How to Stop Your Employees From Quitting – But Staying

February 28, 2017

When people quit and stay, aka check out of their jobs, it ruins the morale of the rest of your team.

You know who they are. They’re the people just phoning it in. They show up for work with their bodies, but they leave their brains, and their hearts at home.

We call it the “quit and stay” syndrome. Unlike an employee who actually resigns, this group slowly, but surely, puts forth less and less effort, yet they stay on the payroll.

The data tells us, if you’re like most organizations, a large percentage of your workforce has already quit, and they’re still sitting in their offices. We’ve all read about the crisis of disengaged employees, over 70 percent of employees according to Gallup.

If you have a miserable workplace, great employees will quit and find another, more fulfilling job. But what about average (and below average) employees? Well, they’re likely yours forever.

They have a decent salary, a doable job, and they assume good enough, is good enough. Why would they go to the hassle of leaving, when mentally checking out is clearly acceptable?

How do you know if you’re losing (or have lost) people? First off, listen to your gut. Do you feel positive energy in your workplace, or is it the deafening silence of souls slowly withering away at their desks? Are there more eye rolls? More heavy sighs in meetings? 

Anecdotal assessments are early indicators of employee engagement, or lack of it. 

Poor performers quit and stay because the culture allows it. As a leader, your job is to reset the norms. If you’re losing enthusiasm, even if it’s been going on for a while, all hope is not lost. You can win back some of the better quit and stays, and you can create a culture where the permanently disengaged self select out.

Here are three things you can do to bring your team back to life:

1. Set high expectations.

When employees are not challenged, they rarely go out of their way to challenge themselves. Challenging work cannot be phoned in. One of our clients, Supportworks Inc., embraces “the gift of high expectations.” They let their team know, if you’re coasting, you’re not growing.

High expectations doesn’t mean making your employees’ jobs harder on purpose. It means challenging them to think about things differently, to meet aggressive deadlines, and add value everyday.

Be clear and be concise. People need to know what excellence looks like. High expectations means expecting people to go beyond basic requirements in ways that aren’t necessarily a direct requirement of their job.

2. Bring Purpose to the fore.  

Employees who derive meaning and significance from their work report 1.7 times higher job satisfaction and are 1.4 times more engaged than their counterparts. In our research and client experiences growing purposeful teams, we’ve noticed people are often confused or vague about purpose.

To be clear, purposeful leadership is specific and focuses on the impact you have on customers. Purpose is not, “We donate 1 percent of our profits” or something generic like, “we make a difference.”

A true purpose spells out the impact your firm has on paying clients. Purposeful leadership is about bringing client impact to the center of your commercial model. Give your employees something to be proud of by sharing customer impact stories. Provide clear examples of how their work directly affects your customer’s lives and businesses.

This thought pattern generates engagement, innovation and loyalty.

3. Lead by example.

Yes, it’s something your grandmother would say; it’s also true. If you want people to be fully attentive at meetings, don’t check your emails while others are talking. If you want your team to stop complaining about customers, stop complaining about your team. The leader always sets the tone, if you’re late, checked out or complacent, you’re going to elicit more of the same from your team.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have a bad day or you aren’t allowed to make mistakes. What it does mean is you showing up ready to do your best, ready to challenge yourself, and ready to inspire your employees. Your job as a leader is, to show your team what full engagement looks like, through your words and actions.

The takeaway

Creating a high performance culture is an offensive strategy; it attracts top talent and keeps them engaged. But it can also be a defensive strategy. When you move the needle on your culture, bringing high expectations, purpose and excellent examples to the fore, you make it uncomfortable for the quit and stays.

With nowhere to hide, they either change or self-select out. 

As leader, you have the power to keep the right people fully engaged. Your team can be your competitive advantage, or your Achilles heel. The choice is yours.

Lisa Earle McLeod and Elizabeth McLeod work with organizations to improve competitive differentiation and emotional engagement. Check out their LinkedIn Learning courses here.