Managers: How to Keep Your Superstars

Perhaps you’ve heard the pandemic-born expression, The Great Resignation. In fact, in August 2021, the number of workers who quit their job in a single month broke the all-time U.S. record. As the big quitting (and career pivoting) wave of 2021 indicated, we’re in the midst of a massive shift of power in the marketplace— the employees, rather than the employers, are in the driver’s seat. According to BCW’s International Workforce Study, almost 20% of millennials say they will leave their employer in the next year. How are companies and their leadership dealing with this potential for turnover? Some forward-thinking companies and leaders are thriving, while some traditional companies and leaders are not. What is going on and what can we do about it?!

One of my clients, Sarah, has been a Director of Marketing at her company for the last 3 years. She is an outstanding performer and both her immediate and up-line boss regularly lavish her with praise. She has been doing the same job for the term of her employment there and is ready for additional responsibility. Sarah has shared that she wants to keep learning and growing. Unfortunately, her company has struggled through COVID and it appears that a promotion is not currently an option. The company has identified her as a superstar, however, and offered her a substantial “stay bonus” to keep her from looking at other opportunities. Besides a bonus, what could her company do to encourage her to stay, and what will Sarah ultimately decide to do?

Companies need to understand what it takes to keep their employees happy and engaged in their work, and then do their best to provide it. This maintains high retention rates and creates an optimal hiring environment for open positions. The bottom line is, word gets around on how companies treat their employees. No one accepts a new job without checking the company out on Glassdoor and the best practice is to seek out current and former employees for their feedback, too.

In Sarah’s case, the company leadership is assuming that employees are driven by money. Ironic, since the company has struggled through COVID and yet their reaction is to “throw money at potential problems”. While an additional bonus is nice to have, it isn’t always the top priority for employees, particularly millennials like Sarah. Instead, leaders need to take the time to get to know her better. Discuss what additional training, flexibility, or perks would keep her happy in her role. Successful leaders today have a caring, honest, and empathetic relationship with their employees, and particularly their superstars.

With the current labor market, companies are eager to hire bright, hardworking employees and encourage their staff to make recommendations for new hires, often rewarding them bonuses if a recommendation is hired. While Sarah was not actively looking for a new opportunity, a former colleague contacted her and recommended her for a position at their company. She interviewed and decided to accept the position. The move was lateral but the new company offered more vacation time, an MBA reimbursement program and she felt a real connection with her new boss, someone concerned about her professional development and career path. Ultimately, the additional bonus did not convince Sarah to stay with her current employer, and if her boss had taken the time to get to know her better, and worked with HR on a plan designed for Sarah, she may have stayed.

The takeaway? Managers, you don’t want to lose your Sarahs. Consider what is in your superstar employees’ best interest, for their career both within and beyond your company.

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Kim Martin