Employee engagement and retention of top talent is a holy grail of people management—and nearly as hard to pin down.
Employees expect managers to be fair, pay fairly, listen, value opinions, relate, develop, challenge, demonstrate care, advance, and so on. But many employees don’t know when and how to voice their concerns, or negotiate for what they want.
All managers know that engaged employees are happier and more productive. Yet, managers and HR managers cannot simply make employee engagement “happen.”
In The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, employee-retention expert Leigh Branham discusses how companies can tackle employee disengagement and retain their best and brightest people.
Using a copious amount of facts and figures from interviews and surveys, Branham explores seven reasons for employee disengagement. For each reason, Branham lists signs that managers need to keep their eyes open for, and shows how employers and employees could communicate and understand their mutual needs and desires.
“Some Quit and Leave … Others Quit and Stay”
According to Branham, employee disengagement—and eventual resignation—is not an event; rather, it is a plodding process of bitterness, discontent, and eventual withdrawal that can take weeks, months, or even years until the definite choice to resign happens. He lists the ten most common stimuli that trigger employee disengagement:
- Poor management
- Lack of career growth and advancement opportunity
- Poor communications
- Issues with pay and remuneration
- Lack of recognition
- Poor senior leadership
- Lack of training
- Excessive workload
- Lack of tools and resources
- Lack of teamwork
Branham claims to have synthesized some 20,700 employee-exit surveys and has identified four fundamental human needs (compare to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) that must be met by employers:
- Employees need to feel proficient. They want to be matched to a job that aligns with their talents and their desire for a challenge.
- Employees need to feel a sense of worth. They want to feel confident that their commitment and their efforts translate into meaningful contributions to their company’s mission. They desire to be recognized and rewarded appropriately.
- Employees need to be trusted. They expect their employers to pay attention, and be honest and open in their communications.
- Employees need to have hope. They want to be treated fairly, and given opportunities to grow their skills and advance their careers.
Why Employees Start Feeling Disconnected from Their Work
The core of The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave is a “how to” guide to address each of the seven reasons to enable a company to pursue the path to become an “employer of choice.”
Reason #1: The Job or Workplace Was Not as Expected. Many new hires join their companies with a wide range of misconceptions and unrealistic expectations. Some stay and adapt, others disengage and stay, and some others disengage and ultimately leave. Branham advocates creating realistic job descriptions, and open communications between managers and employees on achieving their mutual goals and expectations.
Reason #2: The Mismatch between Job and Person. Companies with strong reputations for selecting the right talent and keeping employees well matched with their jobs have a strong commitment to the continuous upgrading of talent. Managers can assign tasks so that employees can be more engaged through the use of their “motivated abilities.” Managers must keep an eye open opportunities to augment employees’ jobs by delegating tasks they might not have considered before.
Reason #3: Too Little Coaching and Feedback. Branham affirms that most managers do coaching and feedback merely as annual or biannual HR-required discussions that bind ambiguous targets to performance-ranking and pay scale. Managers must lead frequent, informal, on-the-job feedback conversations with employees. Branham identifies four principal themes that managers must address to make their performance management practice seem less controlling and more of a partnership:
- “Where are we going as a company?”
- “How are we going to get there?”
- “How does the manager expect the employee to contribute?”
- “How is the employee doing? What is going well? What are the key suggestions for improvement?”
Reason #4: Too Few Growth and Advancement Opportunities. Branham observes that most talented employees cannot pinpoint and articulate, and often underuse their greatest strengths. He encourages companies to provide self-assessment tools and career management training for all employees, enabling them to be the best they possibly can be. Most “employers of choice” have a strong mentoring culture. They communicate that employees must take the initiative in their own career development.
Reason #5: Feeling Devalued and Unrecognized. To Branham, many companies do not have a formal and informal culture of recognition because their managers are themselves too busy with their nominal responsibilities to pay adequate attention to employees’ performance. Or, they can’t discern between average and superior performance. He lists recommendations for competitive base- and variable-pay linked to achieving business goals. He reminds managers that employees are hungry to be listened to, and want their ideas sought and implemented.
Reason #6: Stress from Overwork and Work-life Imbalance. Branham observes that the relationships employees form with other employees is a glue that binds people to their workplaces. He encourages fostering social connectedness by assigning cross-functional team projects and organizing group outings.
Reason #7: Loss of Trust and Confidence in Senior Leaders. When senior leaders don’t back up pronouncements such as “people are our most important asset” with their actions, even mid-level managers begin to question the decisions and the actions of senior leaders. The result is a manifest lack of enthusiasm in the workplace, and in the rising complaints and questions about policies and practices. Leaders must set the tone for workplace culture and must back up their words with actions to discourage employee cynicism and disengagement.
Becoming an Engaged Leader is the Embodiment of What Leadership Means
Recommendation: Fast read Leigh Branham’s The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave. This book makes a great reading for managers and leaders who will need to scratch beneath the surface to recognize unhappy employees before it’s too late, and then engage their employees better and retain their top talent.
While many of the book’s themes may appear familiar, The 7 Hidden Reasons discuses many ideas and “engagement practices” in great specificity to help managers and leaders keep their antennae up for signs of bitterness and discontent, and correct before they lose their best and brightest people. This practical tome can also help employees discuss and resolve their needs and desires.
Developing a deep understanding of what causes employees to lose motivation, disengage, and leave cannot be ignored or overlooked. Managers and leaders who can resolve the divergence that employees feel between their personal values and the best interests of their businesses will gain immeasurably by having a highly engaged and productive workforce.
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