The Real Cost of Employee Attrition

When conducting a thoughtful analysis on the real costs of employee attrition, the first thing you need to wrap your head around is that all turnover is not created equal! Consider the handy four-box model below, anchored by the parameters of results/value and likeability, in that regard.

  • Results/Value: the relative ability of an employee to deliver results and add value in a sustained and acceptable manner
  • Likeability: the relative personal and cultural impact the employee has on those they work with and for

Employee Attrition Four Quadrant Matrix

Quadrant 1

There is usually a quiet celebration when these employees decide to leave … right? This can be followed by a concerted review of hiring practices and protocols as well as reflection on what could have been done differently to provide this employee with a better path and more support, but for all intents and purposes, when a Quadrant 1 employee decides to leave, “things” frequently “get better” … almost immediately!

Quadrant 2

In many cases these employees were in the wrong jobs with responsibilities they did not possess the fundamental capability to fulfill. In an effort to compensate or create diversions, they brought attention away from that reality through “niceness.” And for the record … there’s nothing wrong with being nice! When a Quadrant 2 employees decides to leave, people miss them, but they are easily replaced … or sometimes … not replaced at all.

Quadrant 3

We have long heard stories of the cultural affect talented employees who demonstrate disregard for others in the process of achieving goals can have. When a Quadrant 3 employee decides to leave, there is a readily acknowledged hole to fill … and people typically come out of the woodwork to lend a hand in that regard. The departure can unleash a collective energy that neutralizes the significance of the impact.

Quadrant 4

All of that to say, the real costs of employee attrition emanate from Quadrant 4. And those costs typically take the form of undesirable trends in some predictably familiar categories: productivity, engagement and retention.


Regardless of the task or set of responsibilities under discussion, it takes time to build a base of relevant experience and develop skill. With all the competing priorities that besiege us each day, it can be easy to take people on your team who possess that comparative competence for granted. But that foundation of competency and proficiency typically translates to effective and timely decision-making that keep the train on the tracks! When you lose a high-performing employee that is currently adding documented value, it simply stands to reason that your targeted outcomes are temporarily at greater risk. Replacing a key Quadrant 4 employee on an org chart is in no way the same thing as replacing their impact and influence on the delivery of targeted outcomes.


When you work with someone who is good at what they do and at the very same time somehow makes work bearable … or fun … or exhilarating for those around them, it is difficult not to feel a genuine sense of personal loss when they decide to leave.

It can be complicated, right? On one hand you are legitimately happy for them! On the other, you are most likely overwhelmed by an ever-increasing number of questions:

  • “How do we ‘win’ without one of our best ‘players’?”
  • “Who is going to replace them?”
  • “Do I ‘carry on’ like everything is the same … even though it clearly isn’t?”
  • … etc. … etc. …!

One thing is for certain, when you work closely with a Quadrant 4 employee and that employee leaves, you are distracted! Less of your discretionary effort is focused on getting things done, and more of it is focused on wondering … and worrying … and wishing.


Another very real cost of employee attrition is, unfortunately, more employee attrition! Good people are surrounded by good people! That is in no way an accident! When a likeable and highly productive Quadrant 4 employee decides to find out for themselves if “the grass is really greener,” others take notice. Actually, they usually do a whole lot more than passively taking notice, they turn into active investigators:

  • “Why are you leaving?”
  • “Where are you going?”
  • “What will you be doing?”
  • … etc. … etc. …!

The cruel, cold reality associated with losing likeable employees who truly add value is that it can adversely impact not only your collective ability to “win” … but the culture that supports that competitive spirit as well.