How to retain a valued employee who’s thinking of leaving

In today’s turbulent market place it is no surprise that employee retention is a critical competitive differentiator. A company’s ability to hold on to its top performers – especially in a market where recruitment is tough – has profound ramifications for its ability to operate at a high level, without the disruptions that staff turnover brings. Here are some strategies leaders can adopt when faced with the prospect that one of their top performers may be thinking of leaving.


If an employee has told you they are considering a change, ask them if they would be willing to chat so you can learn more about what they need.  Most employees are moving away from something, and your goal is to uncover what it will take to retain them, and if it’s realistic.

If a company has a pattern of overburdening employees, not listening, and not keeping previous promises, that may erase some of the power you have as a manager. It certainly will if the person has experienced it directly, but also if the person regularly sees other people being treated in ways they don’t want to be treated. If a manager can’t say with certainty that an employee is actively engaged, there are probably conversations they aren’t having and should be to prevent the dreaded “I quit.”

Ask what would make them stay

It’s not only about identifying what’s wrong it’s about painting a picture of what’s possible in the future. There are lots of reasons why people leave and sometimes it’s also important to consider the reasons people join in the first place and their motivations when it comes to retaining them. 

Try asking your on-the-fence employee is anything you have your eye on in the company that would fit your goals? If you can’t give it to them now, perhaps you can give them assignments that would get them closer.” If an employee is unclear of their goals, can the business work with them to help them find time and space to experiment within?

Take a holistic view

Reacting in the moment to an employee who plans to leave a business is often too little too late. Taking a holistic  view of employee needs and proactively addressing them is the most effective way to avoid defections.

A recent example from one my clients is a childcare discussion group for employees with childcare concerns. In the same company one employee recently took a month of leave to care for an ill child. Had she not run this group, she might not have been aware of this employee’s acute need.

Be flexible

A recent Harvard Business School study showed that most professionals have flourished in their jobs while working from home, and 81% either don’t want to go back to the office or would choose a hybrid schedule post-pandemic. Leaders of businesses have to overcome their fear of what might be lost if they allow employees flexible work arrangements.

At most of my clients now, hybrid schedules are the norm for the rest of the staff, who coordinate with their managers which days teams plan to be in the office. I believe as long as teams working a flexible schedule commit to regular meetings and consistent communication, then collaboration will not be compromised.

Ensure those who exit leave on good terms

Not every valued employee who has decided to leave can be saved. How you treat an employee on the way out can have a significant impact and influence on the team still there.  If the person leaving was toxic, there will be relief. If the person was a key player, it can raise questions about why they would leave. What did they know? And if you treat a person who was a key player dismissively on their way out, it can backfire, as the team remaining wonders how good a leader you are.

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