The Failure Nobody Sees. Why Developers Leave
When leaving a company, developers explain their departure by boring projects, a bad project manager, an uncomfortable office or “tasteless” cookies. The truth is, all of the above almost never affects employee retention. Often there are other, deeper and less apparent, reasons behind leaving, and they are connected with the developers’ emotional intelligence.
Developers are ashamed
Top management and company owners believe that talented employees leave because they are unhappy with the working conditions and the number of “perks”. Developers unwittingly support this delusion, speaking against their projects, office space or team when leaving, while neither the owners nor the developers often understand the true motives.
One of the most effective mechanisms for managing people: shame. We were brought up in a way when every mistake seems fatal, and every failure is accompanied by self-flagellation, whether we are aware of it or not.
In most cases, it is this shame that is the real reason for developers quitting. They are ashamed that they cannot cope with the challenges. And if we recognize the problem in time and support the employee properly, their departure can be avoided.
Didn’t cope with the challenges – the work stopped
Project managers and HR staff tend to believe that challenges can only be external. In reality, the reason for leaving is the failed internal challenges only the programmers themselves know. They challenge themselves, taking responsibility for a new project, for deadlines or for technologies that they want to master.
For more than 5 years, I have been interviewing resigned senior and mid developers, all above industry average professionally. All of them had a common feature: before leaving the company, they had two or more failures which followed one after another, painfully hurting their pride and undermining their inner faith.
The simplest reaction in this case is to escape from the problem. Figuratively speaking, to `kill` the witnesses of their failure
Although developers are very ambitious, they hide it carefully. When they decide to leave, the company usually tries to give them additional “perks” or revise compensation. This does not solve the problem: they continue feeling insolvent while the witnesses of their defeat are still around. The drama here is that the developer starts being afraid of setting new challenges, selects boring but simpler projects where they risk less and will certainly be more successful. So they try to compensate for the failures, but only get stagnation, burnout and dissatisfaction with themselves.
What is “toxic shame”
If a person are ashamed they assume a certain behavior that can be recognized by several typical signs. I call it “toxic shame”: a state of acute loss of self-esteem. They badly want to get rid of it, and start defending themselves. On the outside they look like a tank, hung with grenades which the developer throws onto others.
This abrupt change in behavior is very noticeable: at a certain point, a person begins to show discontent, their mood spoils and they begin to literally snap at others. I distinguish several types of the “tank’s” behavior.
- Attack: “Bad project management, bad team, bad office”
- Running away: “I`ve stayed here for too long, let me move on”.
- Hostility: “The customer is a freak”.
- Bravado: `Well, there’s not much to this project anyway, not so much to lose, whatever.`
- Verbal fight: a long and tedious explanation of what`s wrong.
At the same time, usually the developer also pesters their superiors and HR with shameless behavior: not only have they failed the project, but also behave shamelessly. At this point, the employee still does not want to quit, but actively provokes people around them to prove just how bad everyone is.
If an employee begins behaving this way, whatever they say, one must suspect a case of toxic shame.
If you then carefully study recent events, you’ll easily get down to a situation in which the employee was ashamed. Perhaps the customer questioned their professionalism, or the developer themselves failed to solve a problem and could not explain why.
And here it is important not to make the mistake of addressing the accusations, instead of working with the very emotion of shame.
Escaping the tank, or the Open up technique
None of the many books on emotional intelligence tell how to apply their theory in practice. After 20 years of working with emotional intelligence and conducting practical trainings, me and my clients have developed a copyright technology, a toolset that allows bridging this gap and using emotional intelligence in business.
I already mentioned that being in shame is like staying in a stuffy and cramped tank, from which you cannot see the world around you. Therefore, I called the algorithm for working with shame “Escaping the tank”, or the Open up technique.
The employee who finds themselves in shame draws fire, seeking to be dismissed. In response, they often end up being lectured to, and then leave without understanding the essence of what is happening.
You can help the developer by gently “offering a shoulder” so that they can survive their shame and become more powerful and free, and then they will not have to leave the company. The algorithm for working with employee’s shame is as follows:
- note the behavioral change,
- assume that the reason may be about shame,
- find out if there were any failures,
- meet and talk tete-a-tete.
How to help an employee
Most talented developers are similar. When in training and answering a question about the emotion they want to work with, many of them say “reservedness”. Their faces do not reflect experiences, everything happens deep inside. And often they themselves have difficulty understanding what is going on with them. Therefore, the meeting should be organized according to certain rules.
A person of powerful authority, or with deep technical background, should be conducting the meeting – someone whom the developer really respects. No less important is what the employee will hear at the meeting. Regular practice in neurolinguistics allowed me to develop the most effective “Valeria Kozlova’s linguistic models” for such a conversation:
- If you know what is happening to you, you will always find a way out and always know what to do
- What is happening to you now can be related to the setbacks you had two weeks ago. Even if they don’t seem to connect
- When I had failures, I behaved very similarly. I was ashamed, and I wanted to leave.
At this moment, the interviewer should remember their failures and not be afraid to talk about them. It is important that the interviewer talk only about themselves and in no case should they use phrases like “you are ashamed” and “it`s all because of shame”.
Don’t expect an answer, be satisfied with simple silence, otherwise you risk facing negativity and rudeness. You have already done all you could to make them stay. It’s up to them now. When they realize they’re in the tank, they can get out of it.
If everything goes right, the employee will begin to experience microscopic changes, which, most likely, will bring greater involvement in the process. And then, when the developer lives their shame through and it will cease to be unbearable, they can analyze their mistakes themselves.
Must have for business
Proper help in living through deep emotions will not only save the employee for the company, but also enhance their emotional intelligence. They will get the knowledge that one can go through shame – and become as free and successful as living this shame through can make them.
It’s common for businesses to invest a lot in the development of their employees’ soft skills, but such skills are similar to house elves: people talk about them, but few actually saw them at work. To quickly and effectively enhance soft skills and their capitalization, it is necessary to teach employees to use emotional intelligence and develop it. This “must have” for successful business ensures employees happiness, retention of valuable personnel, and maximal performance of management and owners.
Written by: Valeria Kozlova, Mentor on emotional intelligence, Founder of CORPORATE-EQ