Retaining employees can be tough. You have to give them incentives beyond a salary without breaking the bank or appearing to bribe them (because that comes with problems). At the same time, you need to be alert for the signs that your best people are ready to quit.

What many entrepreneurs and managers forget is that they are often the main reason people don't remain engaged.

Disinterest in and dislike of the environment is frequently a "result of poorly designed work," according to experts and researchers Sharon K. Parker, Daniela Andrei, and Anja Van den Broeck, writing in the Harvard Business Review.

In an experiment, organizational psychologists, safety managers, and health and safety inspectors were asked to expand a half-time clerical job of filing and photocopying into a full-time one. They had the choice to order more of the same or to add a variety of meaningful work tasks that would add variety.

Forty-five percent of the participants loaded the theoretical worker up with even more photocopying and filing for eight hours a day. It's like something you'd see on a television sitcom. Or maybe a Terry Gilliam movie. Or in a company where managers pat themselves on the back for their great leadership.

In a second study, participants were told that a warehouse worker was failing to meet half her deadlines. Although she'd run to get goods, things fell down (metaphorically speaking) when she was pulling them off the shelves. Even with a choice of fixing the work design or fixing the worker, many opted for the latter. Like more than two-thirds of the people wanted to send her on more training, with a third telling her to start hitting the gym.

In the description, she was already running to get things. What, more cardio?

This is a classically bad approach to fixing problems. You could go back to the beginnings of statistical quality control and people like W. Edwards Deming who showed that when you have problems, it's generally the system, not the individuals, that are at fault. Blame the people and keep the problems.

However, fixing systems requires work on the part of managers. Telling an employee to improve--and, even worse, pretending that there is nothing else wrong--is a form of gaslighting that ultimately will enrage employees, at least from what I've observed over decades.

A common real-world example is when companies "downsize" employees and expect the remaining ones to take up the slack. You can order it all you want, but what you're really saying is that you expect people to work extra without more pay and to give up their own time so you can make your numbers look better. Or you just admitted that you live in a fog of fiction.

When was the last time you invested time or money into someone else's commercial project, knowing there would be no return for you?

Not to say that specific employees are never problems. But chances are that you're heavily involved in undermining your own organization and reducing what it is capable of. Here's a description from the authors:

Work design is usually considered from a process perspective only (such as introducing lean principles), or from a physical work space perspective (such as open plan offices). But by ignoring the psychology behind truly good work design, organizations risk disengaging their workers, accelerating turnover, and driving down productivity. Indeed, there is little point in having a funky office that is meant to spark innovation, while having bosses who tightly control all aspects of the work.

And know when to check how you're treating supervisors and managers as well. The authors said that the worst people at designing jobs had the same sorts of conditions pushed down on them. Maybe you've locked them into blocks that keep them from being more creative and effective.