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Losing A Great Employee (& How to Avoid Losing More)

By Angie Joens

It is so difficult to lose something of value—a favorite necklace, earrings your grandmother gave you, a report you were working on all day that is accidentally erased or filed somewhere safe and now you can’t find it. OK—maybe that last one only happens to me.

This thought about loss is very top of mind for me these days because one of my most favorite employees (and humans) just told me she accepted another job offer. It was a great opportunity for her to continue to grow professionally and for a higher salary. I am happy for her—of course—but losing a great employee is always a tough blow.

It is difficult for her team—they will miss her. It is difficult because the work she did will not get done in the same timeframe with the same efficiency. It is difficult because finding a replacement takes time and is expensive. According to a study done by the Society for Human Resource Management, when an employee leaves, it costs an average of 6-9 months of your former employee’s salary to identify and onboard their replacement.

These are all real issues when losing a valued employee, but for me, as a manager, I also take an introspective approach and ask myself some tough questions. Did she leave because she was ready, was it for personal reasons, or did she leave because she could not see her future here?

There are many reasons why an employee leaves and almost always it is because they do not feel valued, trusted, or respected. And why is that? We often find it is because their manager does not know them.

As managers, we play a major role in ensuring each employee has a meaningful job. It is up to us to know what drives them to do their best work. We need to understand what they value most. We need to find their secret talents and give them more work that plays to these strengths. We also need to help them find a career path that aligns with their strengths. We cannot forget to stop and check-in regularly to make sure they are happy.

There are many ways to measure satisfaction like surveying your employees. Surveys can be great to identify trends or common themes, but personally, I like to know what each person thinks. Our employees are individuals, and in my 30 plus years of managing people—my experience is that no two employees are alike. They are amazing snowflakes. This makes our work as managers more complicated, but also keeps it interesting.

The bottom line is that it is important to build a strong relationship with each employee. If not, we run the risk of losing them. It is just like our work in donor relations—today’s market is competitive, and our donors and employees have options. So, engage your employees. Look for their strengths. Give them projects that play to those strengths. Discuss their future and commit to giving them the experience and knowledge they need to grow.

As for that employee I mentioned earlier—she was promoted to another role within our organization. It was time for her to move up and take on new responsibilities that play to her strengths. I’m thrilled for her but a little sad too—mostly for selfish reasons. Losing someone you put a lot of time and energy into may be tough but knowing they are off to do even greater things—well that feels like a pretty big win to me!

This post was written by Angie Joens, DRG Group consultant and educator, and the Assistant Vice Chancellor of Development Outreach at the University of California Davis.


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