Holding on to the Best and Brightest Young Employees

By Bruce L. Katcher, Ph.D.

Seth, a bright, ambitious 23-year-old, recently resigned from the human resources department of a large international company. His employer was understandably chagrined. Seth had joined the company immediately after graduating college where he had been a dean's list student and completed a four-year program in just three years.

Seth is a very competent and personable young man. During his time at the company he performed extremely well. He worked on a variety of corporate projects and stood out as a diamond in the rough, an employee with a great deal of management potential—just the type of person the company wanted to keep.

His goal is to become a strategy consultant. To do so, Seth wants to first earn an MBA from a prestigious university. He felt he needed more time than his present job afforded him to prepare for the Graduate Management Admission Test and to complete the applications for the upcoming academic year.

He spoke to his supervisor about his plans, but instead of working with him to make certain he stayed with the company, the supervisor said that it probably made sense for him to leave.

Seth quickly landed another job that provided him with the flexible hours that would allow him to study for the exam and complete the graduate school applications.

Not surprisingly, employee attrition is a recognized problem at Seth's former company. The organization repeatedly loses exceptional young talent to its competitors.

Seth's supervisor never said to him, "We value you and will do what we can to keep you here," "What can we do to help you achieve your career goals within the company?" or "How can we work with you to help you earn your MBA while you are still an employee?"

The truth is that the company could have kept Seth if it had tried. Seth enjoyed his work there and hopes to eventually return later in his career.

The Problem

  1. Word gets around inside
    When talented employees leave, an alarm goes off in the minds of those who remain. They begin to question whether their good performance is being noticed and valued by the organization.

  2. Word gets around outside
    When talented employees leave, it sends out signals to friends, family, former college classmates, and colleagues at other firms that the company may not be such a great place to work.

  3. Employee attrition is expensive
    From a dollars and cents point of view, the cost of talented young employees leaving a company can be 50 to 400% of their salary. Here are just some of the many costs that are incurred:

    • Lower productivity as others must cover or fill in while the position is vacant
    • Lost ROI in the lost employee’s training
    • Loss of manager's time to determine how the former employee's work will be completed
    • Lost knowledge, skills, and customer contacts
    • Paying the employee for the unproductive time between when they give notice and when they leave;
    • Money and time spent to recruit a replacement
    • Money and time spent raining a new employee

Action Steps

  1. Identify Your company’s “keepers.”

    Losing an ineffective or average performer is rarely a problem. But losing a top performer is. The last thing you want to do is to take these people for granted. Identify strong performers, let them know that you value their work, and help them to envision a long-term career with your organization.

  2. Recognize that young employees are still experimenting.

    What is the probability that a new young employee will stay with your company for many years? The truth is that it is very low. Young employees are just kicking the tires when they join an organization. They are still trying to figure out their interests and whether or not your organization can provide them with what they want. Also, early in their careers, their interests often change.

    Astute managers recognize that talented young employees are still trying to learn about themselves. Instead of just accepting the fact that the employee may very well leave to get experience elsewhere or to further their education, a good manager will work with young employees to help them experiment within the company. They also let employees know that if they want to further their education, the company will do everything it can to make it happen, by providing the resources they need, whether flexible work schedules and/or financial assistance.

  3. Develop a long-term partnership with “keepers.”

    If organizations want their good employees to stay long term, they must develop a long-term partnership with them. Managers should continually work with employees to help them clarify their career goals and determine how they can achieve them by staying with the organization.

Conclusion
Seth is an example of a great employee who got away, to the organization’s detriment. His manager failed to identify Seth as a “keeper” and didn't work with him to help him achieve his career goals within the company. Don't let your keepers get away too!

Author Bio:
Dr. Bruce L. Katcher is an industrial/organizational psychologist and is president of The Discovery Group.  He is the author of 30 Reasons Employees Hate Their Managers (AMACOM, 2007).  Contact him at bruce@discoverysurveys.com or on the Web at www.discoverysurveys.com

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