When The Good Get Going: Retaining Star Wellness Employees

Tomorrow at 5 p.m. your top corporate wellness account manager tells you she’s quitting. Which scenario describes your reaction?

1) Shell-shocked and at a complete loss to replace her

Shame on you. Whether you lead a team of two or a department of two hundred, a key management responsibility is contingency planning. What will you do if your fitness director gets sick? Moves back home to care for a parent? Gets hit by a bus, unable to work for months? Or, of course, quits.

To avoid the heartburn and sleepless nights:

Open your calendar right now and make a monthly appointment with yourself. Include anyone else who can help you brainstorm. Identify your top staffers and their critical job responsibilities. Then, for each responsibility, identify at least three ways you might be able to get that work done if the current employee weren’t available.

This process is usually difficult and discouraging at first, which is why you need to do it monthly. You’ll find that after two or three months it’s easier and you’re seeing a much broader set of possible solutions.

2) Surprised and disappointed yet confident that someone can fill her shoes

Outstanding. You’ve probably done a good job of hiring people with “broad shoulders” who can fill gaps and take on other responsibilities if someone’s suddenly out of action. It sounds like you’re clear on the skills and capabilities of your people. And you’ve probably given some thought to which tasks are absolute must-do’s and which could go by the wayside during a transition period.

The only question to ask yourself:

Have you consistently done everything you could to explore her professional goals and interests and help her find the opportunities she wanted in your business?

If you have, and she still wants something different, fair enough, right? No need to beat yourself up.

3) Furious at yourself, because you’ve been meaning to talk to her about a bigger role

This pattern is common among small business owners. You’re so busy with urgent day-to-day stuff that you ignore the care and feeding of your people…until it’s a crisis.

Then you swing into action, throwing everything you’ve got on the table: bonuses, salary increases, profit-sharing, even a share of the company’s ownership.

Why is this bad? First, your employee’s decision to move on didn’t happen overnight. They were originally excited about your business and looked forward to growing with it. When nothing much materialized, they started mentally disengaging – lowering their commitment to the business. It wasn’t a conscious decision…instead, think of it as a shifting of gears that happened over months or even years.

Now, you’re fixated on keeping them…but they’re still one foot (or more) out the door. Their gears don’t shift back to “excited and committed” just because you’re throwing incentives at them. So while you may lure them back for awhile, the odds are good that they’ll really leave within a year or so – this time for sure.

How can you prevent this nightmare scenario?

Reassess your own behavior and priorities. This issue developed because you weren’t paying attention. Odds are, if you entice them back into the fold now, you’ll drift back in to your old habits of “I don’t have time to worry about this right now” and you’ll just show your employee that their decision to leave was really the right one.

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Leslie Nolen, Radial's president, is the nationally-known expert on the art and science of selling health and wellness.

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