People aren’t leaving your organisation, they’re leaving your worst managers

When we sent invitations to 2,000 business leaders of major global organisations to participate in a masterclass on employee engagement, some replies read, ‘This is not my area. I have sent your invitation onto someone in HR.’

It occurred to me when receiving those emails; ‘engagement’ is not a buzz word or trend that is going to pass.  Employee engagement is increasingly important and smart organisations are finding ways to measure it, monitor it, and link it to the way leaders are rewarded.

At Solution Cell we recognise three different types of people in the workplace in relation to this topic.  There are individuals who Turn Up, those who feel Trapped and people who are Tuned In.

It is likely that over the course of our working life, we have all spent some time in each of these categories.  Every organisation will have people who turn up, get through the to-do list, and go home.  They are unlikely to feel any emotional connection to their organisation or the work they do there and will not be a high performer or contributor to innovation.  One of the risks with this group is how easily they can move to feeling trapped, or in other words, actively disengaged.  Unfortunately, the adage that misery loves company is perilously true for the trapped, and they can be extremely good at encouraging people onto their team.

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2021 report, only 20% of employees fall into our ‘tuned in’ group.  It’s important not to confuse this status with satisfaction, happiness, or willingness to work overtime.  While it is likely that engaged employees may be all these things, they are not mutually exclusive, and you will certainly have people who are tuned in while observing and enjoying a healthy work/life balance.  Indeed, that balance is probably a key contributor to their level of engagement!

When people are tuned in, they often feel a genuine connection with the organisational (or their team’s) purpose, and they believe in their own ability to have an impact.

Something we are clear on is that managers play a crucial role when it comes to their teams’ engagement.  Business leaders have the ability to improve their employees’ lives.

In our experience, the best leaders are working hard  to understand each person in their circle of influence.  They are seeking to get beyond the job they ‘do’ and get into the reasons why they do it.  Californian psychologist, Robert Dilts, developed a model to express the hierarchy of levels that govern the operation of ‘the (human) system’.  At the top of this model are the most significant elements that govern our system, while lower down are the less important elements that are organised and deployed by the higher elements.  We see that the best leaders are having conversations that allow their people to be more open and connect at a deeper level, understanding who they are and what gives them a sense of purpose.

Organisations who understand and value employee engagement will be putting as much effort into learning why people stay, as they do into why they leave.


You have probably taken part in one or more exit interviews during your career, but how many ‘stay’ interviews have you had?

Our work in this area tells us that the stay interview is the most underutilised tool we have available when building an employee engagement strategy.  All too often, companies wait until people are walking out the door to find out how to be the best employer they can be.  But isn’t the exit interview too little, too late?

Asking open questions like the examples below, in a comfortable environment where employees can feel relaxed enough to be open and honest, will help leaders better understand their teams, build rapport and trust.  This process is most effective when conducted by the line manager, rather than being ‘outsourced’ to HR.  The regularity of a formal stay interview will be dependent on many factors, but some of these questions are appropriate and relevant for informal, regular catch ups – especially given the unparalleled circumstances we all find ourselves in due to Covid.

  • If you won the lottery and moved on, what would you miss most from your work?
  • How would you rate your work life-balance? What can we do to improve it?
  • What do you enjoy about the development opportunities available to you? How could they be improved?

We are observing that increasingly, employees expect organisations to have a purpose they can connect with which goes well beyond shareholder wealth creation .  Companies who do well at articulating organisational meaning and purpose are likely to have higher employee engagement levels.  The best leaders will find and articulate purpose for their own teams, if/when the organisation is falling below par in this area.

The best organisations will have a strategy for the Turned Up, Trapped and Tuned In.  As a leader, what is your role in that strategy?

Finally, when is the last time you asked yourself, ‘how well is work working for me?’  Are you tuned in?  If not, what needs to change?


Laura Hands
Head of Client Engagement