Apparently there’s a war for talent going on. That jells with the whole “Great Resignation” thing, and is probably great news for many folks who are in the market for a new opportunity. 

With such shortages, companies tend to start offering sweeter and sweeter deals to try and compete. It can get a bit ridiculous. Ask anyone who’s had to try and compete with Silicon Valley for developer talent in the past.

However, the immediate question that comes to my mind when companies are hemorrhaging talent or having trouble hiring is: What are you doing to keep the people you have? (By the way, keeping the customers you have is less expensive and more lucrative over time than constantly hustling for new ones, too.)

Is it actually a foregone conclusion that people will quit in droves, just because they can? Is every company doomed to be understaffed and risk going broke in the tooth-and-nail fight for talent?

Like customer acquisition, there is also a cost for talent acquisition, both in terms of compensation packages and the resources required to find, vet and bring people on board. Also, a high turnover rate stalls a company on a lot of fronts. It prevents growth and momentum, corrodes culture and damages morale.

There are companies that seem to forget the value of their staff as soon as they’re on board, seemingly oblivious to the damage this does and how much it encourages expensive churn. And woe be unto a company where the existing staff finds out about sweetheart deals new hires are getting. Especially when that existing staff has been told the company can’t afford decent raises or bonuses, sometimes for years. (Not uncommon.)

Ignore the staff you already have, or take them for granted, at your peril. They built the company, they got it through to this point and they’re probably pretty exhausted these days. It takes less and less for them to make the decision to leave. Especially in places that still have robust social safety nets.

To lightly butcher the Anna Karenina Principle, unhappy employees are all unhappy in their own way, and have their own reasons for leaving jobs. Unsurprisingly, though, there are some common themes of how companies screw up. Avoiding them, or at least working hard to do so, won’t guarantee that you’ll never have a turnover problem for any reason, but it should certainly help.

What does the company look like? How about the management? How about the senior management? A company where your peers and leadership don’t look like you means they probably often don’t think like you or share many of your experiences. 

It’s not great for the company, its products or services, or its customers, and it can be much worse for its staff. It’s anywhere from demoralizing to dangerous to try and live and make a living in those spaces. Don’t utter the word “meritocracy.” I will curse you with paper cuts for all eternity. 

Show me the money. Seriously. This is a capitalist society and even people who profess to have a calling need to eat and pay rent. However, most folks were not called to their jobs by any divine power. Ideally you like your job most days, but that’s ultimately irrelevant to your compensation. And there is no such thing as unskilled labour. 

If a company brings people on board paying them as little as they can get away with, underpays people who traditionally get screwed over in compensation and negotiations, and/or finds every excuse under the sun why decent compensation increases don’t happen regularly, then they deserve a mass exodus. This doesn’t encourage loyalty or trust, nor does it deserve it.

Along with it being more than reasonable to expect your compensation to increase, it is also reasonable to expect your role to change. Not just expand in scope (more on that here), but advance, if you are so inclined. 

Some people may take a job hoping to do that one thing forever. But even being clergy or a copywriter or electrician for your whole career doesn’t mean there won’t be change and growth, particularly as skills and experience develop. And many people need substantial change regularly. 

If you find yourself getting repeatedly passed over for promotions or beneficial changes in your responsibilities, getting project ideas shut down or shunted to someone else, or find out there just isn’t an advancement path for you, wouldn’t you be inclined to leave for somewhere where there is one? 

Plenty of things that can’t be shared with everyone go on in companies. Sure, some things may eventually become common knowledge, like an acquisition or a restructuring. And there are various reasons, some of them legal, why certain things can’t be the subject of office chit-chat. 

But can upper management develop the idea that staff need to be treated like children, and that communicating concerns of issues just isn’t done because they’ll collapse or flee in droves or something? It’s more likely the opposite. People who are trusted to know the good and the bad (to the extent possible) are more likely to feel invested and develop trust with the company and its actions. Getting blindsided torpedoes that.

Of course, some companies also try to scare or intimidate staff into not talking about any number of subjects. Compensation and union drives come to mind. You should definitely leave anywhere that does that. They ain’t looking out for you. 

Where possible, companies should aim to be as transparent as possible both day to day and when big things are afoot. Be cognizant of how information is communicated, and by whom. (Lordy, some execs should never be allowed to talk. To pretty much anyone.) Have a game plan for most scenarios so you’re prepared in advance.

When tough decisions need to be made, the people those decisions are going to affect the most should be involved. Not necessarily to drive the discussions or decisions, but involved. They have the most skin in the game and will have to deal with the most fallout. At the very least it’s a sign of respect. 

If a company only thinks its managers are good for cleaning up messes, then they should take their janitorial skills elsewhere. Good managers are the ones who prevent messes from happening, more often than not.

Also? You can’t maintain a cone of silence or stop people from talking. Like, ever. The tighter you try to lock it down, the bigger, faster and wilder the rumours will spin out to fill the vacuum. Encourage that, even unintentionally, at your corporate peril.

With the world and so much of life in the state that it is, you’d think stability would be a big goal for companies. There are few more stabilizing achievements than low or no turnover. Sure, companies can court people who can help them grow or navigate change. Sure, they can cut dead wood if that’s an issue.

But one of the best things a company can do for its health and future is to value what it has and has already invested in. Remember, that existing team member was shiny and new once. Focusing all the wooing and energies on the new new-and-shiny is taking a big risk. And companies pretty much never accurately calculate what they will be losing if long-time core talent leaves.

In the words of a hair metal or folk classic, depending on your proclivities, you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.

M-Theory is an opinion column by Melanie Baker. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Communitech. Melle can be reached on Twitter at @melle or by email at