I was running a leadership workshop recently when a participant came up to me on break and asked me this question:

“My best employee suddenly quit out of the blue! I don’t even know why, he said he was happy… what happened??”

I had bad news for him.

People never quit out of the blue.

You missed the signs, sure, but there were signs. And even if you HAD seen the signs, you may not actually have been able to do anything to prevent it based on your business model, industry, etc… but it would have been good to have had the option hm?


Here the top three reasons I see employees give their boss for why they’re quitting… and what they REALLY meant:


What They Say: I got a better offer (aka higher pay) somewhere else.

What They REALLY Mean: I started job searching because I was feeling taken advantage of - I was giving more than I was getting

Good news for all you Small Business Owners: Money is NOT a motivator. Bad news though… it can be the biggest demotivated. Meaning, if you are paying a team member minimum wage and they’re regularly selling painting more than their rent, or they’re working longer hours and going over and above and not seeing any personal benefits… they’re going to feel taken advantage of. Whether that’s true or not isn’t actually relevant, it’s their belief that you’re taking advantage of them that matters… and that has them updating their resume.


What They Say: It’s not you, it’s the company, I just needed a different job.

What They REALLY Mean: It’s absolutely you. There’s something about your leadership that just didn’t work for me

Here’s the deal with this one, there might be absolutely NOTHING you could have done to prevent it. It may indeed be a weird chemistry thing were they just struggle to feel comfortable with you or have a relationship with you. BUT how great would some feedback have been before it got here so you could try and address it??


What They Say: It’s the best choice for my family, nothing to do with the company

What They REALLY Mean: It’s the best choice for my family… and you couldn’t or wouldn’t offer the support I needed to balance both

Ok this one is tricky because although it’s absolutely true that this other job they’ve found has everything to do with their family, there is likely some kind of flexibility or work life balance that you weren’t offering them that would have kept them around. For example maybe this job is closer to home… but wouldn’t it have been amazing if remote working would have been on the table of options? Or working adjusted hours?

This one isn’t necessarily always possible to adjust depending on your industry… but I’ve seen companies get VERY creative here and figure out a solution.


Here are a few brief ideas on how to prevent it getting to the point of ‘Why did they quit out fo the blue???’:

1. Ask For Feedback

Asking for feedback on your management style is awkward and uncomfortable and a tiny bit scary. But it gives you incredible data to prevent so many hassles and headaches! And this is a REAL request for information, not a ‘So everythings ok right?’ as you pass in the hallway. Find a structure that makes your team member comfortable. Maybe it’s anonymous or in a survey or via a third party like HR or a consultant. Do whatever it takes to get that data so you can decide what to do with it.

2. Foster Strong Relationships At Work

Your team members chatting with each other about the latest HBO about dragons is NOT wasted time (believe it or not). If your team can have strong relationships with each other that will go a HUGE way to increasing their loyalty to the job itself, helping them feel happier when the work itself isn’t always ideal and having someone to talk to about challenges they’re having (including challenges working with you). Obviously if this is coming at the cost of hitting their goals or getting work done then you need to have a grown up conversation asking them to be mindful of still doing their work, but curbing the chatting for the sake of it is a HUGE mistake. Huge.

3. Conduct Stay Interviews

So many companies are more than happy to ask people all kinds of questions about what works and what doesn’t for them AFTER they have already quit… what about before?? Regularly checking in with your team members with a structured interview about what they like, what they don’t like and what they would change about their work will go a long way to being able to increase retention.

In an ideal world this would be conducted by an objective person, like your HR team or a hired Consultant, but you asking these questions or putting them out in survey form is still a great prevention exercise.


Agree? Disagree? Comment or drop me an email at jess@lightupwork.com to continue this chat!

Want one-to-one help with this?? I’m taking on a few short term summer clients (which I normally NEVER do) at a discounted rate to help prep everyone for the big goals still left for the rest of the year! If you’re curious get in touch and let’s chat…

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