Written by
Changeboard Team

Published
04 Jul 2012

Are you about to lose your top performers?

04 Jul 2012 • by Changeboard Team

Why might some top performers jump ship?

Voluntary staff turnover is a fact of life for nearly every organisation, with employees leaving for a variety of reasons, many of them beyond an employer’s control. Companies, however, are growing increasingly concerned about retaining their business critical staff – many of whom stayed at their employer during the downturn for the tenure it afforded and are now looking to again advance their careers. According to a Robert Half survey, nearly three-quarters (73%) of UK human resources directors are concerned about losing key staff in 2012 and many are looking for ways to re-recruit and retain their best and brightest.

Top performers jump ship for a number of personal and professional reasons, with remuneration still the top motivation for employees to leave their jobs, according to 32% of UK executives. However, the importance of work-life balance has been creeping up the agenda with 29% of UK HR directors citing it as the primary reason good employees leave. This rises to nearly four in 10 (38%) London executives – the top response in the UK as well as worldwide. Other factors cited by UK HR directors include career advancement (21%), better location (11%) and better corporate culture (2%).

Top performers are especially sensitive to these factors because they’re deeply invested in their work and take their jobs very seriously. They typically put in significant overtime and make personal sacrifices to pursue professional goals. They expect their jobs to be a source of fulfillment and prefer to work for companies that recognise their skills and support their career aspirations. If they feel unappreciated, under-utilised or “stuck” in a dead-end position, they’re much more likely than average employees to look for better opportunities.

Warning signs

Few top performers leave out of the blue. Usually, indicators begin to appear well in advance of the moment they give their notice. Here are some of the most common signs that an employee is considering departure:

  • Frequent absences. Dissatisfied employees miss more workdays than their colleagues. Pay attention when an individual starts using up accrued annual – it could be a sign he or she is interviewing with potential employers.
  • Decline in work habits. Chronically missed deadlines, decreased productivity and a higher incidence of errors could indicate that the employee has mentally checked-out and is just going through the motions.
  • Interpersonal problems. When a previously motivated, affable employee starts arguing with coworkers or complaining about management, it’s often symptomatic of job dissatisfaction that could lead to departure.
  • Changes in attitude. Withdrawal from the social aspects of work is common among employees who are thinking of leaving.  Previously outgoing staff members may suddenly seem quiet or “down” and spend most of their time in their offices or cubicles. Team-oriented employees who used to volunteer for projects may abruptly lose interest in anything outside the scope of their direct job responsibilities.
  • Subtle behavioural changes. Employees have frequent medical appointments and spend more time doing online research. Formerly prompt employees become habitually tardy or take longer lunch hours. They receive more incoming calls than average and may even seek the privacy of a conference room to conduct phone conversations.

Pre-emptive measures to take

To prevent the loss of a valued employee, take action as soon as you feel you have sufficient evidence of the person’s intention to leave. Below are some tips to get you started:

  • Re-recruit top performers: Before your competitors have a chance to lure those workers away, you must “re-recruit” them yourself. This means selling them all over again on the advantages of working for your company, highlighting what’s unique and special about it. 
  • Provide well-defined career paths: In the context of performance reviews, talk to your employees about their aspirations and goals. Using their input as a point for discussion, brainstorm ways you might structure job descriptions and positions to accommodate and advance those goals.
  • Foster skill building through cross-training: If your company is a small one with limited upward mobility, you may want to offer cross-training as a way to help staff develop new skills and stay motivated and interested in their work. Your employees will value opportunities to gain exposure to roles and projects not necessarily in their job descriptions or current competency areas.
  • Institute comprehensive mentoring programmes: In addition to traditional one-on-one mentoring relationships, consider setting up groups of mentors from various areas of the company who will focus on high-potential employees. Each group will meet regularly to brainstorm ways to help a specific top performer build on key strengths and achieve professional goals.
  • Explore flexible work arrangements: A strategy best reserved for top performers, flexible work options can help you hold on to valued employees who might otherwise be tempted to leave. While some employers are wary of non-traditional arrangements, it is possible to set up mutually-beneficial situations.
  • Improve and adjust remuneration: Money isn’t everything, but it still holds considerable importance for most employees. Periodically review your salary and benefits structure to ensure that you are offering competitive wages and the types of benefits that are most valued by today’s workers. 

    The loss of top performers is an unsettling prospect for any organisation, but it can be minimised.  By taking proactive steps to eliminate the root causes of turnover and swiftly addressing the problem on a case-by-case basis as needed, you’ll realise improved retention rates, which will lead to greater organisational stability and productivity.