Why Did They Quit?

That hopeless feeling when a key member of your team tells you they have decided to leave. The helpless feeling of being blindsided. A million things race through your mind, mostly “Why?”

We all have, unfortunately, had this experience. As an arborist, I am often called out to meet with people who tell me their tree just died suddenly when, most of the time, we know it’s been dying for a while. The same is true when someone “just” decides to leave. Something has been going on that you were unaware of that led to this decision.

People leave organizations all the time, especially in today’s economy when employers have more jobs than they can possibly fill. The “worker” is in a very powerful position, and businesses are so desperate to hire people that they are doing all sorts of crazy things. We can’t save them all, but you should develop a plan to abate this.

Developing a plan means a written outline with dates and tangible action items. Every company is different, so you need a strategy you can commit to. Start simple, build momentum and make it your own. Often, we get excited with grand plans but then don’t follow through. If you can’t run around the block, don’t sign up for a marathon. It should start with the basics.

It does not get more basic than simply engaging your people. Speak with them often, formally and informally, as a group and individually. Let them know how important they are. Show them how important they are with good pay, gifts and opportunities for growth. Ask them what they would do if they were you, i.e., “How would you solve this problem? Do you have any suggestions to make us better?” Be sure to frame this so they know that, while you may not implement their ideas, you value their opinion.

People want the opportunity to contribute; they want to be in the loop. This has two great benefits to the organization. The people who do the work often have great ideas because they are closer to the task. More important, it challenges them to think differently while recognizing it’s not easy to be the boss, which in most cases makes people less likely to place blame and more likely to look for solutions.

Make them feel safe so they can tell you what they want in order to be happy. It won’t be easy. People often are afraid to really speak openly to their boss, but you need to be open to their feedback. What they want is not always realistic, but at least having the conversion makes them feel heard and more comfortable. More important, it gives you information and options to develop a plan specific for them.

Too often as “the boss,” we focus on what we want or on what’s wrong with our people. Today’s employee will be a little more needy than those of past generations. That is not bad, it’s just different. We need to adjust our management style not only for them but for the business. As we struggle with this, we often wonder, “Am I settling? Am I weak or simply adjusting to the times?” Unfortunately, there is overwhelming evidence it’s the latter. This does not mean we don’t demand excellence or hold employees accountable. It just means we need to deepen our connection in order to give that feedback.

“Today’s employee will be a little more needy than those of past generations. That is not bad, it’s just different.”

David Anderson

In a time when all businesses are so desperate for help, we need to treat our people like gold. Keep communication lines open by having a formal annual review, but, even more important, check in from time to time. Create ways to put this in your calendar. It can be as simple as a thoughtful text, a copy of an article you know they would like, a gift certificate or some Gatorade on a hot day. Have a realistic plan you can commit to. If it’s not your strength or you don’t have time, delegate the task to someone who has the time and the skill set. Again, it needs to be truthful or it won’t work.

Make the time to strengthen your relationships with your people. Be sincerely interested in them and what they want. As Stephen Covey said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This allows for open communication, which leads to happier and more productive employees.

We all get busy running the business, but without key people there is no business. Instead of wondering why they leave, know why they stay.

David M. Anderson, Certified Treecare Safety Professional (CTSP) and a Massachusetts certified arborist, is a manager with Mayer Tree Service, Inc., a 28-year TCIA member company based in Essex, Massachusetts.

For more insight on employee retention, click here.

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