30 August 2018 | 7 min read

Why do good employees leave?

Good employees are usually the first ones to leave. The bad employees are the ones you need to lay off or fire or get rid of somehow. So, why do they leave?


They leave because of one or more of the following reasons:

  1. Being underpaid - As an extreme example, an about-to-graduate PhD student that I worked with was offered 67k over the phone. He was ecstatic but when he told his advisor, the advisor told him to call them back and tell them 167k. He was shocked but did as told and the hiring manager agreed on the spot!
    I wonder how high the manager was willing to go.

  2. Being unappreciated - I know someone who was treated like a leper by the CEO of a startup. This guy was employee. After working there for 3 years, he quit. The company ended up hiring 5 people (including me) to do his job. The CEO was replaced soon afterwards.
  3. Working on useless stuff - As an engineer, it is very frustrating to work on something that everyone knows would never be used. Even more so when you work crazy hours on it.

  4. Horrible company brand - There are many companies that have a poor reputation amongst employers. I used to work at such a company. I didn’t think the reputation was that bad. Then I had lunch with an ex-boss and he told me that he had gotten 100 resumes of engineers from my company and each one was a dud. He then said “Everyone told me NEVER to hire from your company and now I have 300 hours of wasted time to teach me the lesson”. I started looking that afternoon.

  5. Stingy - Worked at a startup for a year where the furniture was atrocious, the laptop was cutting edge from 7 years before, the sole bathroom had problems every month (we would go to the nearest McD or Starbucks). Forget about training, books, tools etc.

  6. Culture - There are places where people work collaboratively, smile a lot and, regardless of stress, have positive feelings towards each other. Then there are places where none of it is true in the best of times.

  7. Bad managers - Employees leave managers more than they do a company. In the tech world there is a shortage of good managers, ones who can put people first, work on their teams’ and employees’ success and make it their own success whilst still contributing their mite with technical input and skills. Even good managers occasionally do not engage their employees often enough.

  8. The management doesn’t care -Plenty of employees are miffed by toxic leadership and bosses who do not show empathy. This means leadership that is all too eager to share the credits but takes a step back when something goes wrong and tries to put the blame on one employee. The sad part is that, this may not even directly be happening to the employee who is leaving, but even if it happens to someone they know, the impact is strong.

  9. Job profile and future are unclear - Many times when a person is hired for a role, the job description feels perfect but the corporate realities of the role change with interactions within the company, and at times business conditions change. All these bring in an element of confusion and insecurity among the ranks and a well performing employee may feel that their future ahead is unclear.

    At this point, the only way to solve for this situation is to take time out and have regular ‘coaching’ sessions and also assign mentors to good employees who may help them bring clarity to their roles. A good tactic often used (and that works well) is to make a job profile flexible for an employee and allow them to craft out their role according to how they see it. This can then be discussed between the reporting management and the employee to come up with a career plan. It is also important to keep a goals dashboard and agree on it, so that the employee is aware of what they’re working for to avoid unpleasant year end bonus conversations.
  10. They Hire and Promote the Wrong People - Good, hard-working employees want to work with like-minded professionals. When managers don’t do the hard work of hiring good people, it’s a major demotivator for those stuck working alongside them. Promoting the wrong people is even worse. When you work your tail off only to get passed over for a promotion that’s given to someone who glad-handed their way to the top, it’s a massive insult. No wonder it makes good people leave.
  11. Low inspiration - What inspires you may not be the same as the next person. I worked with a designer once who said, the lack of music in the office environment bothered him. Everyone has their own ways of finding their work inspiration and defining work processes that work the best for them. The key here is to understand motivations: why do they work, what inspires them, what could change their productivity…the key is to take initiative and ask.
  12. They Don’t Let People Pursue Their Passions - Talented employees are passionate. Providing opportunities for them to pursue their passions improves their productivity and job satisfaction. But many managers want people to work within a little box. These managers fear that productivity will decline if they let people expand their focus and pursue their passions. This fear is unfounded. Studies show that people who are able to pursue their passions at work experience flow, a euphoric state of mind that is five times more productive than the norm.
  13. Poor work-life balance - This one is perhaps not a hard one to explain. There is research to show that many good employees may get ‘burnt-out’ and start feeling dissatisfied if they get no breaks. It is unsustainable to work consistently at over 80% productivity. There is a reason why big firms like Google and others allow their employees to unwind even on campus. Creativity levels are likely to go up when the employee does not feel over-worked

If you want your best people to stay, you need to think carefully about how you treat them. While good employees are as tough as nails, their talent gives them an abundance of options. You need to make them want to work for you.

Robbi Nespu | Career, Motivation, Personal

Discussion and feedback