Why do engineers leave one firm for another? Perhaps you need to work harder at understanding employee needs in your firm. With a career in recruiting that spans over 20 years (yikes!), I’ve had thousands of conversations with engineers as to why they consider other engineering employment opportunities, and that gives me unique insight to answer this difficult question.
The number one reason an engineer or employee makes a move is rarely ever money. Although it is absolutely an influence in the overall scheme of things, it is seldom the catalyst for change. The number one reason, in some way, shape or form, always comes down to leadership.
The common remarks I hear when talking with prospective engineering candidates are:
“I’m not sure what the future holds for me here”
“I don’t know where I stand”
“I don’t feel supported”
“I don’t feel valued”
“I haven’t talked to my boss in weeks”
“There are rumblings about change of some sort, but I’m not sure what it is or how that will affect me”
“I just finished this big project and haven’t heard anything from management”
“I’ve gone as far as I can go here”
All of these comments relate to leadership and communication and they are doors for a recruiter to walk in and potentially recruit away your best engineering talent.
I know because I’ve done it.
Although my experience is closely related to engineers, this information on understanding employee needs relates to every employee you have. We are human and we all have certain needs. Every employee shares these six needs:
Your employees need to feel stable and secure, and they need to know where they stand – good, bad or otherwise. Many of the remarks I shared above all relate to not being certain of the outcome. 90% of these issues can all be resolved with clear and transparent communication and strong leadership. I recently spoke to an engineer who was with a company that had recently gone through a leadership change. The ONLY reason why he was willing to talk was because he was uncertain about what that change meant for him. Leadership had been hush-hush about it. That caused rumblings throughout the company, which led to rumors, which led to this engineer’s feeling of unease and his willingness to talk to me about other opportunities.
This is also where coaching and feedback come into play. It is critical that leaders sit down with their employees so they know exactly where they stand.
People want to be recognized, needed, and respected. This can be achieved very simply by stopping, looking your employee in the eye, and thanking them for a job well done. Let them know you appreciate their effort. When you ask how their day is, stop and listen and really care how their day is. They can tell when you’re really listening to them and when you’re just waiting for them to stop talking, and when you really listen to them you show them that you support and actually care about them. Significance is typically the area you know you missed when you hear the comment about the employee not feeling valued or underappreciated.
Although we all have the need for certainty, we also have the need to feel challenged and pushed. Make sure you are creating opportunities for your engineers to work on challenging projects or creating career paths that create that challenge. The last thing you want is for an engineer to leave your company because they got bored.
People want to feel a sense of togetherness. This is where culture comes in. Bottom line, people like to work with people they like, and they are much more likely to leave if they don’t feel a sense of community. It is the job of leadership to cultivate that environment.
We all have the need to be developing, learning, and growing. It’s important that leadership is communicating with employees so everyone understands where the employees want to go in their careers, what growth opportunities look like within your organization, and how you can help them strategize how to get there. When I ask the question “why are you open to new opportunities?”, the topic of growth is at the top of the list. More often than not, when I dig a little further, employees are likely to look for other opportunities not because there aren’t any growth opportunities available to them but rather because they simply don’t know what they are. Again, communication and leadership.
We all need to feel like we’re giving, making an impact, serving, or contributing to others or to the greater good. This is just as true for engineers as it is for anyone. Give your employees a voice and empower them to contribute.
Not only will paying attention to and understanding employee needs help with ensuring that your engineering talent is less likely to be lured away, but it will also help immensely with your recruiting efforts as well.
With these things in mind, I hope that you’re able to make the very simple fixes in your communication that will help prevent your best engineers and employees from leaving your company. We all know how costly that can be.