People: Why do good people leave, how can a business motivate them to stay?

Tips on nurturing and retaining your biggest asset, your best people – from the 2017 series of Threads discussions.

Discussion host: Andrew Gifford, MD/founder and tech recruiter at techfolk.


The cost of a good engineer leaving the business is typically six months’ salary. Double that for a management level colleague.

Stay mindful that your business contains really important people at all levels. Recognise their individual contributions and take steps to keep them onboard.

Why people leave companies

There are three main reasons why staff leave: lack of interesting work, lack of career/personal progression, and issues with their immediate manager.

Don’t blindly accept industry staff attrition rates. Some firms, with the right culture, will be seeing significantly fewer people leaving.

Employers who view people as a unit which can be treated as a whole or, worse – simply as bodies – risk poor morale and high attrition rates. Any team is a collection of individuals – so treat them that way.

Acquisitions tend to focus on the numbers rather than on the culture, which can often break the culture that underlies the acquired business’s success.

Addressing staff frustrations

It’s often the simple, easily remedied, things that erode satisfaction at work. Encourage your managers to notice these things, and empower them to make change. 

For engineers, becoming stale is a key concern, on a par with with burnout from overload. Take care to allocate work accordingly.

It’s perfectly acceptable for your best engineers to be paid more than their managers. Recognise the value they generate and reward accordingly.

Don’t chase the wealthiest or most dominant firms on salary terms alone, compete on your own culture.

Preventing staff attrition early

Don’t underestimate the fluffier, more instinctive, approaches to staying in touch with staff views and aspirations, achieved by investing just a few quality moments with individuals regularly.

Encourage your managers to remain in touch with the person behind the employee – life goals, learning aspirations, what they’d like to do in parallel, or next.

It’s often a few ‘bad apples’ who pollute the desired culture. They may be doing a good job, but undermine team spirit with poor attitudes and beliefs. Talk with them asap, listen to their frustrations and aims, address what you can and give space to re-engage. Take decisive action if necessary.

Flexible company structure

A looser company structure opens opportunities for staff to try new things, to expand, and to fulfil their professional development. It can also avoid divisions forming within the business.

Create career paths focused around technical excellence that don’t automatically lead to a management position. Leaders take many forms, and not everyone wants to work through others.

Giving engineers visibility of the longer term strategy aids productivity as they can better understand the purpose, mission and context.

The counter job offer

Even when people accept a counter offer to stay, they often leave anyway within a short period of time. It’s best to accept that a counter offer will probably just buy you a few months to mitigate their eventual departure.

Published by Andrew Gifford

Co-organiser of Threads South West. Founder/MD and people person at techfolk. Interested in the people aspects of running a progressive business.

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