Landing an early role at a hyper-growth company like Facebook or Google seems like a dream. It seems like something you’d never want to walk away from.
So why do so many great people do exactly that? What can keep great employees from taking off?
And if you’re running one of these organizations, how do you keep great employees — those who helped build the organization — from hitting the road once you’ve achieved big success. It almost seems inevitable.
When the going gets tough, the tough show up.
When it stops being tough, they go find something else.
Why great people leave dream gigs
Pedram Keyani joined Facebook in 2007 and was Engineering Director during some of the company’s highest-growth years. He loved it, he wrote in this Quora answer.
“I loved the mission, the smart people, and was able to work on a number of awesome initiatives.”
At the same time, he got a taste for something exciting. Something only a very specific kind of company can offer for a very brief time.
Being at Facebook in those years “gave me the taste for building something meaningful, having huge impact, and hyper growth learning opportunities. Creating something new that could change the lives of millions/billions of people is challenging, stressful and frankly incredibly rewarding on a professional, personal and financial level,” he wrote.
So Keyani left Facebook for another startup, something scrappy and different and hoping to change the world. Like Facebook.
The Top Five Factors People Look For In a New Job
4. Health Benefits
5. Work-Life Balance
We can all understand leaving a company if these things aren’t taken care of. But if you’re a senior employee at a place like Facebook or Google, all of these things are pretty much taken care of for you. In fact, they’re taken care of for you in a pretty world-class way.
But there’s the problem. If you’re someone like Keyani, those factors are pretty well set for the rest of your life. With that much talent (and chunk of Facebook equity), you’ll never want for employment or health benefits again. It becomes harder for a company to keep great employees.
It starts to change your needs. You start caring more about the mission, your freedom and creativity in the role. Not that other employees in other jobs don’t care about that, they just have more immediate needs to fill. Once your immediate needs are met, you can focus more on the work.
Research shows that making progress on meaningful work is the best motivator for employees. It becomes even more important when all the other motivations are taken care of.
As Daniel Tunkelang, CTO at Lyra Health, put it in this Quora answer:
“I left Google after a year to join LinkedIn — then a 700-person company — and my role there was much more expansive and more personal. In my 4.5 years there I worked with groups across the company, getting involved any effort where I could productively contribute. It was awesome!
But growth happens. By the time LinkedIn reached 7000 people it wasn’t the same company for me. I was ready for something small again — and something far more personal.”
How great companies keep great employees
For every Tunkelang and Keyani who leave Google and Facebook, hundreds do not. Why is that? How does Google keep great employees?
Or as Laszlo Bock, the SVP of Google’s People Operations, once put it:
“People don’t stay for the money.”
Bock has noted that more than a third of Google’s first 100 employee are still working there, despite making a lot of money on the company’s IPO.
The company’s ability to keep great employees also has noting to do with the company’s famous perks. Those make the workplace better for people who are there, but it’s not what attracts or retains them.
“The dirty secret of all these perks is it doesn’t actually retain people or even attract people.”
Block lists two reasons people stay at a job:
1. The quality of the people they are working with
2. The feeling that they are doing meaningful work
“People want to do more than just make a buck,” Bock said. “People want to do something that means something.”
That’s why Google spends so much time and effort hiring quality people and providing them with meaningful work. This is how they keep great employees.
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