NEW BLOG ALERT! Why Top Performers Leave and How to Retain Them

on October 18, 2023
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This article was written by Drew Callingham

Why Top Performers Leave and How to Retain Them

In today’s fiercely competitive job market, the retention of top talent stands as a critical factor in an organization’s sustained success. Yet, even the most accomplished employees occasionally opt to part ways with their current employers. This phenomenon, though common, raises a pressing question: Why do top performers leave? Does the adage of “employees don’t leave bad jobs; they leave bad management” hold true? In this article, we will delve into the primary reasons behind their departure and provide strategies for organizations to enhance their retention rates.

Lack of Growth Opportunities: Top performers are driven by ambition and a desire for challenges and opportunities to grow. When they perceive stagnation in their professional development or a restricted scope for advancement within the organization, they may commence the exploration of more fertile ground. It is imperative for companies to present clear career trajectories, comprehensive training programs, and ample avenues for skill refinement to retain their most exceptional employees.

Inadequate Recognition and Appreciation: Recognition and appreciation wield tremendous motivational power. When high achievers sense a lack of value or find their contributions overlooked, they become disheartened and eventually embark on a quest for environments where their efforts are properly acknowledged. Establishing a culture of appreciation through consistent feedback, public acknowledgment, and performance-based incentives is integral to retaining these invaluable assets.

Poor Work-Life Balance: Maintaining equilibrium between professional and personal spheres is fundamental for overall well-being and job satisfaction. While top performers are undeniably driven, they also hold their personal lives in high regard. If they discern an unsustainable workload, a constant need for overtime, or a dearth of flexibility, they may contemplate a departure in pursuit of a more harmonious work environment. Employers must champion a culture that fervently supports work-life balance, including the provision of flexible work arrangements and the establishment of reasonable expectations regarding working hours. This is especially relevant in the current world of working from home.

Ineffective Leadership and Management: Robust leadership stands as a cornerstone in cultivating a positive work environment. When top performers encounter managers who are ineffective or prone to micromanagement, it invariably leads to frustration and a palpable erosion of morale. When top performers experience ineffective or laissez faire management, it can lead to frustration and a decline in morale. Offering comprehensive leadership training, actively soliciting feedback, and cultivating open channels of communication are indispensable in rectifying these issues and elevating employee-manager relationships. Unlike conventional wisdom, managers need training to be good (or great!) managers. A great company ensures that management undergo training to reach these lofty goals.

Compensation and Benefits Discrepancies: While compensation does not singularly determine motivation, it undeniably holds significant sway. If top performers sense a misalignment between their contributions and the recognition they receive through compensation and benefits, they may find themselves enticed by alternative prospects. Conducting regular, transparent salary reviews, providing competitive benefits packages, and implementing performance-based bonuses serve as key tools in addressing this concern.

A Mismatch in Company Culture: A robust cultural fit forms the bedrock of an employee’s sense of belonging and contentment. When top performers find themselves at odds with the prevailing company culture, it inevitably leads to feelings of isolation and detachment. Nurturing an inclusive, diverse, and values-driven culture is pivotal in retaining employees who seamlessly align with the organization’s guiding principles. It is worth remembering that a company culture comes down from the top, and that if leaders of an organisation say one thing but do another, then the actions are likely to create the culture over the words.

Absence of Meaningful Work: Top performers are typically animated by a fervent desire to make a tangible impact. If they perceive a lack of purpose in their tasks or a sense that their skills are underutilized, they may find themselves drawn towards alternative opportunities. The provision of challenging, purpose-driven projects and involving employees in pivotal decision-making processes serves to instil a profound sense of ownership and purpose. As top performers increase in skill, so should the challenges and the projects they work on.

Lack of Transparency and Communication: Transparent communication constitutes the bedrock of trust within any organization. When information is withheld or there exists a palpable dearth of transparent communication, it inevitably breeds mistrust and frustration among employees. Top performers harbour a fervent appreciation for being kept informed about company decisions, goals, and the challenges at hand. This transparency (or lack thereof) could be down to the leadership team not trusting those below them, or through a lack of understanding regarding what is useful for them to know. This does not mean that they should share all information with their employees.

Bureaucracy and Red Tape: Excessive bureaucracy and rigid, labyrinthine processes have the unfortunate effect of stifling creativity and impeding progress. Top performers thrive in environments where they can make a palpable impact, and if they find their ideas consistently met with bureaucratic hurdles, they may be inclined to seek alternative environments where innovation is more readily embraced. This is more common in companies where they are old and well-established, or in sole-owner companies where the owner is more recalcitrant to accept change.

Inadequate Professional Development Support: High achievers are unerringly drawn towards opportunities for learning and growth. If an organization fails to furnish access to relevant training, conferences, or skill-building initiatives, top performers may perceive an underutilization of their potential and begin to cast their gaze elsewhere in search of environments that better nurture their growth. A personalised training program may be the ideal method to ensure professional development.


Lack of Autonomy and Decision-Making Authority: Empowering employees with the autonomy to take ownership of their work is a potent driver of engagement. When top performers find themselves subjected to consistent micromanagement or a palpable limitation on their decision-making authority, it invariably fosters a sense of frustration and detachment.

Unresolved Conflicts or Toxic Work Environment: An unhealthy work environment characterized by conflicts, toxic behaviour, or office politics can be profoundly detrimental to an employee’s well-being and job satisfaction. Top performers, driven by a desire for a constructive and respectful work culture, are more likely to gravitate towards organizations that prioritize such values.

Unmet Expectations or Broken Promises: If an organization fails to deliver on promises made during the hiring process – be it opportunities for advancement, involvement in specific projects, or the assurance of a certain work environment – top performers may experience disillusionment and consider alternative paths.

Lack of Alignment with Personal Values and Ethics: Certain employees, particularly top performers, place a premium on working for organizations that mirror their personal values and ethical standards. When a misalignment is perceived, they may embark on a quest for environments where their convictions find a more harmonious resonance. This corresponds to a high degree with the point made above – a mismatch in company culture. If the company culture does not align with the employees’ beliefs, then there is also likely to be a lack of alignment with personal ethics and values.

External Opportunities and Market Trends: Sometimes, external factors play a pivotal role in an employee’s decision to leave. Attractive offers from other organizations or the allure of industries experiencing rapid growth and innovation may sway top performers towards alternative avenues. If you are paying market (or perhaps below-market rate) then you should expect your top performers to leave if they receive an above market rate offer (all else things being equal).

Stagnant Organizational Growth or Decline: Prolonged periods of stagnation, organizational decline, or uncertainty about the future can lead top performers to question their long-term prospects within the company. This can, in turn, motivate them to explore more stable opportunities. Unless the company is growing as much as they, personally, are then the top performer is likely to seek better, more challenging alternatives.


In conclusion, retaining top performers is not just about providing competitive salaries and benefits. It’s about creating an environment where they feel valued, challenged, and aligned with the company’s mission and values. By offering opportunities for growth and advancement, recognizing, and appreciating their contributions, and fostering a healthy work-life balance, organizations can show their commitment to the success and well-being of their top talent. Effective leadership, transparent communication, and a culture that encourages autonomy and innovation are crucial in building trust and a positive work environment. Addressing conflicts, eliminating toxic behaviour, and upholding ethical standards further solidify the foundation for a thriving workplace. Additionally, it’s important to fulfil promises made during the hiring process and ensure that the company’s trajectory aligns with the aspirations of top performers. By demonstrating a clear path for future success and providing avenues for continuous learning and development, organizations can inspire loyalty and dedication. In an era where opportunities abound, companies must proactively engage with their top performers, understanding their needs, aspirations, and concerns. By doing so, organizations not only retain their most valuable assets but also foster a culture of excellence and continuous improvement.

Ultimately, the retention of top performers is a strategic investment in the long-term success and competitiveness of any organization. It’s not just about keeping the best people; it’s about enabling them to flourish, contribute, and lead, ensuring that both the company and its top talent continue to thrive in tandem. With these strategies in place, organizations can build a motivated, engaged, and high-performing workforce that propels them towards their goals and beyond.



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