Retention: Is It Always Good?

Nov 21, 2014 1 Min Read
Photo credit (above): Robert S. Donovan | Flickr

When your employees over-stay and under-perform

Talent retention is inarguably a key consideration in talent management.

However, when an organisation plans to move towards a different culture or direction, having a large pool of long-serving employees may sometimes pose more of a challenge than support.

It is important for human resources (HR) and the management to understand who and why some talents stay on in the organisation.

My story

In my first post-graduation employment, I worked with a non-governmental organisation, focusing on leadership development of student leaders.

After the three-year contract, I wanted experience in a corporate organisation for exposure and growth.

I had my first taste of talent management when I joined the managerial advancement for recruited trainee programme in a local conglomerate.

In the early 2000s, management training was merely designed for the trainees to undergo a series of trainings.

Fortunately for me, the programme was more extensive than most companies, and I had the opportunity to experience various roles (corporate communications, branding, training, coaching, internal audit, corporate planning, events, HR, employee engagement, construction, and education) in multiple industries.

After six good years of learning, I felt that my experience had somewhat plateaued and it was time to put myself through another painful learning curve – this time zooming into the area of leadership and talent development in a consulting role, where I have continued to explore and learn even at this point in time of writing this article.

To some, this career journey is not uncommon. However, to my dad, I suspect he went through mini panic attacks when I shared my intentions of seeking new “adventures”.

His well-meaning advice has consistently been focused on how difficult it is for jobs to come by and reminded me to be contented with my current job.

As we know, for employees of his generation, having a large group of long-serving staff in an organisation is really nothing to shout about. Evidently, the topic on employee retention is not as hot as it is now!

Why some talents leave

Today, almost every HR division in large companies worry about employee retention. However, when the right ecosystem is not in place, is having employees who stay on long – sometimes too long – a good thing?

A study by Gallup Organisation reports that the main reason people change their jobs is to look for career advancement and promotional opportunities.

It is from this study and Marcus Buckingham’s book First, Break All The Rules, that the recent HR adage was popularised: “People leave managers, not organisations.”

Is it true when you reflect on your own journey?

While I don’t deny the truth in it, I don’t think we should let organisations off the hook so easily by placing the blame on the managers.

I had three bosses who left a great impact in my first decade of work, and these are people I would happily work with again, if our paths ever cross.

My first boss, Annette Arulrajah, role-modelled for me what it means to be a leader – one who leads with vision while being genuinely concerned for the team. My second boss, Farizal B Jaafar, taught me how professionalism, perfectionism, and “PR-ism” are important to the external and internal branding of an organisation.

My third boss, Adeline Goh, taught me how to develop and coach the team in a firm yet loving manner.

With these managers, my reason for leaving was never about them. So Buckingham’s statement doesn’t quite apply to me and a large group of people I know.

Why did others stay?

Like me, many employees move on in search of more challenges, learning opportunities and career advancement that their organisation can’t provide. They did not leave because of their managers.

More often than not, the learning culture and promotional opportunities are shaped at the organisational level, and needs to be adhered to by the managers.

Despite what I felt was “missing” during my tenure, both the organisations I left have had many employees who stayed on much longer and were very contented with their careers.

This is not uncommon in many organisations in Malaysia. Oftentimes in my meetings with clients, some have shared about their concerns on employee retention, while others were contented with their low turnover.

Let’s look at some groups of talents who have decided to stay on.

1 The ‘adequately challenged talents’

People stay on in organisations for many reasons. Some stay because the organisations could still provide them with sufficient challenges and the career advancement that meet their expectations.

I’d like to term this group as the “adequately challenged talents”.

The organisational policies, culture and opportunities for learning is at par with their personal expected growth pace – which may be fast or slow, depending on the individual. There is an alignment in what they want and what they are receiving.

Both organisations and talents stand to gain in this situation as long as the needs of both parties do not change suddenly. This is ideal for companies in a steady growth environment.

2 The ‘contented talents’

The second group of talents stay on because they are comfortable with the organisation and have found an environment that is stable and gives them a sense of belonging.

Challenging work and fast-paced career advancement is secondary. This group often stays on for a very long time and are contented with both the work and the environment.

This often makes up a large group of long-serving employees. However, this group of talents may not live up to their potential in times of change and growth.

As such, it may not favour the organisation. Instead, the organisation might find itself investing in talents who may not support their change efforts.

3 The ‘unreached potential talents’

The third group of people who stay are probably those who would like to have a little more challenge in their work, but the great benefits and compensation of the organisation is just too good to forgo.

Subsequently, they stay on, doing well at their work, but not pushing themselves further. For this group, I’d like to see them as the “unreached potential talents” – people who have side-lined their potential for other reasons.


When retention turns bad

While none of these groups can be deemed right or wrong, nor good or bad, organisations need to start looking at the impact these different groups of employees have on the organisation, in line with their strategic direction.

Perhaps it is good to have a quick organisational survey of what kind of employees you have and had in your organisation.
Which group makes up a larger percentage in your organisation and what is the impact?

More importantly, it is crucial for the management to annually have a stocktake of the direction the company is heading towards, and which group of employees you would need in your organisation.

Elisa believes that everyone should enjoy pain as much as pleasure when it comes to learning and growth. She believes that the danger of wanting to just go through one aspect only is that both individuals and organisations will bear the negative impact in the long run. Engage her on a discussion on this issue at

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Tags: HR

Elisa is an Australia-based talent consultant and a former Leaderonomer and enjoys discovering the individuality of people and why they behave the way they do. Elisa, a monkey-year baby, previously led the Leaderonomics learning and Assessment business unit.

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