People change jobs every day. However, when the top employee leaves a company, things get a little clouded. Maybe not in larger corporations as much, but for a small business to lose their top performer, there are typically more questions than answers. Below is some personal insight as to what happens at a company when the best employee leaves. I will explain why I left a LARGE corporation for a small business for half the pay and then six years later left the small business even though I loved the work I was doing.

The More Money Myth

Myth About MoneyThe first reason that coworkers, friends and employers come up with when any employee leaves a company after several years of employment is that more money was offered to them. There is some truth behind this thought process, however, it is not the motivating factor for a top performer. If it was, companies would never be able to keep employees.

Being a top performer, a person knows they can go almost anywhere, in whatever industry they work, and get more money. Money is a factor because everyone wants money.

Take it from me, money does not drive a top employee to leave. I was awarded the top performer in my group at a large corporation 4 out of 6 years including my last year. I left that company for nearly half of my salary to help someone with their small business that needed some expertise in my field.

If Not Money, Then Why does the Best Employee Leave?

The process actually develops over a long period. Typically, the timeline is years, not days, weeks or even months. The timeline begins with a moment that may seem inconsequential to supervisors or coworkers. However, the event will stick out to the employee and it will be filed away, possibly for years. I know this sounds like holding a grudge, but it’s not a case of holding a grudge. The reason I used “filed away” is that the employee doesn’t think about it until something else happens.

The Stinging Moment

In my case, I was contracting to a large telephone company because they requested my services to consult on a new database beingLeaving Employee developed. Needless to say, this made me proud to be sought after by such a large company. As the development of the database progressed and we were nearing the deployment, we realized that more help was needed to allow for user support. We brought on someone I had suggested for this task. In the meantime, the company realized they needed to create a full-time position as well to avoid paying contractor pricing for the long-term. I found out after getting the job, through the rumor mill, that my boss had recommended someone other than me for the full-time position. This stung after all the hours I had put in and the personal sacrifices I had made to ensure a timely and accurate delivery of the new database.

Before we get in to the next phase, I will also share what happened with the small business that was the “sting”. We had hired a new employee to assist me. At the time, I was a single parent with a 17-year old and a 14-year old at home. Our company was beginning our end of year invoicing and I needed to get a lot done in a short amount of time. I went 4 days without seeing my two children that lived at home with me. I was at the office (another sacrifice, at the big company I worked from home) until nearly midnight each night and back at the office by 6 am the next morning. I didn’t even get a thank you for that, instead I was talked about behind my back by the owners of the company because I seemed angry. Yes that’s the same puzzled look I had.

The Offers Start Coming

Inevitably, a top employee will get offers from your competition or other companies. The thing is, top performers don’t even entertain those ideas unless there is something making them unhappy. In my case at the big company, I was offered multiple positions within the same company but in different departments. At the small business, it was the big company asking me to come back as well as the big company’s competitor.

These offers may be heard but they are given very little value in the beginning of the timeline. Eventually, they will be entertained or even pursued as we explore more of this best employee leaving process.

Appreciation Depreciates

I once heard that there two things that make a great employee:

  1. The employee knows they are good at what they do
  2. Someone else knows the employee is good at what they do

I have always been taught to give my all no matter what I was doing. When I worked at McDonald’s, I was promoted to crew trainer within two months. When I was in the United States Navy, I strove to be the top of my class so I could skip the E-3 paygrade and I did it. Do you see the pattern developing with each job? That’s right, there was a reward that was given to me for my hard work. That is appreciation in the monetary form.

But remember, money isn’t the driving force for a top employee. Here is what happens, the employee starts feeling like their hard work is no longer being noticed but rather being taken for granted. Supervisors and/or business owners start thinking that the top employee is just doing their job now and not that it is going above and beyond.

So now what happens is the top employee, at the small company, figures out how to get their work done during normal business hours instead of working late and coming in early all the time. Instead of letting the employee know that they are doing a good job, the business owner or supervisor questions why they aren’t staying late anymore or coming in as early as they used to come in. In my case, I had figured out how to be more efficient at the small business work and didn’t need to work as long. However, a couple of major projects had come in during one month, so being the loyal employee that I was I decided to put in some extra hours to stay caught up. I received a text asking me why I was there late and my response was because I thought it was a good idea so I could stay caught up with the large jobs. The response I received was infuriating to say the least, “You’re right, you should be there”.

The Final Straw

So the offers have been coming, but they aren’t being entertained. The employee is feeling less and less appreciated. You now have a top employee that no longer feels appreciated but they still have a loyalty to their work because they love what they do. A person typically doesn’t exceed unless they are passionate about what they are doing. Yet this employee still isn’t leaving the company, BUT THEN….

The best employee in the department, or small business, starts noticing things they didn’t notice before. Things that get under their skin. What are these things? They start noticing that because the supervisor, or business owner, has become so used to their best employee doing the work that not only are they taking them for granted, they are also taking other employees for granted. Now all of a sudden, instead of the issue being isolated and maybe a phase, it has become a widespread problem. This becomes the point where a loyal and top performing employee sees no return and the offers they once ignored are now being sought after.

The Aftermath

I have seen the same reaction in a large company as well as a small business when a top performer leaves after years of loyalty and dedication. In the case of the large company, coworkers of mine were confused and didn’t understand how my boss could just let me walk away with all the investment I had put in to the database. When it came to the small business, owners were shocked, but others weren’t.

In a small business, it is much easier to feel what is happening. There were a couple of shocked coworkers in my case, but the owners were blown away to the point they spoke to every employee about what their intentions were. As I predicted, raises were offered (I hadn’t received a raise in 4 years but my workload increased because the number of project managers went down to just me). People who were placed on probation 4 months earlier were suddenly offered company credit cards for gas.

The initial reaction is typically shock and anger. Of course, there was blame sent my way that I was the disgruntled employee causing the bad vibes but as time goes on, I think the reality sets in that while the employee (me) wasn’t perfect and certainly made mistakes, there was blame to be passed around everywhere. As I stated to my former co-worker at the small business, I hate that it took my leaving for people to get treated better but I’m glad that it’s happening.

Please feel free to contact me or leave comments below regarding mine or your experience with the subject.

All the Best,


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