Many of us have been there, stuck in a job that we don’t really like, doing tasks that seem mundane, repetitive, boring… Surprisingly, a lot of people try and stick it out, hoping that things will change and everything will eventually get better. This is also sometimes backed up by a promise made by the organisation that what everyone is experiencing is only a short term issue, they are aware of it, and everything will be back to normal ‘soon’.

Newsflash: this is the new normal. Things rarely go back to what might have attracted people to the role or organisation in the first place. And if – by chance – things do go back, it’s likely that there will still be a permanent sour taste in many mouths. “Remember that time when shit was really bad?!” will become a regular conversation.

For the people that can’t do it, they start looking for something else.

Outside, outside

So, you’ve burned a bunch of employees who are now covertly looking elsewhere to make some bread. From a business perspective, the ‘stuff that happened’ to drive them away might have even taken the company in a new, innovative direction. You can’t quite see why anyone would want to leave now when so much good stuff is about to happen.

This is actually part of the problem. A lot of leadership are blind of the issues faced by their employees, mostly because they are simply too far removed from them. The nature of the organisation might be such that the separation between management and employees is, by definition, a divide that is extremely difficult to bridge.

What employees want

There have been countless studies on what employees want in their jobs. Some will talk about equity in pay or salary, while some talk about inclusion, and many even talk to future prospects like promotions or ladder climbing. Truth be told, all of these things are actually correct. After all, employees are individuals, and different things will end up being important to each one – the same as our different shapes of customers and their needs.

This leads to a common leadership conundrum – if we don’t know what our employees want, there’s no way we can meet their needs. Many leaders flail in the face of this issue, especially when a seemingly happy employee base responds to their annual survey with bile and resentment… While still smiling (seemingly) as they work.

While we are on the topic; employee surveys do not work. Stop doing them… you are just pissing your employees off! This is another article in itself, that I will write about soon.

The interesting thing about this conundrum is that it can be quite easily solved. The key to this is around employee engagement – in everything. When the management is looking to begin working on the next big thing, or when salaries are being budgeted, or even when promotions and position moves are being handed out. Employee engagement is key.

Flipping the management paradigm

Many of these concepts might seem foreign to classic command-and-control management. I mean, after all, how could they include employees when they are talking about salaries?! I mean, it only affects them…


The interesting thing about these discussions is that most employees actually have a reasonable idea of what they are worth. Most employees are not unreasonable, and if they are being unreasonable, it’s probably because you have already pissed them off somehow. This leads us to a principle I encourage all of my clients to embrace:

Pay your employees enough so that money is not on the table.

From here, many managers will often forget that their people that work on the coal-face, grinding day to day through customer problems, site evaluations, or even sales (as a few examples), know more about what customers want than any manager could. They are living ‘the stuff’. Who better to provide direction on the next cool widget, or the innovative company direction?

Give your employees a seat at the table in matters of substance and direction.

Finally, you would be surprised at how little real acknowledgement organisations provide to their people. It’s actually depressing, listening to stories of employees, grinding away for years with only minor promotions, and their yearly percentage bump in salary to show for it.

Edgy organisations do this well; snacks and breakfast at work for free, pool tables and free gym memberships, family days, certificates, and genuine celebrations of achievements, big and small. Often. The little things can really, truly matter.

Acknowledge your employees often.

Now… These things are not a definitive list. But if you are honest with yourself and with your employees, and you’re having meaningful discussions with them, they will tell you what matters to them. Act on it.

The counter-offer

Okay leaders, here’s a statistic for you that you’ve probably heard before: over 80% of people who accept a counter-offer and stay in their current organisation still end up leaving within 6 months anyway.

If you’re the type of leader who would rather knee-jerk a response, instead of having reasonable engagement with your employees in all matters of substance, then this is for you. It doesn’t fix anything, but good luck anyway.


The biggest thing to remember in all of this is that if your employees are looking to leave, it might already be too late. You’ve likely missed that engagement window.

So, engage early. Engage often. Don’t take your people for granted, because they genuinely want to do something cool and fun. Find out what it is, and find a way to let them.

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