In 2020, while absorbing the work of laid-off colleagues and attempting to hit company goals during a pandemic, a lot of folks fantasized about quitting. And in 2021, many followed through on those fantasies.
At least one in four workers have voluntarily left their jobs last year, according to a report from analytics firm Visier published last October.
And that number might have grown further before the year ended. With as many as 65% of workers telling PwC they were looking for new jobs in August, there’s no telling how much higher the collective stack of two-week notices will pile up.
As companies battle this historic turnover wave, the prospect of top performers leaving is of even greater concern.
For heavy-hitting employees, it can cost as much as 150% of that worker’s salary to replace them. And there are less tangible losses a company incurs when star employees leave, too, including dents to morale that fuel further turnover.
For all these reasons, it’s essential that leaders understand the real reasons their best employees ultimately choose to abandon ship.Below, experts told us the motivators that drive top performers to quit — and how to keep those motivators at bay.
Why do star employees quit?
1. They see no growth opportunities in their current role.
“Employees expect to be trained and educated in order to expand their knowledge and expertise. They want to advance within the organization and have something to show for their years of dedication,” David Wurst, CEO of Webcitz, said. “If a job does not offer opportunities for advancement, employees are likely to leave in search of greener pastures and greater opportunities elsewhere.”
Workers, especially your top performers, should have a clear understanding of what career laddering at your organization looks like. But even if a promotion isn’t possible in the immediate future, there are still other ways to facilitate growth, Dan Close, CEO of We Buy Houses in Kentucky, said.
“You may not always be able to provide your employee with a clear path for progress within your organization, but there are other ways to support their personal and professional development,” Close said. “Some companies provide benefits like education stipends or organize office seminars for employees to learn about a specific subject or talent.”
2. They don’t feel their voice is heard.
If a star employee feels they’re only ever expected to churn out what’s asked of them, with no room for their own ideas for innovation and improvement, that can push them in the direction of quitting.
“Everyone should be given the opportunity to show initiative,” Sep Niakan, Managing Broker of Condoblackbook, said. “Some organizations are highly resistant to change. People often enter a workplace with great energy and idealism only to be rapidly thwarted by stale and visionless management. When your excitement starts to wane, you not only avoid taking risks and attempting new things. You also get jaded and are more tempted to quit.”
3. They’re overworked.
It may seem overly obvious. But unreasonable workloads — especially for top performers who are often expected to take on more work — often drive turnover.
“Nothing burns out good employees faster than overwork, and you often overwork your best employees — those who are the most capable and committed, as well as the most reliable,” Jason McMahon, Digital Strategist of Bambrick, said. “They may feel exploited if they are continuously taking on more and more responsibilities, especially in the absence of recognition such as promotions and raises. They may feel they’re being taken advantage of, and who can blame them?”
4. They aren’t sufficiently recognized.
Especially in this world of remote work where so much of what we do is physically unseen, this is an especially critical area for company leaders to pay attention to, McMahon said.
“When you don’t recognize your good employees, you’re not only failing to motivate them. You’re also missing out on the most effective approach to reinforce good work,” he said. “Even if you don’t have the budget for raises or bonuses, there are plenty of low-cost methods to show appreciation, including a simple word of thanks. People won’t care about their work if they don’t feel noticed.”
5. They don’t feel challenged.
Top talent wants to be pushed and challenged to grow. If that’s lacking in their current role, they’re likely to look for more stimulating opportunities elsewhere, Tanner Arnold, CEO of Revelation Machinery, said.
“If you don’t provide the potential for tough, engaging work, you’ll naturally lose people who want to be pushed,” Arnold said. “When they have innovative ideas, few people are content to be micromanaged or left just toeing the company line. People desire the chance to be experts in their own field.”
6. No one checks in with them, or checks in regularly enough.
One unfortunate side effect of being a star performer? All that trust from leadership may mean they don’t check in as regularly — which can lead to feelings of being unappreciated or underrecognized.
“While micromanagement is a problem in many firms, it’s also critical for leaders and managers to check in with their staff on a regular basis,” Sarah Jameson, Marketing Director of Green Building Elements, said. “Seemingly not caring about how employees are doing may mean they’ll lose interest in the company. They may not sustain high standards of excellence at work if they don’t receive feedback, resulting in blunders and a desire to work in a more structured atmosphere.”
7. They feel they’re unfairly carrying the team.
For ultra-productive workers, resentment toward underperforming colleagues can fester and ultimately turn into a letter of resignation, Minesh Patel, Founder of The Patel Firm, said.
“Though everyone works differently, your best employee will start to feel resentful if they’re carrying the weight of the team and not compensated accordingly,” Patel said. “Managers need to track their team’s progress not just on the whole but also on the individual level. If you notice some work imbalances developing, it’s time to sit down with the team individually and get to the bottom of the matter.”
8. There’s a history of leadership not following through on promises.
If a top performer has had, for instance, the promise of advancement dangled in front of them without seeing it actualized, that’s likely to drive them out the door.
“Failure to keep your promises to your staff will swiftly breed resentment,” Daniel Foley, SEO Manager at MCS Rental Software, said. “That animosity will lead to team members whining behind your back, as well as a lot of irritation and distrust, which will stifle your team’s productivity. And, over time, this can deteriorate into something far more serious: a wave of turnover.”
Trust begins to crumble, Foley added, as soon as your team perceives that you don’t care.
“They will eventually give up on you as a result of this, and you could lose a lot more than productivity if that happens,” he said.
9. They’ll be better paid elsewhere.
While it’s incorrect to assume top performers are only in it for the money, at the end of the day, it’s a job. And when a star employee gives so much of themselves to their work, they want to be compensated accordingly — particularly in this environment where job seekers have so much bargaining power.
“If your business is a well-oiled machine, your best employees will still want to leave for one simple reason: you’re not showing them the money,” David Aylor, CEO of David Aylor Law Offices, said. “Our star employees understand their value, and as employers, we need to as well. That means keeping an eye on average salaries on the market annually and creating a compensation plan with opportunities for significant raises twice annually… The cost to hire and train a new employee is going to be just as, if not more, expensive than a salary raise, and you’re not guaranteed to get a new hire of the same caliber.”
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