November 23, 2015

Turnover Turnaround: How To Keep Your Best Employees

By: Claire Kittle Dixon

Running businessman and open doorLast month we talked about the six most common reasons for staff turnover in the free-market nonprofit movement. Apparently, we struck a root.

My inbox was deluged with responses such as “Your list was spot on. I recently left my job for reason #4.” and “My best friend just quit his job for reasons 1, 2, and 5.”  

While it was disheartening to read some of the emails, I was comforted that the reasons we identified were consistent with what readers have experienced.

The first step is identifying the problem, right?

And, of course, the second step is doing something about it. So, pull a chair up (and maybe pour a strong coffee or a frosty beverage), and let’s get down to business with some potential solutions.


  1. “Kitchen Sink” Performance Reviews – Every issue we mentioned last week could be identified and addressed if organizations took the time to regularly evaluate employees and themselves.  Consider this: many organizations utilize annual employee reviews and self-evaluations to gauge satisfaction and address problems with staff. All of this is critically important. But when evaluating employees, why not also take the time to have employees evaluate the organization? This is why I’ve affectionately named it “kitchen sink” performance reviews – because everything is included!Seeking comprehensive regular feedback such as this can pinpoint most of the common reasons for turnover and give leadership a chance to address them before it’s too late.
  2. Keep Your Best Talent Challenged – A lack of challenge, room for growth, and autonomy were cited as common reasons for turnover. The key here is maintaining open lines of communication with employees. As aforementioned, performance reviews are a great time to discuss these items. Do you need to create opportunities for growth where there are none? Are there responsibilities or projects you can delegate? What about training/development opportunities?
  1. Reward Employees – Feeling undervalued (financially and otherwise) will eventually cause an employee to exit stage right (pun intended). You must be proactive if you don’t want to lose your best employees. If you wait for them to come to you, it will likely be too late.  Once again, performance reviews are a natural time to adjust salaries and award bonuses. And remember, it’s not just about the Benjamins; verbal praise, flexible work schedules, team meals, and gifts are among the myriad ways you can make staff feel appreciated.
  1. Let Them Work Virtually – Eventually, one of your best employees will need to move across the country for a non-work related reason and you are going to hate to see him go. So, why not let him continue to work for you from a virtual office? Yes, remote working scenarios require the right job and the right person; assuming those stars align, why not? Don’t forget that technology and travel options are making virtual work easier with every passing day.  
  1. Take the Fun Out of Dysfunction (And Take the Dysfunction Out of Your Organization) – It’s no fun being in an dysfunctional organization; that’s why good employees don’t last in these settings. Engaging in regular organizational reviews will keep management and board members aware of problems and give them an opportunity to make things right. Whether it’s an unhealthy culture, problematic leadership, nepotism, or financial instability, these issues won’t correct themselves. The longer you wait, the more talent you will lose.
  1. Just Be You – Misleading potential hires during the interview process usually ends like a bad Lifetime movie. Many employees start looking around after they realize a job or organization isn’t quite what they were led to believe during the courting phase. Why not just be you and be honest with interviewees about the role and the organization from the start? Doing so is the smart, long-term approach to building a solid long-lasting team.
  1. Give Them A Break – Burnout is a common reason free-market nonprofit employees leave – especially those in it’s-never-enough roles such as fundraisers. If you identify an employee who is being pushed too hard (by others or by themselves), encourage her to take a break and use her vacation — and then offer additional resources and words of encouragement to avoid burnout in the future.


Hopefully, this list has given you a lot to think about, and my guess is that your beverage is getting low.

If you take away just one thing, remember the kitchen sink reviews. Open lines of communication between staff and leadership are essential to avoiding turnover problems.  

Now, go get a refill on that drink.


Claire Kittle Dixon is the Executive Director of Talent Market.