One of the most frustrating things about managing a team has to be this: just when you have the best people possible in place, someone decides to move on. Your dream team is a moving target and you wish it would stop moving. You wonder if there’s anything you did that cost you that valued employee.
Emotional intelligence expert Travis Bradberry has seen a lot of work relationships go south unnecessarily due to a manager not realizing what he or she is doing to make staff want to leave. In a recent column for LinkedIn, he cited eight common errors a boss can make that drive good workers away and decrease employee retention. (Bradberry has a book called Emotional Intelligence 2.0.)
Every company needs some rules, of course, but the more of them there are, the more onerous, and frankly insulting, it is to work under them. A rule shouldn’t be an ill-considered rush solution to something that happened, a way to make up for a lack of trust in employees, or an added layer of nonproductive work just to arbitrarily impose a sense of order.
If your best employees aren’t rewarded with your best treatment, you remove a powerful incentive for them to want to please you. Why should they try so hard when the laziest member of the team gets handled just as well? This takes a lot of potential joy out of the job for a good performer.
You’ve no doubt heard that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link – it’s true for your department as well. By tolerating poor performance, you degrade the overall performance of your team. You also send a troubling message to your better employees that you’re not on top of things, and that you’re not capable of protecting the entire team’s chance of success.
While grownups don’t require external approval, a lack of it can still be disheartening over time. When someone is working hard for you, it’s important that you acknowledge their work. A pat on the back, a bonus, or some other kind of recognition helps people feel appreciated and makes them want to achieve more for you.
According to Bradberry, more than half the people who leave a job take off due to an unsatisfying relationship with their boss. Employees spend all week trying to meet your needs and naturally want to know that you also care about theirs. While you need to be aware of not crossing boundaries, it’s important to see and relate to employees as human beings who have lives — and ups and downs — outside their jobs. Empathy means a lot. Be happy for them when things go well, and understanding when they don’t.
Smart employees hate working under “mushroom management” that keeps them in the dark about the company’s larger goals and challenges. They crave a broader perspective that affords them a greater sense of purpose in the overall scheme of things. Withholding this kind of information is infantilizing and ultimately insulting to star employees.
Good employees are often naturally creative, and they may bolt if they aren’t allowed to pursue projects outside their nominal responsibilities now and then. It can be crushing if an employee is excited about an idea for the company and is shot down just because it’s not part of their job description. It sends the message that the employee isn’t welcome to contribute to the company outside of the thing for which they were hired. It’s a great way to make the employee retreat from their emotional investment in the organization and perhaps eventually lose interest in it altogether.
If the work environment isn’t a place employees enjoy being, their jobs are just that much less interesting and appealing. If someone doesn’t like coming to work, eventually they’re more likely to stop wanting to come to their job. An office where there’s always the possibility of fun — through a convivial atmosphere, special events, free classes, and so on — is just that much more likely to be a place that breeds enthusiasm above and beyond a paycheck.
Even if you avoid these mistakes, there’s obviously no guarantee that every great employee you have will stay forever. But you can at least be sure you’ve reduced the odds that you’ve personally driven them away. Ultimately, all you can do is your best, and this list should help you do just that.