14 Reasons Why Great Employees Quit Your Team (and How to Keep a Good Employee from Quitting)

"I'm leaving. My last day is next Friday.”

I still remember the surprise when one of my old coworkers announced that to the company. 

He was one of the longest-tenured members of the team and seemed content on the job. Little did I know he had a number of motivations for wanting to make a change that may have been avoidable.

The competition for talent is always high, and especially now you can't afford to lose a good employee. Even the most loyal members of your team have breaking points that will make them want to look for a new job. 

Not only then are you losing a great employee, but you're paying for it. According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), when an employee leaves it costs an average of 6-9 months of your former employee's salary to find and onboard their replacement.

But that's just one employee. Worst of all, when employees leave, it often happens in waves, meaning that you lose more than just one good person at a time.

People leave bad managers, not companies, which means as a manager, you have the power to prevent many of these losses to your team. Avoiding these pitfalls will put you well on your way to retaining your team.

Today, we help you understand why good employees leave, and what to do to prevent it.

There are many reasons why great employees quit, burnout is one of them.

14 Reasons Why Great Employees Quit (+ How to Keep a Good Employee from Quitting)

There are a lot of reasons why great employees quit and leave your company.

Some are easier to deal with than others, but no matter what's going on there's always something you can do. 

That's why below, we won't just be going over reasons why good employees leave, but also showing you how to keep a good employee from quitting to avoid each problem in the first place. 

We'll be covering...

Table of Contents

Here are the 14 reasons why good employees leave...

Why Great Employees Quit: How to Keep a Good Employee

1) Lack of follow through

We've written about this a number of times before and it bears repeating: not following through with commitments to your team will quickly build resentment.

That resentment will lead to complaining among team members behind your back and a lot of frustration and distrust that can hamstring your team's productivity. 

And over time, that can snowball into something much worse: a wave of turnover.

As soon as your team believes you don't care, trust begins to erode. Eventually, that leads to them giving up on you altogether. When that happens, you can lose a lot more than just productivity. You end up sitting there wondering, "why did my best employee quit?"  

What to do instead: 

Use a to-do list or another system to track your commitments to your team to make sure nothing slips.

Meanwhile, if there's something that prevents you from following through that's beyond your control, be transparent with your team and help them understand why you couldn't do it.

Sometimes things happen that you didn't see coming, or that can get in the way of your commitment to your team.

The last thing you should do is try and sweep it under the rug and act like it didn't happen. Instead, face it as directly and transparently as you can, whether it's because you're dealing with some kind of company crisis, personal issues, or worse, the death of a loved one

It might be hard to reach out to your team that first time and explain what's going on, but once you've done it, they'll understand and have your back for it, just as you would for them. 

Further reading:

Why Great Employees Quit: How to Keep a Good Employee

2) You don't have 1 on 1s with them

If you're not having 1 on 1s with your team, you don't know what they're really thinking. 1 on 1s are a huge opportunity to have a private line of communication with each of your team members.

Is there an issue between team members? Does someone feel stifled or frustrated? Without regular 1 on 1s, you'll likely never know. 

You can learn tons of different things based on the questions you ask in your 1 on 1s. Then, you can fix a lot of problems before they blow up based on what you learn. There's a reason Ben Horowitz wrote he was willing to fire a manager for not having 1 on 1s in The Hard Thing About Hard Things.

Quote Mike Pretlove why great employees quit,why good employees leave,my best employee quit,why do good employees leave,why good employees quit

What to do instead: 

You may think you don't have time to have 1 on 1s, but what you really don't have time for is to lose your best people and have to go through the hiring process and cover for lost staff again. 

Get started having 1 on 1s at least once a month (ideally more) and make sure to stay on top of them to avoid future issues.

Further reading:

why great employees quit you don't listen

3) You Ignore their ideas

Are your employees trying to tell you something? Do they see a problem you don't? Do they have ideas to improve the way they work or a system around them? 

Your team is filled with a gold mine of ways to make your company better and your team happier. After all, they're able to see things from a different perspective than you.

Yet, many managers ignore this and see their people instead become more and more frustrated by a lack of change in areas they think are important.

What to do instead: 

Use part of your 1 on 1 time to ask questions about their feedback and ideas they have to improve the company, the team, and their own work environment. 

For example, questions like:

  • What aspects of your work would you like more or less direction from me?
  • What is the #1 Problem at our company? Why?
  • What do you like about my management style? What do you dislike?
  • What's one thing we'd be *crazy* not to do in the next quarter to improve our product?

Take action when you can on the suggestions you get and explain why some things may not be possible right now. Communication is key. You may not use every one of their ideas, but that's not the point. They just want to know that they're being heard. 

Not listening is one of the reasons why great employees quit.

Further reading:

Why Great Employees Quit: How to Keep a Good Employee

4) Not being treated like an adult

Trust is the foundation of every strong relationship, and that includes working relationships with your team.

Do you trust your team? If you can't trust them you may not have the right team or have invested the time necessary to get to know one another in 1 on 1s. 

Good people, especially those with long tenures, expect some transparency into what is going on outside of the team. They also want to be trusted with their work instead of being micromanaged.

If they're consistently treated like children that can't be trusted to know what is going on, they'll eventually get fed up and leave for a company that does respect them.

What to do instead: 

Trust, but verify. Use task-relevant maturity as a way to gauge when to give people independence (and how much), and hold them accountable to the results you agreed upon. 

Trust them with the information they want to know and make sure they're keeping anything private anything you've asked them to.

You may be surprised how understanding your team will be if you share the good and the bad news, and engage them in being part of solving it. Throughout my career, I've seen over and over how great team members rise to the occasion to go above and beyond to help in tough times.

Yet, this only happens if you have built that respect, and treat them like an adult.

Further reading:

why great employees quit - under compensate them

5) You're under compensating them

Are you paying anyone well below market rate? Have some of your team grown in their roles and are now significantly outperforming their compensation?

Have you moved a team member to a more expensive city without properly increasing their salary for the cost of living? 

Any of these, as well as disparities in equity, can lead to a lot of resentment. It can also tempt people to see what they're worth elsewhere. 

And by the time they have an offer, it's too late.

What to do instead: 

Plan ahead for managing people's compensation, especially for people taking on more responsibility. 

Your budget may be tight, but if you make incremental improvements you won't wake up a few years down the line searching for a massive amount of money to adjust someone's salary who has one foot out the door.

Further reading:

Why great employees quit: you don't praise them, which Richard Branson knows is super important.

6) Failing to praise, recognize, or reward good work

Do you reinforce the good work done by your team? Do you tell them specifically why the work was great? Do you look for little opportunities to hand out praise and let your team know you appreciate their hard work? 

If you don't recognize good work, your team will not be as motivated to repeat those efforts again. Mary Kay Ash, founder of the Mary Kay cosmetics empire, put it best when she said:

Why Great Employees Quit: How to Keep a Good Employee

If you don't praise, this can especially hurt your best team members. If you're wondering why good employees leave, consider if it's because they're underappreciated by you.

What to do instead: 

Take time to recognize your people for great work. After all, praise is free. If it's really awesome, recognize it in front of their peers (assuming they're comfortable with it) to motivate them even more. 

Also, give them specific reinforcement over email and in 1 on 1s. As long as you're specific about why you're giving them praise for, it will be well received; they'll know it's genuine, and most important for you, they'll know exactly what to do to receive more praise.

Further reading:

Why great employees quit includes bad coworkers

7) Keeping bad employees

Nothing frustrates good employees like working with bad ones. 

Bad team members make it harder for everyone else to get their work done, slow down progress in general, and lower the bar for the quality of work a team outputs. 

Bad team members can quickly turn a strong work environment into a toxic one either by their own poor work, or due to how the team reacts negatively to them. After all, if they're being allowed to stay on the team with their behavior and poor performance, why should anyone else try so hard to do a good job? 

What to do instead: 

There are two ways you can go about it: outright fire them or try to turn the bad employee around first. 

If you do fire them, your team will likely breathe a sigh of relief and you'll find your team is more productive without them. 

However, I mentioned earlier that it costs about 6-9 months of an employee's salary to replace them. That's roughly $65,000.

In most cases, it's more cost-effective to try and turn that employee around than fire them right away. 

Often bad employees are still good people, but something is off. 70% of employees are either "not engaged” or disengaged according to a Gallup employee engagement report, so they might just need a push in the right direction:

Why Great Employees Quit: How to Keep a Good Employee

Follow this process to try to turn things around and improve them:

  1. Make a list of what's not working: What are the real issues?
  2. Focus on the patterns: What's recurring? These are the major issues to address to get to the root causes.
  3. Plan to discuss it in a 1 on 1 with them: Don't bring it up right away. Instead, let them talk about what they want first. Ease into it by...
  4. Ask good probing questions: During the 1 on 1, ask them how they're doing and how they feel about their work. Try and get them to open up to see if there's a cause you may be unaware of.
  5. Transition to feedback: Ideally, you'll transition here into the issue topic smoothly without making it seem obvious. Offer your feedback. 
  6. Plan clear next steps: Now that it's out in the open, establish next steps with them to handle the issue. 
  7. Keep going: Do this for any other issues until they've either improved or clearly aren't going to change.

After putting in this kind of effort, you've done everything you can to try to help them get better. You then also have a record of your efforts over a few months that you can then take to HR if you have to.

As you do this, keep in mind you're not just saving 1 employee; you're potentially relieving your entire team who is frustrated by them. The last thing you want to do is to keep the bad employee *and* lose a great employee instead.

Further Reading:

Why Great Employees Quit: How to Keep a Good Employee

8) Keeping high performing assholes.

In a report from Harvard Business School, Michael Housman and Dylan Minor broke down the real cost of assholes or toxic employees:

"In comparing the two costs, even if a firm could replace an average worker with one who performs in the top 1%; it would still be better off by replacing a toxic worker with an average worker by more than two-to-one."

Toxic employees don't just underperform compared to a great employee in the long run, they bring the entire team down with them. 

A good employee sees this and feels it first-hand. After a while, they can't take it anymore, and seeing that you apparently don't mind having an asshole around, they may decide to leave. 

What to do instead: 

Get rid of those toxic team members– don't try to make these ones work.

Even if the employee is high-performing, they have to go, because of the negative impact they have on the rest of the team. Unfortunately, even if their numbers seem great, they're still a net negative in terms of the they have on the rest of your team. They have to either reform their ways, or leave.

When they leave, the performance of everyone on the team will improve by their absence, so there's really only one thing to do: let them go and reap the benefits.

Don't let an asshole by why good employees quit your team.

Further Reading:

  • Your team can become disengaged quickly when they feel like things important to them are beyond their control, so it's important you learn about learned helplessness and its impact on employees. Otherwise, that's a huge reason why good employees quit.
Why Great Employees Quit: How to Keep a Good Employee

9) Not aligning their work with their goals

Do you know what the goals of your team members are? Does at least some of their work put them in line to accomplish those goals? Are they growing? 

If an employee isn't achieving their goals, they'll feel stifled and likely grow bored with their job. 

In fact, Millennials say that growth opportunities are their #1 most valued benefit according to Mary Meeker's Internet Trends report:

why great employees quit - not getting the growth they want

When a person's job doesn't help them achieve their goals, they'll be motivated to look to another job to provide that step up. You then miss out on the knowledge they've built up at your company, and a hungry, employee eager who will want to continue to learn, grow, and add value to your team.

What to do instead: 

Have conversations about your employee's goals in your 1 on 1s and work on implementing a plan for their professional growth

Work to align parts of their job with these goals and make them feel like there's a plan to help them get there over time. If they feel that sense of progress, even if it's slow, they'll be far more motivated, engaged, and likely to stick around.

Further Reading:

Stop asking yourself, "Why do good employees leave my company?" and focus on their growth with the help of these posts:

Toxic manager may be the reason why great employees quit.