Obtaining and maintaining first-rate talent is a key challenge for companies that want to stay competitive. Talented, hard-working employees are a precious commodity and losing them unnecessarily can injure your culture and your bottom line.  

There are multiple reasons that an employee might want to exit your employ, and taking the time to discover the right reason and deal with it on its own merits can mean the difference between securing their loyalty or looking for a replacement.

Here are five of them:

1. They found a better opportunity elsewhere.

On average, people spend a great deal of their life at work-- especially business owners, who are constantly tempted to treat work as life itself.

The office is our home away from home. Our colleagues are a second family. We become deeply involved on every level with every part of a wonderful enterprise that allows us to put food on the table while simultaneously pursuing a dream.

Considering all the time and emotions involved, it can become easy for employers to get overly attached to their employees. The idea of a particularly cherished employee departing for greener pastures can almost feel like a personal betrayal.

Avoid this. No matter how much you've mentored and loved them, let them enjoy the right to pursue their own dream. This isn't to say that you shouldn't fight to keep them if possible, but if at the end of the day you just can't compete with their new gig, make their departure as smooth as possible and give them your blessing as they leave.

2. They're feeling unfulfilled but staying quiet about it.

I'm continually surprised by the number of people--otherwise bright, well-socialized, and articulate--who hesitate to voice their ambitions. They want to move up in the company and face new challenges and opportunities, but withdraw into themselves instead and lose energy and direction.

Some of them are just shy. Some of them are hypersensitive to the stresses their managers already feel, and don't want to add to their burden. Some are self-doubters, and worry that taking on more responsibilities could expose some hitherto unknown weakness both to themselves and their colleagues.

In each of these cases, communication is key. If one of your employees turns morose or seems to check out, find out why. Train your management team to watch for signs of discontentment. They should encourage those under them to be confident and straightforward about their desire to advance their careers.

3. They're having a conflict with a coworker.

Occasionally, you'll have a situation where two otherwise stellar employees simply can't labor side by side. The naturally bad match has tried and failed to patch it over numerous times, and the awkwardness is beginning to rub off on the rest of their team.

This sort of conflict is rare, but it does happen. It'll be up to you or the team leader to decide if both parties are acting in good faith. Have they really attempted to work through it together? Is it completely mutual, or is one side less willing to compromise than the other?

If they're acting in good faith, try to accommodate them by putting them on different teams. If it turns out that the disagreement is one-sided--X is willing to compromise, but Y isn't or is playing politics--think long and hard about asking Y to hit the road.

4. They're struggling at home.

Your employees have lives outside of the office, too. Sometimes these lives fill up with difficulties to the point that their professional performance takes a nosedive.

This is the time to act like family. If someone you value's not functioning because of stuff that's happening at home, give them time off to address it in spite of it being an external problem. They'll remember your patience and empathy and repay you in loyalty. 

5. They want to skedaddle and it's no use arguing.

I once had an employee who played a pivotal role at one of my companies. When he unexpectedly announced that he'd found a better position elsewhere and needed cut ties immediately, I told him I needed him for at least another month.

I was persistent and persuasive, and he finally gave in. I didn't realize that the moment he decided he'd be happier elsewhere, he became increasingly unhappy with his current situation.

It led him to stew about perceived slights in the past, and to blow trivial setbacks all out of proportion. His criticisms of how we operated, which had been minor before, seemed to compound and intensify.

In short, he did a lot of damage to morale during that extra month I begged him for. The lesson for me was obvious: If someone makes it sufficiently clear that they want to start fresh somewhere else, let them or they may turn rotten.

Published on: Jun 12, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.