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People Leave People, Not Organizations


Organizations gain reputations, in terms of being a good, or bad, place to work. Presence on a formal “Best Place to Work” list, employee friendly policies and great benefits all attract quality employees. Once your candidate is an employee, however, these things don’t matter as much in terms of retention. Unless you make a dramatic change in a policy that affects an employee’s daily work life, they are not leaving because the coffee is bad, or as irritating as it may be, because the health benefits package changed.

So, why do employees leave? In some cases, especially where a particular employee is extremely ambitious, impatient, or a combination of both, they may leave for that bigger and better opportunity that wasn’t presenting itself in their current organization. But, even when employees leave for a “better opportunity,” often times the impetus to take the dive is dissatisfaction with their current job – or, better put, dissatisfaction with the people they work with.

Especially in today’s economy, where we are asking our employees to work harder and longer, quality of work life is important. The basis for good ones are the relationships made with colleagues and associates as well as managers and direct supervisors. As the boss, you cannot ultimately control who gets along with whom, but you can foster an environment built on congenial professionalism and discourage drama in the workplace. Offering mentoring opportunities, putting together teams and work groups that make sense, providing opportunities to celebrate successes as a group, and allowing a little fun to enter into the office, all promote a positive team environment.

Usually what is even more important than the relationships between coworkers are the ones between employees and their boss. When the economic downturn hit and great jobs were suddenly scarce, employers may have lost their focus on retention because they had bigger issues. Plus, employees were less likely to leave one job if they could not find another.

As the recession ended, employers once again found themselves needing to compete for the best candidates and put an effort into retaining their best workers. If you manage people, you are likely to be the primary reason they either leave quickly or stick around for a while. Here are some ideas to promote retention among your staff:

Manage with integrity and model the behavior you want from your employees. Your staff will follow your lead. If you take shortcuts or demonstrate a lack of care for your duties, you cannot expect your staff to do different or feel proud about where they work. If you play favorites or engage in gossip around the water cooler, your office will be filled with cliques and politics.

Take the time to get to know your staff and what motivates them. Find opportunities to catch them doing things right and let them know you appreciate their efforts. When their performance is less than great, use it as a learning moment rather than opportunity to beat them down.

Give people opportunities to contribute meaningful work. No matter their position, they can contribute something meaningful to the organization or group. Don’t minimize what people do, and to the extent possible, empower them to make a difference. They will be more likely to make a connection with their coworkers and with the work of the organization.

Life is about balance. This includes not only the balance between work and home, but also, while you are at work, the balance between seriousness and fun. For each position, organization and, depending on the nature of your work, there may be a different balance necessary to promote good quality work. When you expect your professional staff to spend 8, 9, 10 hours a day at work, however, find a way to throw a little fun in from time to time.

Finally, if you remember the Platinum Rule: “Treat others the way they want to be treated,” you can’t go wrong.

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