, culture, and more. When the employee accepts the job offer, they do so with the understanding that these promises will be fulfilled. If those promises are broken — even if unintentionally — an employee will quickly grow disillusioned and start looking elsewhere.

Solution: Follow through with the promises you made during the hiring process. Honest, open communication with employees is the best way to maintain those promises — or at least fix things if an employee feels a promise has been broken.

Problem No. 6: Purpose

Every professional wants to feel a sense of purpose, to feel that the work they do every day is bigger than themselves. Without that sense of purpose, work can quickly become drudgery, and then burnout is right around the corner. In fact, in a 2018 survey by Deloitte, 77 percent of respondents said they had experienced burnout at least once in their current job — and that was before the widescale shift to remote work began blurring the boundaries between personal and professional life.

Solution: The solution to this problem begins the moment a candidate interviews for a position. It’s vital to hire candidates whose personal purposes align with the company’s. While relevant experience and skills are important, culture fit is key to the retention of high-performers. An employee who feels a deeper purpose at work each day is far more likely to stay for the long haul, and that purpose is something you can’t manufacture.

Finally, it’s important to note that a high-performing employee’s departure is sometimes out of your hands. These tips can help you mitigate turnover, but if an employee is set on leaving, all a manager can really do is make sure they leave on a good note.

Andrew Edgell is the director of marketing at Recruiting Connection.

Read more in Turnover

Andrew Edgell is the director of marketing at Recruiting Connection, a full-service executive recruiting firm that specializes in connecting exceptional businesses with top talent. He is an up-and-coming marketing professional focused on scaling the reach and brand image of recruiting firms.