‘Please don’t leave’

One of your top employees is quitting ─ how can you entice them to stay?

‘Please don’t leave’

All too often, HR or management is faced with an employee who announces they have found a job elsewhere. And when the departing individual is one of your top employees, it’s just bad news.

But all is not lost ─ there are several steps employers can take to try an entice the person to change their mind. And if all else fails, a friendly separation is always preferred.

What exactly are they looking for?

To start, you want to get in front of it, says Gary Hinde, a partner at IQ Partners in Toronto.

“You want to be a part of the solution, find out what's driving the decision, what's missing, and try to address those in a very empathetic way,” he says. “Candidates have options these days, and the power has really shifted over, so you want to be a part of the solution. And if there is anything that's missing, you want to try to address that.”

It’s about having a conversation and asking if there's anything that the organization can do to retain the employee, says Emily Siu, a lawyer at Spring Law in Toronto.

“Then the employer can really consider whether the employer has something to offer that can get the employee to stay. So considering things like the capacity of the business, and then the interest of the business… just trying to have an open dialogue with the employee in order to figure out if there's some sort of middle ground, something that the employee can do to make them stay.”

There may be elements that were not overtly expressed to the employer, she says, so it’s about having an open dialogue, getting a sense of what it is that the employee might be willing to accept to hopefully get the employee to stay.

Does a pay raise make sense?

If the unhappy employee is just looking to earn more money, that’s almost a best case scenario, says Hinde. “That's a relatively easy fix.”

But any compensation increases have to be genuine.

“Throwing money at a problem rarely fixes things. And, let's face it, at the end of the day, with taxes, even a 5K bump… is going to be negligible on a paycheck. So, it isn't always the best solution, but is a gesture, more than anything,” he says.

“I'd probably recommend that that's a temporary fix though. If somebody has it in their mind [to go]… and there’s an extra $20 every week, they're probably still going to leave eventually.”

And if an outright bump in salary isn’t practical, the employer could pave the way by suggesting other ways to earn more money, says Hinde. For example: “How about this, if you were to set on a course to move ahead in your career, and move up, that would earn you more money.’ So, again, be a part of the overall bigger picture and the solution.”

Career progression, training

Providing guidance or support around the person’s career trajectory could also entice them to stay if that's a key reason that they're leaving, he says.

“’What's missing right now for you? What can I do to help?’ would be the two things that I would bring up. ‘How can we get you to where you want to be? And what would that look like?’ So again, being a part of the solution, but really having them explain to you what it is that they're looking for.”

A lot of people are looking to get into leadership or management, they just don't know where to start, he says.

“Quite often, a good conversation with an individual like this might be ‘What if you were to build a team around you? What would happen if I helped you become an active manager?’ that type of thing. There may even be a more junior employee that would benefit from working for this individual.”

And sometimes even a lateral move will make the difference, says Hinde.

“Sometimes it's just [about] a change… ‘Maybe you just don't enjoy working on my team? And that's fine, I'm a big person, I can accept that. Would you like working on Jane's team?’ Or maybe there's a move internally that would take the individual?”

Training considerations

In addition, for key employees who might be at the later stages of their career, and at a high level in the company, offering some sort of educational bonus as part of the offering could be attractive to them in the area of professional development and training, says Siu.

“Having a stipend for that could be something that is helpful or hiring a coach and having the company agree to that.”

Mentorships could also appeal to top talent in the later stages of their career, she says.

“They might also be looking to mentor other employees… once they start doing that, they might feel like this is something that they really enjoy and feeling like they can make a positive impact, can be a bit of a boost and make them feel valuable. [It’s about] genuinely allowing them to share their expertise and perspective based on their talents and interests.”

But there’s a fine line when you suddenly make that kind of offer, says Hinde.

“The employee might turn to you and say, ‘Well, why haven't you been doing that? I've been here for three years and now you're saying that you want to do a one-on-one mentoring session...’”

Make people feel valued

Often, employees feel like their work or contributions aren't valued, or they're not respected enough, so they look for alternate employment. In that case, employers have to step up and make that person feel important in their role, says Siu.

“Sometimes, that may be underestimated by employers when they're looking at the bigger picture about the business picture, but the small little pieces ─ such as recognizing employees, contributions, and efforts ─ really do matter as well.”

But it’s not to make these gestures in some sort of forced or contrived way, she says, “because if you offer something that isn't really appropriate or is just something that is a little bit performative, then the employee can probably see through that. And other employees might be able to see through that as well.”

Exit interviews

If all else fails and the employee is determined to leave, there are the usual legal consideration to consider, such as employment contracts and resignation notice periods, along with confidentiality and restrictive covenants, says Siu.

But to keep things cordial, employers may also want to consider an exit interview to probe a little deeper about an employee’s reason for leaving, she sys.

“Having an exit interview with the employee can really be helpful for the employer, just to get the feedback. Because it might flag issues that upper management might not be aware of, and maybe the employee is leaving for a bigger institutional reason, some sort of issue that they have with the company as a whole, and the company might not be aware of that. So having an exit interview could [also] be very useful in preserving other employees who currently work there or incoming.”

There are some people who see a downside to this approach and question their credibility, says Hinde.

“[The concern is] that people will just either tell you exactly what you want to hear, because they want to get out of there, or they will be very jaded if they haven't had a good experience and use it as a time to basically bad mouth [someone]. It's a ‘What do I have to lose?’ kind of mindset: ‘I can tell you whatever I want right now.’”

But Hinde says he is in favour of the exit interview.

“I personally feel that they're a good thing to do, if for no other reason than you're exiting somebody in a very professional manner. And you're probably going to find something out ─ maybe even things that you don't want to hear ─ about yourself or your management style, but it's still a good thing.”

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