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Why Top-Performing Employees Leave—And What You Can Do About It

13 July 2021

5 Min Read


If you’re in the field of human resources management, you’ve probably faced the following scenario: one of your best, top-performing employees submits their two weeks’ notice.

You feel blindsided. You didn’t know that they were unhappy, or that they were actively seeking other employment opportunities. You’ve just lost one of your best workers. Why?

That’s a great question—and one we’ll answer in this article. We’ll discuss why top-performing workers often leave, and what you can do to prevent “brain drain” at your business. Let’s begin.

Why top-performing employees leave

1. You’re not paying them enough money

Okay, this one is pretty simple to understand. Money isn’t everything, but it is a big thing. If you don’t compensate a top-performing employee appropriately, chances are that they will find another company that will.

Job-hopping is very common in the modern business world, and especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the course of their career, an employee can expect to change jobs up to 12-15 times. And this number is even higher for younger workers. Staying at a job for only a year or two is no longer a stigma, people expect it!

If an employee can find a competitor who will give them a better salary, there’s not a lot you can do about that. However, you can take steps to boost employee engagement and ensure that they can always talk about their compensation.

If you make it clear that your employees are free to talk to you about getting raises or bonuses, they’re more likely to come to you before they start looking into a job at another company.

2. You’re not challenging them

Top-performing employees have many traits in common, no matter what industry they may be in. They’re passionate, driven, motivated, and hungry. They always want to learn more and they devour corporate training videos and e-learning materials.

So, what happens when they are no longer challenged by their work? The development of employee skills is important, but if an employee begins to feel inadequately challenged, they may become unmotivated and seek a different job.

Again, this can be solved by having an “open door” policy for employees and regularly asking them about how they feel about their current position. If you start to notice them using social media at work, or if they’re on their phones quite a bit, for example, these could be signs that they don’t have enough to do, or that they’re unengaged and would relish a new challenge, like learning a new skill or earning a promotion.

3. They don’t have a clear path for advancement

One of the most common reasons that top-performing employees leave is that they feel like they’ve “peaked” in your company, and there is no clear way for them to continue up the corporate ladder and earn more responsibilities or compensation.

When an employee feels like their career has plateaued, they’re more likely to become disengaged. As a result, the quality of their work may suffer. Even if they are a top performer, they may not see the point in doing more work than they have to because they won’t be rewarded for it.

This problem is best solved during the onboarding process. When you hire a new employee, you should make their path of advancement quite clear, including details about requirements for earning a promotion, a raise, or additional compensation.

By doing so, you can quickly create a culture where employees understand the value of their hard work and how they will be rewarded for “going the extra mile.” In many cases, simply providing a clear path for advancement is enough to retain your top talent.

Speaking of providing clear paths for advancement, you may also want to consider integrating your LMS with your performance management system.

In a recent Software Advice survey report, 5 E-Learning Trends Shaping the Future of Training, Sr. HR Analysts Brian Westfall and Sierra Rogers found that integrating employee training and performance management software systems and data is having a large impact with significant benefits. For instance, “employees can automatically receive personalized e-learning content based on areas of improvement, while managers can observe if training investments are actually improving employee performance.”

And organizations are catching on. In fact, Gartner indicates that 43% of L&D professionals plan to integrate their LMS with their performance management systems—making it the highest planned future adoption rate of any LMS feature. Definitely something to consider.

4. Your corporate culture needs improvement

Unfortunately, sometimes employees leave because they don’t like your current corporate culture. This is a difficult problem to deal with, because changing corporate culture requires buy-in from C-suite executives and managers. It also may require a change of corporate policy from the ground up.

Still, you should do your best to encourage a more active and engaged corporate culture. You can take steps such as:

  • Creating more flexible schedules for employees
  • Allowing some employees to work from home
  • An “open door” HR policy that lets employees voice their concerns
  • Encouraging collaboration between different teams and departments
  • Providing a way for anonymous feedback and suggestions from employees
  • Implement more transparent management communication policies

Changing your corporate culture is not easy, but it may be the key to retaining your best workers.

Keep your top-performing employees happy and engaged

It’s not always easy to keep your best workers around, and there’s never any guarantee that they’ll stay with your company for the long term. But with these simple tips, it’s easier to understand why they may leave, and take steps to prevent this from happening.

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