Keeping Valued Team Members

Restoring Commitment to Prevent Resignations

Be alert for signs of unhappiness.

© iStockphoto/Samlyn_Studio

Which members of your team would you miss most if they left tomorrow?

And what makes them so valuable?

Chances are, they've been there long enough to know exactly how the organization works. Highly competent at what they do, efficient, organized and with excellent soft skills, they know who to talk to in other departments to solve major problems. As such, they're the "go to people" whenever things get difficult.

When you've got these kind of people around, your team achieves more – not only through their direct contribution, but because they set the standard in attitude, behavior and results for everyone else.

As a manager, you really want to keep these valued players happy, so that your team continues to benefit from their exceptional performance.

But what if you notice signs that some of your leading people may feel that their futures lie elsewhere? If you get to the point where you receive their resignations, your team is likely to be in trouble. Just a few of the consequences are loss of knowledge, disruption, lower collective morale, and the time and effort wasted recruiting and training replacements. All in all, it might take months – or years – to rebuild your team.

Understanding how to handle this sort of situation, or even better, being able to avoid it happening in the first place, is critical to keeping valued team members happy, effective and engaged.

This article helps you to recognize and avoid the issues that might push a team member to leave. Use our step-by-step approach to help avoid potential pitfalls, so that you can continue to get the best from your team's star players.

Step 1: Identify the Warning Signs

The sooner that you detect that someone might be thinking of leaving, the better chance you have of changing their mind. This is why you should always be on the look-out for significant changes in the behavior of your members of your team.

The kind of signs that you might need to be concerned about include:

  • Impatience, either with people or tasks.
  • Disengagement from the team, perhaps by being "absent" mentally, or using increased sick leave.
  • The venting of negative feelings in "water cooler conversations".

Be aware that any change in behavior may be significant when it comes to making sure that valued team members are happy. In some cases, a seemingly positive change may be just as much of a warning sign as an obviously negative one. For example, a team member whose productivity suddenly increases may perhaps see this as a way of impressing a potential new boss in another department, or she may be anxious to leave with a clear desk and conscience.

Similarly, a colleague who used to stay focused on his work, but who begins to chat at colleagues' desks, may be avoiding doing work that he no longer enjoys.

There's no need to become cynical about such changes, but do consider them in the context of that team-member's performance and behavior. Then you can decide the best way to sustain that person's contribution to the team.

Tip:

There are particular times in the calendar year when you need to be especially alert to changes in people's attitudes. When people have longer periods away from their jobs, such as during summer or end of year vacations, they may be prompted to rethink their situation.

Such "moments of truth" can also occur at the signing-off of long projects, or even at the end of the financial year. Team members who’ve been in their role for some time may feel a responsibility, or even a moral obligation, to make a move only when one activity is finished and the next hasn’t yet started.

Step 2: Understand Possible Problems

Of course, it can often be difficult to link the symptoms of unhappiness with their underlying causes. For example, one team member may withdraw from office chit-chat because she feels overworked. Another with the same problem – feeling overworked – might take refuge in muttered discussions at the coffee machine.

However, there are several tools that can help you understand why someone might want to leave a job.

  • Herzberg's Motivators and Hygiene Factors  

    According to influential researcher, Frederick Herzberg, people become dissatisfied with their jobs when certain "hygiene factors" are not being fully provided.

    Salary is traditionally given as an example of a job hygiene factor. However, in an economic climate where people's pay expectations have decreased, other hygiene factors – such as good relationships with supervisors – will often be more important.

    Herzberg's model also states that, even when there are no hygiene factor problems causing a team member to be dissatisfied with their job, they won't necessarily be satisfied with their work. To experience job satisfaction, "motivating factors" need to be in place. Typical motivators are the content of work itself, recognition of effort, and the availability of growth opportunities.

    Often the reasons for a valued team member "wanting out" involve a combination of inadequate hygiene factors and missing motivators, so make sure that you consider both when looking for early warning signs that someone might be considering leaving.

  • Expectancy Theory  

    This states that people are motivated to work harder when they feel that the effort they put in will lead to a certain performance level, and that this performance level will, in turn, lead to a desirable outcome.

    So, when you're considering someone who appears to be de-motivated, look for situations in which that link between effort and outcome has been broken. Was a project they were working on cancelled just before implementation, for example? Are results no better, despite the team member working hard to implement new initiatives? Or has the bonus pot been slashed?

Tip:

Although this step involves "guessing" what the problem is, when it would clearly be more efficient to ask this straight out, it helps to spend a little time up front to consider what might be going on: this gives you the opportunity to prepare responses. Time is often of the essence in fending off a resignation – especially if the person involved is already interviewing elsewhere. You want to avoid having to say "I see, well, let me go away and think about how I can help with that, and we'll talk again next week."

Step 3: Talk to Your Team Member

Once you've thought about what the issues might be, it's time to have a friendly chat with your team member to see if anything's troubling him or her. Use informal, open questions  , in a private, one-to-one session.

Sometimes all it takes is a question like "How's it going?" or "How do you feel about project X?" to get the person to open up. Make sure that you listen carefully, and that you both have enough time for everything that needs to be said.

Step 4: Fixing the Issue

Work on a plan to improve the situation together.

Depending on the situation, you should be able to find some helpful suggestions in Mind Tools articles like Dealing with Poor Performance   and Re-engaging Team Members  .

Try to find a solution which plays to your valued team member's particular strengths. This can often be more profitable for both the person and the organization than focusing on eradicating weaknesses in performance. Using the Reflected Best Self™ Exercise   is a good way to help team members define exactly what their strengths are, helping them to go even further with their current job.

Prevention is Better Than Cure

In the long term, remember that there are a number of things you should be doing on an ongoing basis to keep people engaged, productive and happy. These include:

Tip:

At the end of the day, you need to accept that there will be some factors that you just can't influence. For example, a team member may wish to work in another city or country for personal reasons. Or someone may accept a career promotion, which means a move to a different part of the organization, because your department simply can't offer a similar opportunity right now.

Understanding that these kinds of factor do exist, and that you can't do anything about them, will help you manage these departures so that they minimize the impact on other key players. Explain the situation to your team, and use the methods outlined in this article to keep the rest of your valued team members on board.

Key Points

Keeping valued team members means not only maintaining the right work environment, but also being sensitive to signs of change. You can avoid resignations by paying attention to factors like team trust and job satisfaction. By appropriate monitoring of changes in employees' behavior, and careful analysis of the possible causes, you can handle problems with less effort and more success.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Click here for more, subscribe to our free newsletter, or become a member for just $1.

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