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Published:March 18th, 2013 11:51 EST
Why Employees Think the Grass Will Be Greener Elsewhere (And What You Can Do About It

Why Employees Think the Grass Will Be Greener Elsewhere (And What You Can Do About It

By Jay Forte

A recent Workforce Management Magazine article stated 19 million employees, or 13 percent of the workforce, are planning on changing jobs this year. Two thoughts come immediately to mind:


1.      Why do employees want to change jobs?
2.      Why now?

Let`s start with the second question: why now? After the past five years of recession-related working conditions (i.e., reduced staff numbers, employees expected to do more with less, fewer rewards, little or no pay increases, little or no development for job improvement), employees are tired with the way things are. Though they may understand this happens in a recession, there is an innate need to seek out better conditions.

Abraham Maslow illustrates this in his Hierarchy of Needs. When our fundamental needs (physiological, food, safety) are not met, we are fixated on improving them. But this also means we`re distracted, in a way, focused on finding ways to improve our situations before we can advance to self-actualization (great performance). And if we are unable to make any change or improvement, we move. We seek out other places. The slight improvements we`ve seen in the economy has been just enough to empower today`s workforce to think they may find something better out there, and they think it will be worth the effort. After all, the grass is always greener, right?

So this gets to the real reason why employees want to change jobs - beliefs: they no longer believe management is leading effectively. They no longer believe in the mission, or the work, or the people. Employees change jobs because they don`t have the confidence that their management can make things right for them. Before your teams head out to search for greener grass, win them back. Show them your company and you, as managers, are the best. Here are some suggestions to do this successfully:

1. Increase the communication about everything. When times are difficult, many managers feel that sharing the difficulties will be a sign of weakness or ineffectiveness. But sharing this information lets employees have context on what`s true in their workplace, empowering them to be regularly involved in identifying the solutions that exist. Get their input on how to keep work meaningful, valuable and important. Excluded employees check out, then they leave. Keep them in the know.

2. Focus more on what you can do for your employees (not on what you can`t do for them).The employees that stick around have weathered a tremendously difficult period. You know it, and they know it. And they`re getting tired. So what can you do to show your appreciation for their decision to stay, show up and tough it out? What does this show them about your belief in them? How can you use this moment to show your gratitude, humanity and personal interest in each employee? We are quick to share what we can`t or no longer offer for employees. What if our focus changed to what we can do instead?

3. Give them a reason to stay. One of the reasons our best people leave is that we don`t have a discussion with them on why they should stay. We just imagine that employees will stay and be loyal, but that is a na├»ve belief. Even before the recession, employees changed jobs every 18-36 months. Despite the recession, the underlying problem still exists: we don`t have career conversations with our employees on where they are going and why they should stay. Start a development discussion with employees once or twice a year that connects what employees do best with high value applications in the company. Help them see a reason to stay that is built around their talents, values and interests. Make it personal.

It is human nature to always think there is something better in some other place. Why not make that something better in your place? 

Reconnect with employees in a meaningful way to encourage them to choose to stay - to rekindle their belief in their company, their work and their management. Not only do you build a more powerful and engaged team, but you also show great continuity and consistency to your customers as they see the same team here today, here tomorrow.