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What to Do When You Are Losing Your Best Employees

Losing your best employees can be devastating for any organization. High turnover of top talent can negatively impact productivity, morale, institutional knowledge, and culture. However, there are strategies leaders can implement to identify why employees are leaving and take proactive steps to retain them.

Today we will explore the main reasons that great employees quit jobs, provide specific examples of each, and outline actionable tactics to curb voluntary turnover of your highest performers.

Reasons the Best Employees Leave

There are several common reasons that star employees end up leaving organizations. The most frequent causes of turnover among top talent are:

Lack of Growth Opportunities

Your best people want to continuously develop new skills, take on new challenges, and progress in their careers. If you don’t provide clear paths for advancement, your top performers will look for growth opportunities elsewhere. Specific examples include:

  • A software developer who repeatedly expresses interest in leading a product team, but is never given the chance to manage others. She leaves for a startup where she can build a team and hone her leadership abilities.

  • A sales supervisor who crushes every quota, but is never promoted to management. He quits to join a competing firm where he is offered a director role with profit/loss responsibility.

  • A graphic designer who masters every program and process, but is stuck working on repetitive tasks beneath her abilities. She finds a new job where she can take on creative challenges.

Poor Management

Managers have an enormous influence over employees' job satisfaction and engagement. When top performers have disengaged or incompetent managers, they become demotivated and look for jobs where they can get better leadership. Examples include:

  • A capable accountant whose manager is condescending, abusive, and doesn't value her contributions. She leaves for a company with a supportive, encouraging boss.

  • A gifted engineer whose manager doesn't listen to her ideas or provide technical guidance. He quits for a firm where his manager is more collaborative and engaged.

  • A phenomenal salesperson whose manager plays favorites instead of recognizing performance. The salesperson finds a new manager who rewards top performers.

Lack of Compensation or Recognition

Your best people want to be paid competitively and receive acknowledgement for their contributions. If they feel undervalued or invisible, they'll find an organization where their excellence is compensated and celebrated. Specific instances include:

  • The top marketing specialist who has secured record profits but has only received a standard 3% raise each year. She leaves for a firm that pays her what she's worth.

  • The distinguished scientist who brought in major grants and discoveries but has never been honored or given public credit by leadership. He joins a university lab where his breakthroughs will be recognized.

  • The gifted surgeon who often saves lives in emergency situations yet never receives praise or rewards from hospital administrators. She departs for a healthcare system that actively appreciates physician contributions.

Strategies to Retain Your Best Employees

The good news is that there are proven techniques you can implement to curb regrettable turnover among your top talent. Recommended strategies include:

Offer Development and Advancement Opportunities

  • Create clear paths for promotion so your best people can move up and build their capabilities.

  • Invest in professional development and training so employees can gain new skills.

  • Implement job rotation and stretch assignments so people can take on new challenges.

  • Give top performers opportunities to take on leadership roles through mentorship programs or managing projects/teams.

Improve Management Skills

  • Train managers to be motivational leaders who can connect with employees on an individual level.

  • Coach managers to be active listeners who solicit input and feedback.

  • Push underperforming managers to improve or move them into non-managerial roles.

  • Make managers accountable for turnover rates so they own retaining their people.

Recognize and Reward Contributions

  • Benchmark compensation to ensure your best people are paid competitively.

  • Develop rewards programs to praise exceptional efforts, innovations, and performance.

  • Spotlight achievements of top performers through company communications, awards, and public praise.

  • Express daily acknowledgement and appreciation for the contributions of your best people.


Losing top performers can be crippling for any company. However, you can mitigate regrettable turnover by taking proactive steps to understand why employees leave and addressing those risk factors. Providing growth opportunities, improving management skills, and recognizing contributions can go a long way toward retaining your best people. Investing in your stars and showing them their value to the organization will limit voluntary departures and ensure you hold onto your top talent.


Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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