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So, Your Best Employee Wants to Leave? LET.THEM.GO!


Russ Gambrel, Senior Consultant – December 2013

If you are reading this right now, there is a better chance than not that you hate your job.

Back in October late night comedians told an endless litany of jokes about the recently published Gallup Poll which found 52% of Americans in the workplace did not feel engaged and/or were unproductive.   That 52% were joined by another 18% that said they were “actively disengaged”.   To those of us who actually enjoy our jobs, this is a mind-blowing result.  Sure, every office has its share of disenfranchised people but the fact that well over two out of every three US workers is disengaged and unproductive boggles the mind.   Two out of three?!   It leads to the next logical question.  Namely, what kind of negative impact is all that disengagement and low productivity doing to your culture and bottom line?   If one bad apple spoils the bunch, at least in this case, the whole orchard could use a good brush fire.

Now, I could spend the rest of this column dissecting the underlying root causes but that is a topic for another day.  (Ok.  I can’t resist.  There’s actually only one root cause: a lack of feedback by management.   It’s very likely killing your organization.  But I digress).   What weighs heavily on my soul at the moment is a great cautionary tale told to me by a Sr Executive at a recent client I was working with.   She shared with me a story that is intrinsically counter-intuitive.    In a nutshell, the company’s ‘go-to’ employee, a person with whom the CFO believed the company could not live without, was bringing down the organization…and it all began with her resignation.   For privacy sake, we’ll call her Dana.

Most good companies I know go out of their way to hire and maintain their best employees.   In this case, when confronted with Dana’s sudden resignation, the company did what it thought was the right thing.   They gave her more power, a shiny new title and a humungous raise.   In turn, she stayed.   All’s well that ends well, right?  Wrong.

Over the next three months, Dana became a monster.  Abusing other employees,  missing deadlines,  vastly over-estimating the importance of her opinion, etc, etc.  My client admitted that the company had never considered the unintended consequences of begging her to stay (in both word and deed).   What she realized too late is that Dana had checked out long ago and it only took her a few months after rescinding her resignation to remember all the reasons she wanted to leave in the first place.   And they were all still valid reasons.  The only difference now was that she felt miserable, powerful AND untouchable; a terrible combination for even the most trustworthy workers.   (I’m tempted here to mention how Gollum was once a pleasant Hobbit named Smeagol but I’m afraid that might sound off the nerd alert).

When I shared this story with colleagues and friends, every one of them nodded their head in agreement.   Most had known a story like Dana’s from past experience.   But all had discounted its value as a ‘business lesson’ on the grounds that Dana’s company seemingly did the right thing.   Or at least what seemed like the right thing because let’s face it-  we’d all like to think our company would beg us to stay.  In actuality, the more common outcome relayed back to me was strikingly similar to Dana’s.    As a result I’ve recently begun to wonder if a disengaged employee – even a great one-  is ever worth saving.   And to my dismay, I’m leaning towards ‘no’.    At any rate, there’s a valuable lesson in Dana’s story…even if I haven’t completely uncovered it yet.

We are sure you have a lesson or story too…share it with us.

Russ joined Fahrenheit in 2012 as a senior business consultant and project manager bringing over 17 years of experience in project leadership, SEC reporting, auditing, accounting, IT systems and internal control design.  Russ is a former controller and university instructor, has served in finance and accounting roles internationally, and has extensive consulting experience in designing and implementing internal control environments, including S-Ox. Russ is a graduate of Baylor University with a BBA in Accounting and is currently completing a Management in Information Systems degree at the University of Maryland.

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