Great Employees Would Rather Quit Than Tell You How Unhappy They Are

Joe Weinlick
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Anyone who's worked as a manager for a few years understands the crushing feeling of losing a great employee. Whether you received fair warning or a last-minute email, a resignation notice can spark a range of emotions, from anger to utter confusion. Employees are reluctant to discuss their needs when power dynamics in the workplace hinder open communication. To understand why employees quit, consider how your leadership sets the tone for work relationships.

When a great employee quits, the first question on your mind is, "What went wrong?" Did you ignore the signs of an unhappy employee or unintentionally create a poor work environment? Maybe the employee wants to pursue a different industry or simply doesn't feel challenged in the current role. The unfortunate truth is you might never get a direct answer. Great employees are more likely to maintain good performance right up to their last day. If you don't hear complaints or see a change in behavior, it's easy to assume all is well with your team.

As a manager, you might feel resentful and entitled to an explanation when great employees don't give any indication they're job hunting. But try looking at the situation from an employee's perspective. No matter how good your relationship seems on the surface, workers don't know if you're going to be supportive or vengeful when they're ready to move on.

Choosing to look for a new job is a personal matter, which workers aren't obligated to share with employers. Instead of blaming people for leaving, reflect on the reasons why others are uncomfortable telling you the truth. Do you show great employees how valuable they are to you? Does your company provide competitive pay rates and fair promotions? Do you give recognition for exceptional work and offer opportunities for your team to grow? Do you react positively to employee feedback or reject any idea that isn't yours? Do you advocate for your team or pander to upper management?

The boss has all the power in the manager-employee relationship. Employees have no incentive to keep you in the loop if you take people for granted or build an environment based on fear and distrust. Leaving is often the only way employees believe they can regain fulfillment and autonomy in their jobs. Looking back, you may even recognize warning signs that an employee was planning to quit. Maybe your employee tried to ask for more responsibility or got tired of waiting for an elusive promotion. Whatever the case, use these experiences to think about how you can improve transparency on your team and keep great employees engaged in their jobs.

Don't assume a great employee is loyal to the company, especially if you aren't making an ongoing effort to communicate, listen to feedback and reward good work. Talk to your team about common reasons why employees quit, so you can come up with proactive ways to solve problems. If you've ever lost a great employee unexpectedly, what advice can you offer to help managers build stronger team relationships? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Photo courtesy of Sharon Sinclair at


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