Jessie has had a bad year. Between health issues, family issues and work-related issues, she's feeling out of her element. The work she used to be able to do regularly now seems like a giant mountain. She gets no joy and no fulfilment from it anymore. She also feels as though she is no longer performing as well as she used to. She decides to discuss it with her boss.
"I saw on the job board that another department needs to fill a position that I have the skills to do, and I think that it's a job I could do well and that I would enjoy."
"But," says her boss, "I can't let you go to that department. You are needed here and we're already understaffed. I really need all the people I have."
"All right," replies Jessie. "May I have some unpaid leave, then? I need a break to get my energy back, get my head straight in order to contribute."
"As I said Jessie, we really need everyone on board. I can't give you any more time off, I'm sorry."
"So am I," concluded Jessie. "I quit."
This vignette is based on a true story-well, more than one true story actually. It's not an uncommon situation by any stretch of the imagination. I regularly hear from people who are ready to leave their company as soon as they find something better. In many cases, the bosses' saving grace is that the law of inertia works in their favour: employees are so entrenched in their ways that it takes more effort for them to walk away than to just stay where they are and complain.
However, some employees-usually the best ones-will make that effort and walk away without looking back. Once they've made up their mind, there usually isn't anything their bosses can do to make them change their minds. These bosses then face a more difficult situation than they did before. What are the chances that you, as the superior of an employee, are inadvertently pushing them to the door? Answering a few questions may give you an idea.
Do you know your employees' medium- and long-term goals?
Do your employees have a future in your company?
Do they know what that future can look like?
Do you discuss your employees' future within the company?
Do you discuss it with your superiors?
Do you discuss it with the employee?
Do you establish career plans with your employees?
Do you feel it is primarily your responsibility, rather than HR's?
Do you have a formal training plan to get the employee from where they are to where they want to be?
Do you have measures and incentives in place to keep the best employees happy and willing to stay with the company to build their future?
I think many employers have given up on building long term career plans with employees, because they feel that loyalty is on the decline. That may be the case, but I think it's mainly a by-product of savage downsizing in the past. Many employees may now feel that jumping from one company to another is better for their career than staying in a single company. I think the opposite is true: when employees are happy and fulfilled in the workplace, they perform better and are unwilling to go through the travails of searching for a new position elsewhere. However, this happens only if the employer clearly demonstrates to the employees, through word and deed, that they value each employee's unique individual contribution to the company's success.
All good employees have a desire to feel needed and appreciated for the work they do. It's just human nature.
I think Jessie was a good employee, but her boss didn't seem to think so. Now he's lost her and he may be worse off than before. As for Jessie, she's getting a head start on a passion that she had planned to pursue only ten to fifteen years from now.
If you had been Jessie's boss, would she still be working for you?