5 reasons why great people will leave your company and how to keep them

Published on Nov 15, 2013

The best web / mobile developers I know (let's just call them developers from now on) are those who are passionate about their work. They will go above and beyond to deliver the best work possible. Contrary to what many recruiters or managers may believe, these people are not primarily driven by money.

Sure, everybody wants to get a fair salary, but the best people in the industry will be driven by other factors than a big fat pay check. If you want to drive away great talent at your company, whether it's in a startup, a multinational corporation or even a school where web dev's like myself educate the next generation, you're probably failing in one or more of the following five ways. [The list below is the result of talking to my ex-students, colleagues in the industry and from reflecting on my own career choices.]

1. You fail to recognise passion

If you are hiring a web developer who's specialised in front-end development and who is highly passionate about that kind of work, it would be a sucker move to force such an employee to e.g. create Photoshop comps. Let a designer who loves nothing more and does nothing better than owning Photoshop be the guy to run that show.

This may sound obvious but I know many people who are really good at what they do, yet are being forced to do something completely different, simply because the company is understaffed and management isn't willing or is unable to invest in more people.

If you fail to recognise what your employees are passionate about or you simply don't care as long as deadlines are met and invoices get paid, don't expect them to love their job or your company. If they are smart, they will leave for a company that does care. If they don't, they'll suffer from burnout pretty soon.

2. You fail to nourish personal growth

Developers want to keep up with the latest technologies. It takes a lot of effort to do so and it sure as hell isn't easy. Web developers are people with lives too. Seriously. They will read blogs at night, experiment with new frameworks and maybe even work on side projects whenever they can. If you are serious about keeping talented developers in house, make sure to give them the time and space necessary to keep up in this fast paced world.

The time I'm talking about is not the weekend. The best companies I know make sure that their employees can stay current with the latest technologies while on the clock. Even though Google has recently decided to stop their 20% rule, a number of great companies still allow their employees to use one day out of five during the week to experiment with new technologies.

One good example is to let employees work on exciting projects that can be used internally. Letting developers experiment on the job gives them a chance to recharge on the weekends and at night while again avoiding burnout. Not every company is the same and it's not easy to allow developers to have one day out of five to improve their skills, but there should at least be some level of balance between work and self-education.

Do you want developers that have up to date knowledge about the latest technologies on the web? Be prepared to invest in that knowledge. Don't want the hassle? Pay consultants.

3. You fail to listen

If you employ great people and something's really wrong, you will notice. People will give you subtle (or less subtle) signals when something is wrong. If you ignore those signals for too long, the only option you leave your employees is to start talking to your competitor across the street or to start looking for a career change.

If your competition is listening, say goodbye to your very best. On the other hand, if you take those signals seriously and really listen to what's going wrong in your company, not only will you have a chance to turn an unsatisfied employee into a motivated one. You will also be able to attract new talent more easily.

People talk. If your own work force isn't willing to vouch for your company, it'll be a lot harder to find great people. The first thing somebody will do before applying for a job is ask friends or relatives about your company and corporate culture. I know I would.

4. You fail to motivate

Developers work with bits and bytes all day and sure, they sometimes don't get out as much as they should, but they're still human beings. Humans want to know whether they're doing a good job or not. Give feedback, not only when things go wrong. Give positive feedback when a developer has spent hours and hours on a certain project in your company. Give them credit. It won't cost you a thing, just a few nice words of appreciation.

Don't underestimate the workspace when it comes to motivation. Nobody gets inspired from having to spit out code for eight hours a day in a grey cubicle with no direct sunlight nearby. Invest in your office, it's where people spend five days a week goddamned. Hell, why not ask your employees what they need to be happier, less stressed and more productive. It sounds like a no-brainer to me, yet I hear story after story of developers being forced to work crazy hours in an environment where there's no space for positive feedback and where only money is king. It's short-sighted to only focus on short term financial gains.

Think about investing in people that want to work for your company for years to come. Otherwise, hire consultants. I teach web development at Thomas More college in Mechelen and for our Interactive Multimedia Design students me and two other colleagues (with the help of some of our awesome students) decided to build an inspiring co-working office where our multimedia students can work on their school and side-projects.

The Creativity Gym

We had no choice but to build out the space during our summer holidays, but we're really proud of what we've done and that sticks. Our school supplied financial and logistic help where possible.

At the very least, facilitate projects your employees want to take on. Even better: let them build out projects that are valuable to your company during working hours. It's a win-win situation.

5. You fail to innovate

This isn't the 80s or the 90s anymore. Times have changed, jobs have changed and technology has changed. Today, people are able to work from home if you let them, there's no need for you to keep them locked into a cubicle for eight hours straight. For many companies, these are frightening times. People bring their own devices to work, employees and customers talk openly on Facebook and Twitter.

There are no secrets anymore (except for the NSA's surveillance program details, but even those will probably leak on Wikileaks). At the same time, there's a big opportunity to attract the best possible people to your company. By being innovative and listening to your employees [really listening], you can make them love your company, talk about you and never want to leave you again.

Again, listen to your employees, make them love their job. It's not you versus them anymore. You're in it together with your team of employees. The happier they are, the better the results.

Bonus: You fail to walk the walk

You can claim to be the Walhalla of all workplaces but if you don't live up to your promises, you're creating nothing but friction. If you really want to recruit top talent and build a great work force, don't just talk the talk, make sure you also walk the walk.

I've seen companies promising the world and writing fantastic mission statements without living up to what they claim to be standing for. Don't claim to be a workplace where people get the freedom to develop their skills while expecting 60 hour workweeks with no margin for self-development whatsoever.


Losing talent in your company is a costly affair. It will cost you considerably more money to attract new people than it will cost you to keep talent in house. If you are serious about attracting great developers, don't make the mistakes mentioned above. I was inspired to write this article after talking to a lot of friends and acquaintances in the web development industry. I also thoroughly evaluated my own career choices to better understand what makes a great employer.

Not a single developer I talked to mentioned their pay-check when I asked what made them love their work. The people you should be hiring are those that love what they do (and I assure you that there are plenty of them). Just don't expect them to give you their best, when you fail to care.

What are your thoughts? What makes you love your job and what should a company do to keep you motivated? Tweet me @GoodBytes

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