If you’re a leader, departures on your team can hurt. They’re not great for your business and are often difficult personally as a comment on your ability to retain your team. Too often, we’re surprised by that knock on the door or resignation email that appears
I can’t promise you’ll never experience turnover, but there are steps you can take right now to limit it.
Here’s what to say so people stay
Before you start: understand the bigger problem
Too often, leaders make assumptions about the people who are working with us. We think that if there are no visible problems, everything must be okay.
But we don’t take into account the conversation that’s going on inside our associate’s heads: the conversation they’re having with themselves every day.
Those conversations sound like:
- What’s next for me?
- Is this what success looks like?
- Is this all there is?
You know these conversations. You might be having them yourself, with yourself. Don’t assume that just because someone on your team seems “fine,” they’re fine.
It’s our responsibility as leaders to expect those conversations to be going on and get involved in them right now so we don’t have to scramble when they come to the surface later.
What to Say Script#1: Ask for a Meeting
The first script to use is this:
I’d like to schedule time for us to sit down and take a deeper dive into how things are going for you. I’ll find time on our calendars within the next week or so—sound good?
Here’s why this works:
Focused, planned time separate from day-to-day activities is one of the best gifts you can offer to your most valued team members. Don’t assume that you’ll surface issues or prevent problems during your regular check-ins or team meetings. In those moments, you’re typically moving so fast and paying attention to products or processes, not people.
When you ask your person for this time, you’re saying, “I care enough about you that I want us to set aside some time to talk only about you.” You’re really saying, “You matter enough to me that I want to set aside some time and talk about you?” The offer alone can make people feel seen and valued—as long as you follow through and get the meeting on the calendar promptly.
Don’t Make This Mistake
The mistake I see leaders make is that they’re so focused on the day-to-day work, that they fool themselves into thinking a passing conversation is sufficient. It’s not.
If we want to fight the great resignation, we have to create the space to ask the bigger questions and have deeper conversations. You can’t do that in-between Zoom calls. You can’t do that during your regular one-on-one when a hundred other actions are calling for attention now.
When you ask for the time, follow up on it. Commit to it. Don’t assume that that person believes you, either, and don’t pawn the responsibility for scheduling on them right now.
When you’ve got that time on your calendar, treat that calendar spot like gold, like it’s an appointment that you would not break. What happens too often is we get a little lazy and we start to assume that today’s fire is actually more important, and the person we care about is probably okay for now. But more often than not, we postpone what might be smoldering, or maybe what’s not yet lit on fire in our person.
If we don’t tend to that now, we’re going to tend that fire later. Schedule the time now, and show up prepared.
The next set of scripts will help.
What to Say Script #2: Listen to Where They Are
In that meeting, your job is to create a safe space for an honest conversation and listen without judgment to what’s being said.
The truth is that many employees choose to resign because they don’t feel safe voicing their concerns. They don’t feel like they can bring problems forward or don’t believe anyone can fix them. So, it’s often easier to follow the trend and just leave.
You might shake your head and say, “but my people KNOW they can come to me! Of COURSE I want to hear what’s bad enough to make them want to leave!”
Do they? Do you?
You might unintentionally be turning people away—they think you’re too busy, or they think their problems don’t matter.
- Alternatively, I’ve met a number of leaders who still use the old technique that says, “Don’t bring me a problem you don’t have an answer for.” While well-meaning, this perspective can actually HURT when it comes to retention issues. Often people don’t know how to problem solve in their particular situation, and so leaving just seems . . . easier.
This conversation you’re having is a great step.
Get it started by listening to where they are:
“Sarah, thank you for taking the time for us to chat today. I know so much keeps changing in our organization and in the world, and I realized I was overdue to just take a step back and hear firsthand how things are going for you. I hope you know how much I value you here, and I want you to stay and continue to have a thriving career here.
But I live in the real world and I know you have other options. I want to do what I can to make sure your work here keeps working for what you need and want in your career and life.
Today, I’m putting myself in listen mode, and there’s no right or wrong, so I just want to hear about what’s happening from your perspective. While I can’t promise immediate answers or fixes to anything you share today, I am taking notes and before we go, I’d like to schedule another meeting like this next month. Or if we have items that need to be followed up on sooner, I want to get that into our calendars while we’re talking today.
Does that sound like what you expected? Any questions or other things on your mind before we start?
Then, SHUT UP.
Typically, your person will passively nod and give you the go-ahead. They still may be skeptical of the conversation or of your intent. That’s okay. You only earn trust through time, and this time you’re spending is one deposit in the trust bank, and the more deposits in the trust bank, the easier it’ll be to fight the great resignation.
What to Say Script #3: Disrupt the Brain
This conversation is an opportunity to invite your people to think differently and express themselves honestly. So it deserves bigger questions.
- Of all the things you’re working on right now, what’s the thing you’re enjoying best?
- What’s the one thing you see here that’s not working as well as it could?
- If you had a magic wand, what’s one or two things you would change in your work here right now to make it work better for you?
Why These Questions Work
Neuroscientists call this “brain disruption.” It’s a strategy of asking the unexpected, shaking us out of our workbot selves, and moving us back into our human, honest thoughts.
Questions like these open up possibilities for changes you never imagined were valuable or relevant. The “magic wand” question is particularly relevant since you can uncover the pain points faster and understand assumptions that are leading to overwork or overload (watch my video on how to drop some balls).
Most importantly, after you ask a disruptive question. . . shut up and listen.
Give the person space and time to think about it. Silence is a powerful invitation for deeper thought.
If someone struggles to answer, that’s good. Discomfort is where the growth is. Over time, they’ll get used to you asking more powerful, important questions—and they’ll respond in kind.
What to Say Script #4: Accelerate Appreciation
As you get close to wrapping up and you’ve scheduled your next steps, close with a final script:
“What I really admire about you is . . .”
Why this works:
Too often, our conversations at work are focused on all the broken processes, the undone projects, the difficult people. We forget to make space to appreciate all that’s going on around us that’s going well.
As a leader, finding the gold in others and making sure you let them know is an incredibly powerful tool in the fight against the great resignation. It’s harder to leave where you know you’ve been seen—and valued.
Yes, this takes time. It takes attention and intention.
But what’s the alternative? Let your people drift and wander, and know you didn’t even care enough to fight the great resignation trend?
You care. That’s why you’ve read this far.
The next time you’re not sure what to say so people stay, give these scripts a try, and keep your best people with you, longer.
When you’re looking for what to say so people stay, you can use my book as a conversation starter, too. It’s called “Red Cape Rescue: Save Your Career Without Leaving Your Job,” and it contains 15 different ways each member of your team can take back control inside their careers. Get your copy here (affiliate link) or contact us here for bulk purchases of 50 or more. More info at RedCapeRescue.com.