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Ask Kate: “My team members are leaving. Have I done something wrong?”

Published 8th Aug 2022

Hi Kate. I have spent the last six years building our internal marketing team from scratch. Some of the people I hired were completely new to marketing, whereas others already had experience under their belt. Over the last six years we’ve become a really close-knit team; we work well together, we know each other inside out, and the company has really invested in us as a new department within the business. However, over the last 18 months or so – all post-Covid – we have had a few people hand in their resignations, and they’ve moved on to new jobs. It’s really hard not to take it personally when my team members are leaving. Have I done something wrong?

Sam, Liverpool

I’m sorry to hear you’re blaming yourself for your team members leaving, Sam. It’s completely understandable why you’d think that way, given that you built the team yourself and you’ve all become so close as a result. Putting six years of work into a team that you’re proud of and that delivers great results for your business is so rewarding, so when team members move on it’s completely normal to feel a bit uneasy about it to begin with.

The thing a lot of business owners, department leads and hiring managers don’t realise is that it’s just as important to allow people to leave as it is to help them stay – this is all part of leadership. Despite having built the team yourself, there are so many reasons why your employees might be choosing to move on to something else, and the likelihood is that this has absolutely nothing to do with you as a manager.

My first question to you would be – have you (or someone from HR) conducted exit interviews for each person who has left? If so, what was the general consensus in terms of why they were choosing to move on? Exit interviews are so important, and we always encourage organisations we work with to prioritise exit interviews in order to improve their hiring processes going forward. If there are ever any specific or recurring issues brought up in exit interviews, these need to be addressed and resolved as soon as possible.

With that being said, if your team has worked well together and there have been no obvious reasons or feedback given as to why a few people seem to be leaving in a short period of time, there are countless reasons why this might be happening. For example, your longest serving employee might want a career change, or one of the juniors might have found a particular strength in something that isn’t yet part of your product or service. Another person may have never intended to stay at your business for as long as they have, and have finally come to the point where they fancy a change.

In addition to these reasons, there are also countless other possibilities why team members might be moving on. They may want to take the marketing experience they’ve gained with you and work in a new sector, or perhaps they are taking a career break and don’t really know what’s next for them. Plus, ‘the Great Resignation’ is a real thing – so many people are changing directions in their careers post-pandemic, and the majority of the time it’s because they simply want a fresh start after a difficult couple of years.

Whatever it is, the key to answering your query about if you’ve done something wrong is to communicate with your team members. Speak to them individually when they are handing their notices in and ask if there’s anything you could have done differently, or if they have simply found a new opportunity they don’t want to miss out on, or they just feel like this particular chapter of their life is closed. It’s also important to remember that employee retention is important, but it is impossible to retain all employees forever.

The main thing to remember is that eventually, your people will outgrow your business, and when they do – you know you’ve done a good job. The whole point of leading a team is to help them become better people and good at their jobs – so good that they outgrow you! Don’t blame yourself and think it’s a bad thing. Be proud of yourself and recognise that what you built has been fantastic, you’ve helped people develop their careers, and now you have the exciting opportunity to hire some new talent.


Got a question for Kate?

If you’ve got an issue or work-related question you’d like to put to recruitment guru Kate McCarthy and her network of HR experts, email enquiries@mccarthyrecruitment.com with the subject line “Ask Kate”. We can’t answer every question, but we will try our best to point you in the right direction.

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