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Retaining Employees is Everyone’s Job

Questioning Your Purpose

What to say about September 11th, this year, didn’t come to me until I was standing in front of a client’s leaders, talking with them about retaining employees and what they could do to become an even better place to work.

Their office isn’t too far from Shankesville, PA, where flight 93 crashed on September 11th, so they seemed like the right group with whom to share my story. Then I decided that perhaps I should share it with you too.

I bought my first house in Denver in 1999 and went on vacation shortly after closing on the house. Right before I left, my manager told me he had too many direct reports and was putting a layer between us. I’d have a new boss when I came back from my vacation.

Two weeks later, I returned to my new manager and found her to be defensive, paranoid, and irrational – in short, impossible to work with. I did everything I knew to work well with her, calling on our HR department and the EAP counseling available to me, for help. Despite that I led communication skills training for the company and taught conflict resolution, I couldn’t work with her, and let my old boss know I’d be leaving.

I suspect he already knew my new boss wasn’t going to work out (I wasn’t the only person struggling to work with her), and offered me a position in our New York office. He told me that if after 90-days I wanted to return to Denver, I could. Ninety-days in New York with all my expenses paid or unemployment with no plan? The choice was clear. I went to New York and moved into my office in Tower Two of the World Trade Center, where I worked on September 11th.

I’m not proud of uprooting my whole life for a manager I couldn’t work with, and it’s not something I recommend others do. But it does demonstrate the difference one person can make. I never actually lived in that first house I bought. I accepted a permanent job in New York, but wasn’t ready to let go of my life in Denver. So I struggled with the decision of whether to stay in New York or return to Denver, for three years.

It’s normal to question our purpose and wonder if we make a difference. If you ask these questions, consider all the people you work with on a daily basis and how you impact their daily lives. We spend a huge portion of our existence at work, and how we interact with coworkers, customers, direct reports, and vendors impacts their happiness, or lack thereof, in a big way.

Don’t underestimate the difference you make when you smile at someone in the hallway at work, or don’t. When you thank someone for making your job easier, or don’t. When you take the time to teach someone a quicker way to do something, saving him countless of hours, or don’t. Regardless of your title and position in your organization, you impact the people around you in a huge way, every day.

During last week’s training in Pennsylvania, I talked about the four things essential to retaining employees.

Retaining employees –the four things employees need to be satisfied and engaged at work:

  • I trust the leaders who run this organization.
  • My opinion means something. I am listened to.
  • I feel respected (by my manager). We have a good working relationship.
  • My work is challenging and interesting. My career is going somewhere here.

If you’re a manager working on retaining employees, spend time with your employees. Ask questions about their career goals. Take the time to coach and give feedback. If you’re a senior leader committed to retaining employees, be visible. Walk around your office(s), addressing employees by name, and asking about their daily work. And if you’re not in a position of leadership, be easy to work with by keeping your commitments, being a short cut and providing information when you can, and offering to help employees who are overwhelmed. Retaining employees is not just a manager’s job. Every person we work with impacts our daily lives more than we know.

Enter to win!


Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at

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14 Responses to “Retaining Employees is Everyone’s Job”

  1. Susan Blair says:

    The manager who made the biggest impact in my life refused to install voice mail on his telephone. He demanded that his line be answered by the 3rd ring by someone and had his line installed on 6 assistants phones! His philosophy – ‘every call is a potential sale’ and he didn’t want to miss an opportunity. Lesson learned is that every call, and every caller, is important.

  2. Molly Hall says:

    The best boss I’ve have is Dave Shaul, who was my news director at WCIA -TV Champaign, IL. He modeled excellent team leadership. Dave could and would do anything to help his news team get the best newscast on the air, checking on needs and jumping in as needed to edit a promo, run a tape to the control room or tune in a live shot. He often worked holidays to make sure others had some holiday time off. His office door was always open, and he made it comfortable to discuss anything. I will always appreciate the 11 years I enjoyed his leadership!

  3. Pam says:

    To quote Paul Harvey…what’s “the rest of the story”? We had relatives in Tower Two on that heart wrenching day. They all were safe but many of their friends were not. That impact on my life will always be with me. Glad you are a survivor in many ways, but I hope you’ll someday share how you escaped and how that guided your life and career.

    • Shari Harley says:

      Hi Pam, Thanks for your comment. I was lucky to be out of town for the day. All of our employees got out of the building safely. We had enough people who worked in the building the first time there was an attempted bombing, that they knew to evacuate. Everyone walked down the stairs to safety. I wrote a blog a few years ago about how the experience impacted me. I’ll find it and send it to you. Thanks again for your comment and concern!

      • Eileen Engelbrecht says:

        I would also love to read your escape and how that molded your years since then.

        I would also like to know how you train Supervisors and work w/them when there is one owner who cannot be trusted or respected.

        Thanks, E.

        • Shari Harley says:

          Here’s my reply to this question: “How you train Supervisors and work w/them when there is one owner who cannot be trusted or respected?” It’s definitely challenging to work for someone you don’t trust. Lack of trust in leadership is one of the main reasons for employee turnover and lack of engagement. As a leader yourself, you can’t speak negatively about the owner or throw that person under the bus. You have to visibly support him/her, and if you can’t it’s time to move on.

          I’d suggest helping supervisors focus on their sphere of influence and the things they can impact — their own teams and departments. As supervisors, we are the buffer and can create a good place work, regardless of who is running the organization. Give your staff specific skills to manage employees well and to be the manager s/he wants to have. Also, provide techniques to work with the challenging leader. Examples of this are communicating with that person as s/he likes to communicate, providing necessary information, but not more, and not taking things personally.

          It sounds like a challenging situation. I hope this helps!

  4. Teresa Berry says:

    My current manager has been a great leader/mentor. He has lead me since early in my HR career. He allows me to try new things, make mistakes and gives great career feedback. I am never afraid to tell him what I think because he is open with me as well.

  5. Maria Lofton says:

    Great thoughts – we tend to forget that we spend a great deal of time looking down at our phone as we’re walking (not the safest thing to do) when that’s prime time to engage others…use the 12 foot rule…if you’re within 12 feet of someone – put down the phone and engage. Thanks for sharing great reminders! Love your blogs…

  6. Ray W. says:

    I’ve been blessed with great bosses nearly my entire career, and before my professional career as well. All of them believed in mentoring and supporting their people in various ways. There are many lessons that stick out for me, but there was one particular nugget from the first boss I had at the business professional level (ie, a career job). Her name was Linda, and one day in a one-on-one meeting she shared with me her belief that the essence of any manager’s job is to provide whatever their employee’s need in order to do THEIR job. This could mean material, supplies, equipment, training, counseling, a kick in the pants, etc… That always stuck with me, and it guides my approach to managing my own Direct Reports, or even managing coworkers.

  7. Lisa T. says:

    The manager who made a big impact on me was a less than positive impact. My first day on the new job started with the manager who hired me saying I would report to a new person, despite his protests against it. I met my new manager on my second day at the office, which happened to be her second day on the job as well. Our first conversation was all about how I had one week to write a grant for breast cancer research funds, yet there was no grant she was targeting. She asked no questions about me, my qualifications, interest in the position or explain her expectations/vision for the position. Her only guidance for the assignment she gave me was she had “loads” of information in a drawer in her credenza in her office. Oh, and by the way, the HR Manager for the Department sat in the meeting as well, which was a big red flag to me this was a no-win situation. The lesson I learned was it pays to do more research about a company before accepting a position and asking a lot more questions during the interview process to make sure you understand the whole picture of the department you’ll join and the people you’ll work with and for.

  8. Ruthy P. says:

    At a former employer, I had a manager who always believed the worse about her direct reports, if info came to her from anyone else in management. She confronted me a couple of times. I had to take a deep breath and wait 24 hours to respond. I learned from this, to know your people well enough, and to know if what is being said might have any weight to it. Speak with your person (direct report) asap, and get all the facts. Give feedback to your person as needed, and definitely follow up with feedback to the accuser. I was in the right, when I was accused, due to someone over hearing a partial conversation, and one of those chats was with the CEO. I learned what not to be, how to give appropriate feedback, and get ALL the facts. I lost all trust in my former manager, I want my people to trust me.

  9. Lisa Zarda says:

    Your example reminds me of my last boss. Overall I did enjoy working for him and I learned many things, however after I got married he seemed to think that I was going to have babies and leave so I felt as though I was treated differently. This eventually drove me to find another job and move across the country. The irony was that I would not have a child for another four years (and I do believe the move across the country is the reason I now have two beautiful children, long story I won’t go in to here). So yes, this was very thoughtful to think as a manger that you do have great impact even outside of someone’s professional life.

  10. Elizabeth Connell says:

    The manager who made a big impact on me was one I went to work for straight out of college. I didn’t know what to expect from him and I was very young. What I saw right away is that he was passionate about his business (he was also the owner/founder) and that passion ignited me every day I worked for him. I believe he knew how much I respected him and how much I wanted to help his company grow. He must have also seen passion in me as I was quickly promoted into a position I would never have seen myself…in sales. He nurtured that part of me, guided me, trained me, mentored me and held me to a standard. I worked hard for him and wish now, looking back that I would have stayed longer to do more in that field. To this day, I think about how far he brought his company, the people he treated so well and the belief in people I have seen very little of from others. Years later, I have found that again in my supervisor, and I so appreciate her belief in me, her encouragement of me and her willingness to be open to my ideas, and the opportunitied to grow that she has given me. I realize now that I was spoiled by my first employer, and have probably been seeking that my whole life and am lucky to have found it again.

  11. Linda says:

    The manager that made the biggest impression on me was the one that always took the time to show that she cared. If there was a problem professional or personal she took the time to talk to you about it and you could tell she really cared. I have tried to be much like her, always willing to listen.

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