A reader asks:
I manage a small team. We pay generous salaries, overtime, on-call pay, and very nice year-end bonuses. I'd like to think I am a good manager -- I invest in my team's growth, I communicate expectations clearly, and I offer genuine appreciation for good work. When something goes wrong -- as it always does at some point -- I'm professional and fair, and have a constructive conversation about corrective actions.
All that said, I am constantly anxious that someone is going to leave. If they request a day off in the middle of the week, I think, "Oh no, interviews."
Everyone seems happy and I have no reason to think anyone is looking to leave. I check in regularly with the team to ensure everything is going well for them, but I can't envision anyone really telling me they were job-searching if they were.
I totally get that people leaving jobs for a whole host of reasons is a normal thing. I have ensured the staff is cross-trained, so I am not reliant on any one person, but as everyone is a key person, the thought of someone leaving makes me nuts. Any thoughts on how to control my stress here?
I think you should embrace the idea that people will leave -- not just reluctantly accept it, but actively embrace it.
Because people will leave! That's part of the deal. You don't get to keep them forever, and that's OK. They've presumably grown professionally while working for you, so at some point they'll move on to the next thing that will help them grow even more. That's how it's supposed to work.
What, specifically, worries you when you think about people leaving? Is it the logistics of covering their work until someone new is hired? The hassle of hiring? Are you worried that the next person won't be as good, or will disrupt your current team dynamics? Are you worried that people leaving reflects badly on you as a manager?
If your worry is logistics about coverage and the hassle of hiring: Yeah, that stuff is a pain. But it's a normal part of doing business, and there's no way out of it...just like lots of other annoying things about work that you probably don't stay constantly anxious over, like expense reports or messes in the office microwave.
If your worry is that the next person won't be as good: That's possible. But there's where having confidence in yourself as a manager comes in. If you know that you'll be rigorous in hiring, train people well, give feedback along the way, and address it forthrightly if things aren't working out, there may be some hassle there but it won't ever be a disaster. And again, it's a normal part of the job when you manage -- sometimes people won't be as good as you were hoping. It only becomes a real problem if you decline to do the work of managing it.
If your worry is that a new person will change your team dynamics: That's possible too, but it's not inherently a bad thing. Sometimes a long period where team dynamics don't change can lead to stagnation and tunnel vision. And again, if the dynamics change in a way that aren't ideal, have confidence in yourself to manage it.
But I suspect that your worry is that people leaving would reflect badly on you as a manager. At some level, do you feel like if you were a good manager, your staff would all stay? And that if they leave, you have failed in keeping them?
If so, I would try to reframe this in your head to something like this: "I will do my best to hire and retain good employees, which includes ensuring they're paid fairly and otherwise treating people well. It also includes doing my best to develop their skills and help them grow professionally, which means that I embrace the idea that at some point they will move on in order to keep progressing. And sometimes people will move on for reasons that have nothing to do with me -- their interests change, or they're moving, or they found an opportunity that was better for them. My job is not to keep everyone forever; my job is to manage well, retain my highest performers when I realistically can, and respond with good grace when people decide something else makes more sense for them."
Now, that doesn't mean that you should just throw up your hands and say, "Oh well! People leave, so I won't try to keep them at all." You should try to create an environment that good people want to stay in, and you especially should try to retain your high performers.
But no matter what you do, people will eventually leave. You are not all going to retire together. Plan to get great work from them for a few years (the exact amount of time will depend on norms in your field and the type of roles on your team), and then send them off into the world stronger employees than they started as. That's the opposite of failure as a manager.
Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.