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How You Can Avoid an Employee Mass Exodus

Don't just assume your employees need to work for you.

This story about a business that's failing is a good example. There are about 50 employees, and many people thought they might be able to turn it around, but the entire production team resigned, one after another. Who knows if they will be able to persuade a couple to stay or if they will truly have to build from scratch, but it's clear this type of mass exodus could have been prevented.

You may not be worried about employee retention. After all, it appears to be an employers' market, with recent layoffs at companies like Nike, Cisco Systems, and Instacart. With all these people hitting the job market, you may think you can just go on your merry way because if people quit you can just replace them. 

It's the wrong approach. It's one thing to have people quit now and then -- and that can be healthy for your business -- but you don't want to be like this business, losing an entire department, and you certainly don't want to lose even one of your top performers. Here are ways to approach retention even when you think you don't need to worry about it.

Employees are more important than customers

This business started struggling financially through no fault of its own. It's a business that caters to high-end English speakers in Basel, Switzerland. The big companies in town are laying off and bringing in fewer expats, reducing the number of potential clients for this business.

As a result, the leadership went into panic mode. They wanted to do whatever they could to keep the limited customers happy. This resulted in doing whatever the customers asked without checking with the production team to find out if it was possible, practical, or even the best thing to do.

The result? A completely overworked team and customers who weren't grateful but became more entitled and demanded more. And, in an unexpected twist, it turned out that the changes the company made to appease the loudest customers weren't the changes the quiet customers wanted, and they saw customers walking away without saying anything first.

You hired your employees because they are experts in their field, and ignoring them while attempting to appease irrational requests from customers was a recipe for a disaster for this business, and it will be a disaster for yours. Sometimes, the customer is wrong, and your highly skilled team can explain why to them and get them what they truly need, even if that wasn't their original request.

Your employees may know your business better than you do

Your company is your baby and like any good parent, you think your baby is the most beautiful baby ever. But your employees are simply babysitters, and they can recognize an ugly baby when they see it.

The employees in this small business brought up problems repeatedly and suggested changes, but the leadership was set that the customer-first focus was the way to success. They ignored the ideas and the expertise of their employees. They didn't listen.

The employees knew, in this case, that the changes wouldn't work. When the leadership team ignored the suggestions, employee engagement took a nosedive.

Your employees want a career, not a job

You need to ask your employees what their career goals look like, and what they want to accomplish. You may assume that you can't provide what people want as a small business or startup. They will just have to move on if there isn't a growth position available for them.

And that may be true in some situations, but you have a bigger advantage in others. You have the flexibility to adjust things. Finding out what your employees want may open your eyes to things that your business could do that you hadn't thought of.

And even if you don't have flexibility and can't meet everyone's desires, asking questions and sincerely listening will improve your retention.

Train your managers (including yourself)

You may be an ideas person. You may be a production person. But are you skilled in management? Many, many people managers have no formal training in managing people.

Bad people managers make for unhappy employees. Everyone can learn to be a better manager, and training can help. There are basic things all managers need to know, like the laws surrounding pay, leaves of absence, and sexual harassment. Then there are skills like how to conduct interviews, how to coach employees, and how to write evaluations. Your managers can learn all of these things if they want to.

Good management will not guarantee that employees will stay forever, but it will help. The saying is that people leave managers, not jobs, and there is some truth to that. If you can invest in proper management training, it will go a long way toward employee happiness and retention.

To have a whole team quit in rapid succession indicates a problem with leadership. If necessary, prevent that from happening to you by training your leadership and changing yourself. (And, if you lack management skills and want to focus on other areas, consider hiring someone to do the day-to-day management while you play to your skills.)

You can't ignore employee retention, even if you think you could hire rapidly. Rapid hiring doesn't mean the new employees are ready to do the job at the same level your current employees can. Even in times when you'll get 100 applications in a day after posting, it doesn't mean you can treat your current employees poorly.


This article was written by Suzanne Lucas from Inc. and was legally licensed through the DiveMarketplace by Industry Dive. Please direct all licensing questions to

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