Stop Trying to Keep Your Employees

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Partner & CEO
Sep 26, 2017

I was at a St Louis Blues hockey game when my friend (a VP of HR at an International Corporation) lamented the loss of several key web engineers in one of their business groups.

“We struggle to find these folks,” he said “and when we hire them, they leave after only a few years. How do you keep your employees from leaving?”

“That’s easy,” I replied. “We don’t try to keep them. We celebrate 30% turnover every year.”

His expression suggested he thought I was joking. In fact, I was quite serious. I support any program to enhance a work environment to increase the happiness, health, personal and professional growth of every team member, but totally reject any activity designed to “retain” them.

First things first. It’s not about you.

I know it’s expensive to recruit and hire new people, but this is the cost of doing business in today’s free agent world and frankly no one cares. The members of your team are being asked to make as much awesome as humanly possible for as long as they wish. This could be twenty years. It could be two. It’s up to them.

When they want something new, a change of scenery or decide to pick up competitive surfing, your company needs to be OK with it and be supportive.

Celebrate it all.

When someone new joins the team, we celebrate the new addition of talent. When someone leaves, we celebrate all the great work they did and thank them for their hard work. This is critical to creating an open culture where everyone can be honest about their personal passions and goals. Don’t forget, how you end a relationship is often far more telling than anything else.

No guilt.

It’s common for managers to be lazy, ignore the signs that someone is disengaging and wait until they break something important or miss a major deliverable before firing them. For some reason, people think a breakup has to be a negative experience. If both employee and manager are proactive, honest and open, you can talk about the issues and fix them together or go separate ways early as friends.

You never want someone to stay longer than they want to.

When someone is in the job they love, their work is unbelievable. When they fall out of love with that job, their work is terrible. As an employer, it’s your our duty to help everyone be their best, even if that isn’t at your firm.

No artificial hooks or incentives.

No vesting schedules for 401k, increasing vacation time, growing perks and compensation IF you stay longer. Everything should be level, transparent, immediate and based on work merit alone. Trapping smart people in a job they no longer like results in horrible work product and is a total waste of that person’s time.

So, this means employers shouldn’t care anymore?

ABSOLUTELY NOT. This is not a call to ignore your team, this is a call to care far more. Stop thinking about keeping people around longer because recruiting is expensive and not fun, and openly discuss with each individual what is best for them. Maybe you should help alter their position, move them to a new project, train them on a new technology or get them a job at the gaming startup down the street.

Again, this isn’t about you – it’s about each person making the most of their time on this planet. Excellence follows passion, and a passionate workforce requires an open, honest and transparent employment relationship.

If you are looking for retention answers, change your question. Start asking, “How can we thrive with 30% turnover every year?” LinkedIn Premium Insights shows Facebook’s average employee tenure is 2.4 years, Amazon’s is 2.8 and Google’s 3.9. You can blame this new reality on a highly competitive marketplace or those cheeky millennials, but ultimately the cause of increased employee job hopping is irrelevant.

It’s our new normal.

Embrace it, bake it into your team culture and prepare for it with redundancy, documentation and process. For both employers and employees, change is healthy, constant and inevitable.

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