Retain Good Employees

Are your best employees leaving? This article will help you understand what attracts a good employee, what makes them tick, and give you sure-fire ways to keep them around for the long haul.


  1. Select the right people for the job. Good employees appreciate a boss who develops clear, thoughtful and well-defined goals, and knows how individual staff members will be best able to accomplish the tasks they lay out. For each objective, make sure you have put in writing:
    • The objective(s) (no more than three).
    • An estimated time frame for the completion of tiered objectives.
    • The process you wish them to follow in voicing their concerns and ideas relating to the goals.
    • Who will be responsible for what tasks.
  2. Offer monetary incentives for good performance. Reward your best employees privately, or publicly, for conscientious work and positive results. Here are some low dollar cash/cash equivalent gift suggestions:
    • $5-$10 Fuel cards
    • $5-$10 Coffee gift cards
    • $10-$25 Dining gift cards.
    • $10-$50 Visa/Master Card gift cards.
    • 1 share of company stock.
  3. Recognize outstanding employees and treat them with deference. Virtually anyone can be a good employee, provided their assets to the company are well understood, applied appropriately and volubly supported. Place employees in the best possible position for success by:
    • Allowing them to work their schedule without harassment, pressure to work overtime, or radical/late notice schedule changes.
    • Speaking well to them and of them, regardless of your mood.
    • Knowing what they have to offer your company and telling them about it as you focus them on your primary objectives.
    • Avoiding interpersonal comparative analysis.
    • Respecting individual's rights to privacy.
  4. Verbalize pleasure with good employees' accomplishments and work standards. Never assume that your best employee knows he/she is considered as such. Many excellent employees are so focused on the tasks at hand, they are not aware of how others, particularly their employer, see them. You must take care to nurture good employees and ensure that they hear, regularly, that you respect and appreciate them.
  5. Under-react to difficulties with exceptional employees. A good employee takes tremendous pride in their work. Subsequently, they tend to brow-beat themselves when something they've done goes wrong. Take care not to over-burden your best employees when you spot a flaw. Minimize your reaction and the repercussions of their infrequent mistakes, and find ways to eliminate the cause of their mistakes, wherever possible.
    • Example: Suggest they play hooky the next day, if you see them looking downtrodden.
    • Example: If the good employee is overreacting to a mistake, remind him/her specifically of what an asset they are to your company, and assure them that the good work they do far outweighs a small mistake here and there.
  6. Foster respect for, and appreciation of, personality differences between employees. Employees don't instinctively "see" one another the same way you "see" them. At times, your worst employee may believe that they are in fact your very best asset. And while they may be a tremendous asset in their own way, you must take care to point out the best qualities of each individual and how their particular genius fulfills a company need. Placing the emphasis on the skills/talents of individual employees, rather than personality traits others might find distasteful, will keep you in a better position to defend and retain good employees who may not be the most popular in your business.
  7. Ask questions. If you're losing your best employees or can feel the tide beginning to turn against you, take a few minutes and ask them some questions. Here are a few ways to get them talking:
    • Ask how they are doing and if they're liking their work, so far.
    • Ask how their family is doing and if the money you're paying them is enough to keep them afloat.
    • Ask if they've been furthering their education or been thinking of a career change, recently.
    • Ask if they feel comfortable in their workspace.
  8. Say thank you in meaningful ways. Say thank you at the end of each day; it sets the tone for how your evening, and your employee's evening will go. A simple thank you can make your best employee want to come back to work the next day, even if they were determined not to. Shake their hand when you encounter them and make good eye-contact when you thank them for their work; make them focus on what you are saying.
  9. Pay attention. If your best employee is leaving, there will be telltale signs. You can head off problems by being observant of their moods, the tone of their interactions with you, and their work style. A good employee is generally motivated by reward, but what reward they seek is highly individual. It would behoove you to investigate further if one of your good employees suddenly begins to treat you disrespectfully, turns in sloppy or careless work, or becomes sullen. If you cannot resolve the problem they're facing, help them move on to an employer who better suits their needs.
  10. Maintain your distance and supervisory role. Remember that you are the boss and act like it. Problem resolution is your issue, not an issue to be left to employees to work out for you. Take up the slack where you see it, cheerfully, but take care to maintain personal space as you go about your work.
  11. Be respectful. If you want to keep your good employees, be respectful of them. They wouldn't be your employee if you could do for yourself what they do for you. Keep your hands to yourself, unless shaking hands in greeting, and keep stray, non-work related thoughts out of your conversations with them. Good employees don't necessarily want to become a friend to you or their co-workers; they have goals and dreams and needs. As an employer, you should try to learn what their goals/dreams/needs are and make sure you are offering them what they need.
  12. Learn the definition of fairness. Fairness is treating individuals appropriately based on their behavior, not treating everyone as equal. Take care to create individual solutions to individual's problems. Blanket statements, both good and bad, put a damper on good employees because it negates their extra personal efforts. Recognize the impact of saying "You all did such a good job today!" or "We really need to pick up the pace, here, gang!" While it is faster to speak to staff in generalities, the effect of such statements gives equal credit to all for the efforts of (potentially) a very few good workers, in the first instance, and negates the extra efforts of the good employees for the sake of inspiring the masses, in the second.


  • Listen when your good employees talk about their work and the company. Help them refine their ideas to suit your business and encourage them to develop workable solutions to problems within your business plan.
  • Good employees are often courted aggressively by your competitors, so take care that they always know how much you value them and how happy you are that they chose to work for your company.
  • Meet staff complaints about good employees with a solid "This is a business and I must make the best decisions about employment based on how Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so performs their job; anything else amounts to a personal issue and I'm sure that if I thought about it I could come up with a thing or two I don't like about just about everybody here."
  • If your business goal is to make money, keep your focus on how each individual performs their job and how much money they make you, rather than trying to create a close-knit staff. Good employees will come back to visit people they enjoyed working with, but they won't necessarily keep working at a company just to be with friends.


  • Poor employees become very noisy when you hire a good employee; take care in how you quiet the disturbance.