Q: I own an advertising agency, and we have experienced more turnover lately than we would like. As you can imagine, this creates problems in providing ongoing, quality service to our clients. The truth is, we don't know what's causing the problem. Can you help?

A: You are certainly not alone with problems of personnel turnover. Even in uncertain economic times, firms have seen higher turnover rates than usual. While most organizations want to blame turnover on wages and benefits, they actually do not play a big role in why people leave their jobs. The overwhelming majority of people who leave any company leave because of the way they are treated every day. Surveys consistently show that more than 40 percent of people who quit do so because they feel they weren't appreciated for their contributions. These surveys show that lack of appreciation, lack of teamwork and the perception that the company doesn't care about employees are consistently the highest-rated reasons for low job satisfaction.

Interestingly, it is not unusual for bosses to be shocked when confronted with poor job satisfaction data, since few employers actually intend to mistreat anyone. There are several reasons for this discrepancy. First, lack of appreciation is itself a negative. There are many managers who are very nice people, but who manage almost exclusively by negative reinforcement--not because of what they do but because of what they don't do. If you can't identify times when you have overtly told individuals that you appreciate their contributions, then you can count on the fact that they think you don't.

Second, when you give out positives--whether it is a pat on the back or a raise in pay--if you give them equally to all performers, then you end up punishing the best performers. Most employees think that it's not fair that they work hard every day, while others do just enough to get by--yet the consequences, pay, benefits, perks and praise are the same. As Vince Lombardi is reputed to have said, "There is nothing more unequal that the equal treatment of unequals." Treat people on the basis of merit, not seniority or position.

The third reason that employees feel negative about the workplace is that even though managers think they are creating a positive environment, they frequently fail to deal effectively and efficiently with problem performers. When poor performance is tolerated, other employees don't understand it. When they try to figure out why, they often conclude that there is favoritism for some unknown reason or that the supervisor or manager is weak. Both reasons are problems for the organization.

Look at your company from the perspective of these three reasons and, if any exist, try to correct them. An increase in positive reinforcement may not cure all your problems, but it will help substantially. More information about how to successfully deliver positive reinforcement is included in my books, Bringing Out the Best in People: How to Apply the Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcementand Other People's Habits: How to Use Positive Reinforcement to Bring Out the Best in People Around You.

Aubrey C. Daniels, Ph.D., founder and CEO of management consulting firm Aubrey Daniels & Associates (ADA), is an internationally recognized author, speaker and expert on management and human performance issues. For more about ADA's seminars and consulting services or to order Aubrey's bookBringing Out the Best in People: How To Apply The Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement, visit www.aubreydaniels.com, or contact Laura Lee Glass at (800) 223-6191 or lglass@aubreydaniels.com.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.