Un-Retention – Should they stay or should they go now


Once in a previous job of mine, there was a middle manager who said she was going to resign, we’ll call her Carol.

Her boss was really bothered by this. She was great with the external suppliers she dealt with. They were renowned for being difficult and she seemed to be able to wrap them round her little finger and get just what was needed for the business. She was also believed by some to be one of those lucky few to be deemed ‘future talent’ and was expected to get to the next level, if not the level above that.

So she was someone who the retention strategy would be saying ‘we need to keep her’ – both for the tactical needs of her immediate job, and for the strategic opportunities of the future.

This meant that when she said she’d been offered a role elsewhere, her ‘increase my pay and I’ll stay’ request was met and she stayed.

For a while…..

You see, it had been quite a while before her boss knew of her possible resignation that she’d mentally and emotionally disconnected from the business.

There were frustrations with her job, the team she worked in, the way things were done in the organisation.

She felt she was capable of a more senior role now, but the business was saying later.

She felt she could move faster on delivering her objectives, but the hierarchical decision-making slowed her down.

She believed in delivering what she’d committed to, but the processes and politics were stopping her achieving that.

Fundamentally it was now the wrong place for her to be.

But instead of letting her go with a smile and a wave to pursue her ambitions elsewhere, she was given what she and her boss thought would make her happy and have her stay.

So all done with the best intentions but there’s increasing evidence that money is not a motivator. It’s not what keeps people in a job. Beyond a certain level of necessity, pay is not a route to happiness – or motivation, or engagement, or commitment.

But that was the culture of the team she worked in. Not happy in job = ask for money – then I’ll be happy and able to stay. And you might be happy for a bit but it’s Hedonic Happiness (i.e. short-lived) and a symptom of Destination Addiction, where you live your life believing that when you get ‘over there’ then you’ll be happy!

But this way of living is like chasing the end of a rainbow. If you do get there the pot of gold’s always just out of reach and the happiness moves away.


And so it is with pay, increase pay and you may be happy for a short time, but then all the things that were making you unhappy will show themselves again – and you’ll be back to looking for the next buzz.

I believe in happiness being achieved when you’re happy internally – when you’re content – because what you’re doing matches what’s important to you. Where the way you’re treated matches your emotional needs. Where the interactions and relationships around you have you feel fulfilled.

When I spoke to Carol after her pay rise it was obvious she was still unhappy to be there – although on the bright side she could now go elsewhere and ask for even more money!

So rather than achieving retention of a great employee, we’d achieved retention of a disconnected employee who was delivering at about 50% of her ability for about 10% more cost. Kind of a bonkers business model!

At this stage with Carol, I talked to her about what was important to her about work. What was it she was looking for from her career and it soon became obvious that in fact the job she’d been going to take really wouldn’t have been right for her – so it was great she hadn’t left for it – but our conversation gave her clarity about what she really did want from work and shortly after this she landed her dream job and left – with a smile and a wave.

Sometimes it’s not about retention. It’s about un-retention. It’s about taking actions which mean you’re OK with letting people go. You don’t find yourself backed into a knee-jerk ‘pay more money’ response.

So for me, a great un-retention strategy starts with these ‘what’s important to you’ conversations. And with Carol, they were happening, kind of – we knew she was ambitious. But how clear were we – how really genuinely open and honest were we about what we could provide to achieve her ambitions? And the answer is, we weren’t – partly because you can’t be that definite. Things are always changing. But also because ‘if we’re honest that she’s going nowhere very soon, well, she’ll leave won’t she!’

Yes. Yes she will. And she will anyway.

How much better to have adult conversations and be prepared for this stuff than for it to be a surprise, resulting in a short-term costly reaction.

So my thoughts…..

Have these conversations – HR, line managers – whoever it is in your business that does this stuff. Talk to people about what’s important to them. Be honest both ways about where things are. And keep talking so you know if something changes – both ways. If it’s all the time these aren’t lengthy hour-long deep dives into someone’s psyche!

And then when people who you wanted to keep do resign – and they will – be ready with your un-retention strategy, which might just be a smile and a wave.

What do you think?  What will your un-retention strategy be?


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