August 8, 2019

Why Top Talent Leaves Your Organization (and How to Prevent It)


Managers often blame the “Millennial Syndrome” for high salary expectations and an increase in employee attrition. Some supervisors even believe that job loyalty is dead and that there’s little—if anything—they can do to engage top talent and improve employee retention in the long term.

Surprisingly enough, research from Gallup unveils that, in most cases, voluntary turnover is rooted in circumstances managers can (and should) influence; here is a rundown of employees’ responses on job-related reasons for leaving the organization:

  • Career advancement or promotional opportunities (32%)
  • Pay/benefits (22%)
  • Lack of fit to job (20%)
  • Management or the general work environment (17%)
  • Flexibility/scheduling (8%)
  • Job security (2%)

Additionally, more than half of the respondents stated that their manager or organization had a chance to stop them from leaving.

These findings show that there are major communication gaps between employees and supervisors. Example: although pay and benefits are officially the second most common reason for resigning, less than a quarter of employees cite it in the survey. A likely explanation is that employees strive to leave on good terms and therefore hesitate to share their dissatisfaction with their managers and work environment. However, given that employee turnover costs U.S. businesses a trillion dollars, managers need to bite the bullet and proactively address the challenges that hurt employee retention and turn top talent away.

The question isn’t “why” people quit, but whom

A growing body of research has confirmed that the saying “people leave managers, not companies” is more than just a phrase. According to a recent study by Gallup, “managers account for at least 70% of variance in employee engagement scores”. The Predictive Index People Management Study shows that 77% of employees with “bad managers” hope to leave the organization soon, compared to only 18% of employees with “great managers.” This staggering data reveals a high level of discontent with the way businesses and teams are being led.

Poor management is detrimental in many ways, but perhaps the most debilitating and discouraging behavior is a manager’s inability to set clear and consistent expectations. This hinders focus, performance level, and the understanding of company goals, so employee engagement is more likely to drop to a point so low that they see resignation as the only viable option.

One of the underlying causes of this common frustration is promotion management. The two most common reasons for earning a promotion to a managerial position are seniority and mastery of a previous role, making the system of moving up the corporate ladder faulty in its core. Leveling up is usually not followed by additional mentoring or a skill development program; employees are expected to seamlessly grow into their new role, although it involves a specific set of skills that most workers didn’t have a chance to cultivate before.

To combat this issue head-on, companies need to provide new managers with sufficient training that delineates how their current role differs from the former one. Many promotees cannot let the operative work go and insist on having a tight grip on every part of the process, instead of directing their staff to be self-sufficient and helping them advance. Although some new managers will progress naturally, it should be expected that most need additional guidance and time to come to terms with their new position in the company.

Why top talent shouldn’t be the bottom priority

When speaking about employee retention, supervisors are often more concerned about disengaged individuals than top performers. With their output and the quality of work up to par, managers are quick to assume these diligent employees are enthusiastic and loyal, so they fail to notice signs of dissatisfaction.

In fact, top talent is just as likely to leave as the actively disengaged employees. Due to their ambition and high expectations of their workplace, your best employees will quickly get disheartened if they don’t get the opportunity to challenge themselves and take on business-critical projects. Moreover, nurturing their motivation is not only an engagement boost, but it improves the company’s bottom line as well. Continuously pushing these staff members to grow further gives them a chance to become a “triple threat”—combining talent, engagement, and tenure, the top indicators of high performance. Given that top performers deliver 18% better than the average employee, it is highly valuable for managers to invest in these individuals.


Even though employee turnover cannot be entirely eliminated, it can be curbed if managers and supervisors gain an understanding of the issue and combat it strategically. Company loyalty is no longer a given—it’s earned by recognizing employees’ needs and nurturing their potential. After all, these people are proving their worth day in, day out—it’s your organization’s turn.