The cost of those who "quit" and stay is high. Is there something I can do to change it?

I once worked with a CIO who said, "If you want to quit, I'm sorry to see you go, but please don't quit and stay." Beyond benefits and perks and organizational programs, I wanted to explore what a single leader can do within her span of control to address her team members who are comfortable with the status quo.

In the State of the American Workplace for 2017, Gallup says that 33% of U.S. employees are actively engaged. On the other end of the spectrum is 16% of the workforce who are actively disengaged. And 51% who are "just there"- these are the people who are maintaining the status quo or worse, not bringing their ideas forward, probably calling in sick regularly and not doing their best work. (If you are wondering, "just there"is the term used in the Report.)

Your organization may have 67% "quitters" on the payroll.

What’s the difference between having more than 1 out of every 3 team members engaged - meaning more than 1 shows up for work consistently, enjoys working with your customers, and identifies with your brand and mission? According to this same Gallup poll, it's a 17% increase is productivity, 20% more sales, and a difference of 21% in profitability.

How do you entice the majority of employees to go from "just there" to engaged?

Its been suggested that a clear purpose, flexibility in work location and/or schedule, and aligning what employees do best with their role will all increase engagement. All great ideas which I support. But I wonder as a leader, what can I do to address employees today? I propose that listening will make a difference.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary says that listening is "hearing something with thoughtful attention.” Listening is hard. Not unlike any other skill, it takes practice to do it well. It's difficult to listen without using a filter. The filters could include listening to get approval, to fix, to hijack, to defend, or to criticize. I have a tough time listening without fixing. In my past, I could ‘listen’ to the first 10 words out of your mouth and tell you exactly what needed to be done to fix this problem (see this video for reference). Or I didn't see what was wrong with hearing a conversation, and even participating in one, without working on my email also. Maybe you are having trouble listening to someone else right now while you read this article, but I hope not.

The opposite of not being fully present while listening is Resonant Listening. A few tips to become a great listener are:

  • Stay present with the speaker - do not rehearse/plan your response until they are done, take your time to respond, and do not interrupt.

  • Face the speaker and keep eye contact. Keep an open posture.

  • Suspend your judgement and get curious. If you are struggling with this, find something to appreciate about the speaker.

  • Paraphrase, or reflect back, the content to ensure you heard it accurately.

  • Acknowledge any feelings that surfaced.

  • Offer clarifying questions such as "Tell me more about that" or "Then what happened,"particularly when you see the speaker energized around a topic.

In my own career, I've gotten to experience a very diverse set of leaders. The ones I've enjoyed working with the most have one thing in common. When they are talking to you or in a meeting with team members, they are present and inquisitive - leaning forward, asking questions to understand what is being conveyed, and helping to find a solution for what needs to be done, which reflects a team member's proposal and approach. The solution proposed may not even be the same as what the leader would do on his/her own, but still achieves the desired outcome.

So you may be thinking, "How does listening help my team find purpose, flexibility, or align their role so they can do their best work?" It's through listening that you know if the employee understands the purpose of your business unit and organization. As you listen, you can have a conversation to reinforce his understanding or share a new perspective on the organization’s purpose. It's through listening that you find out what kind flexibility is desired and when its needed. For instance, is Wednesday your team member's logistical nightmare (getting home for kids/pets/meeting other commitments)? Maybe you could offer the opportunity for him to work from home that day. And it's through listening that you will know what the employee is most energized by, which is often an indicator of the kind of work they will do best. If you can align what they do best with a job role or combination of tasks that need to be accomplished, then everyone wins. In fact you may just be able to shift the quitter that stayed to a productive employee.



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