Most bosses, if pressed, can identify a star employee who makes their compatriots look like beige, water cooler gossipers and officer lifers.
They're the go-to when things get overwhelming, the sounding board, the employee for whom nothing is too much trouble. But the trouble is, other employers see this and will often lure them away with attractive salary packages and perks.
The loss to your business can be devastating. A star is hard to find and even harder to replace, so here's how to make sure you keep them from wandering.
Rewards and recognition
Top employees rarely leave organisations for financial reasons, says director and recruitment coach at Nash Recruitment Group, Clare Nash.
"It's a case of a lack of recognition, direction and reward," she says. "I see it all the time. There will be an employee that a boss identifies as excellent but they don't tell them and they leave, and then it's too late."
You need to make sure they are engaged – or they will leave.Clare Nash
Sometimes, star employees are overlooked because the manager has not been taught how to identify and nurture talent, and sometimes the reason is slightly more sinister.
"The employer may see how good a staff member is and want to keep them in their role so they don't progress any further," Nash says. "They may see them as a threat to their job."
Investing in people
Most of the time, however, the reason comes down to a lack of foresight, a company culture that "does not invest in people".
"The work environment has changed and people no longer have a job for life," Nash says. "Line managers need to look after their top performers by having both formal and informal conversations about where they fit in to the company and how they see their career progressing.
"These are people who are generally very passionate and they are self-motivated, so you need to make sure they are engaged – or they will leave."
Some companies, however, have clearly got the format down pat. At Melbourne-based online wines sales specialist Vinomofo, Mikey Ellis is in charge of staff engagement as the designated Head of Cultural integration. The full-time role was created in April last year to ensure staff were kept engaged, motivated and rewarded for excellence.
"It was very much about a commitment to invest in people so that they are buying into what we are doing," Ellis says.
Of the company's 100 employees, more than 80 per cent of Vinomofo's staff is under 34 years of age. "Gen Y workers value different things and they are individuals," Ellis explains. "They don't value security as much, they seek adventure."
Everyone is different
Ellis and co-founders Justin Dry and Andre Eikmeier realised a one-size-fits-all personal development culture would not work with the Vinomofo clan. So in addition to the usual start-up accoutrements – wellness programs, yoga and a ping-pong table – is a much more flexible staff feedback program.
"Team leaders are encouraged to give feedback and check in with staff regularly, but that could be over a coffee, whatever suits that person," Ellis says. "We have done away with a formal performance review."
Each staff member has their own file with their top five strengths attached to it, alongside information on the best way to reward that person.
"Some people like to be rewarded publicly and for others it would be crushing," Ellis notes. "Some like material gifts and for others it's about the financial reward. Everyone is different."
A handful of start-ups and small business also offer their top talent a stake in the company. Managing director of fitness facility IDF Training, Avi Yemini, began to offer buy-ins after a number of his best staff members left.
"I've realised that not only does it keep them with us and gives them greater incentive to work even harder, but it also allows me to leave the gym and work from home as there are now other staff members who feel like they are owners," he says.
Yener Adal owns the majority of his Intuitive IT business, but has offered shares to employees he considers "key". "The thinking is, if they have skin in the game not only will they stick around, but they will actively contribute to the growth of the business," he says.
Nash finds it baffling that more employees don't have similar retention strategies in place. "Replacing good staff is very expensive and it costs thousands of dollars to take on a new employee," she says.
Plus, you don't need to shower employees with gifts in order to stop them from leaving.
"Quality time with employees is not expensive," Ellis says. "And that is often what staff want the most. But in order to offer this to your employees you need to be self-aware and vulnerable at times, and you have to care about people."