G Is For ‘Greener Grass Syndrome’

Why you will never please all of your workers all of the time

Employee Engagement

In an ideal world, most of us like to have enough time to both work hard AND play hard. As long as we have the opportunity to keep the time at work and at home — in balance — we can reach the level of self-fulfilment that we desire, whilst ticking off our emotional and psychological ‘needs’ along the way.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

This ‘needs hierarchy’ was developed by Abraham Maslow in the 1950’s and still holds true for the majority of employee’s today. Usually, the belief that it would at least be possible to ‘become the best that you can become’ within your chosen organisation, is sufficient to engage a lot of employees. Trust is the key. Where this exists, employees are generally more engaged.

As an employer, creating an environment where employees feel safe, respected and valued helps to encourage them to remain in their roles and, for some, to try to progress as far as they are able. To become their best self at work, and maximise their potential. To achieve self-actualisation.

Employee Retention

There are many advantages of maximising the level of retention of skilled and motivated workers. The average percentage of employees leaving organisations each year is running at about 10% in the UK, and the costs can be substantial for the organisation. Some analysts suggest that the cost of replacing a senior leader may be as much as 250% of their annual salary. But it is not just the financial impact. Other negative impacts of high turnover/low retention are as follows:

  1. Recruitment is difficult and extremely time-consuming — while it may be possible to recruit a junior employee in 6–8 weeks on average, senior posts can take many more months to fill.
  2. Corporate knowledge and memory have value. It is not always fully appreciated but an employee’s experience; their knowledge of “who’s who” and “what’s what” and “where’s where”, can be extremely valuable. The difficulty is that this information or ‘corporate memory’ is seldom written down or transferred to others, and so is lost when the person leaves. Sometimes never to be replaced or recovered.
  3. The merry-go-round keeps on turning. When you lose a valuable employee, generally — unless their plans are to travel the world — your competitors will be gaining one. That being said, they will also be losing skills, knowledge, corporate memory etc if your former employee is simply replacing one of theirs. In this way, everyone loses a little, and the merry-go-round keeps on turning.

Happy and engaged employees are less likely to leave. But there are some who are never truly satisfied…with anything!

While they might have appeared to be keen and motivated at their interview (and they most probably were), this didn't last long. They tend to become more stressed, less positive, and less committed quite quickly, even when they haven't even been in the company for much more than 18 months. This is when companies start to feel that the money that they have invested in these employees, may have actually been wasted.

If this feels like any of your employees, take another look at their application form and their responses to your interview questions. It may just be that they actually have ‘Grass is Greener’ Syndrome (GIGS), which, apparently is an actual ‘thing’.

The ‘Grass is Greener Syndrome’

Grass is greener syndrome means that you have an inability to feel content with your life as it is, and relentlessly seek something better

So, why did I suggest that you revisit the job application form and their responses at their interview? Simply because there may have been signs of GIGS at the time, and this will help you spot the warning signs in the future. For example;

  • They move between jobs more than average, and…

Well, in fact, they move between everything more than average. Houses, partners, cars.

But, and this is quite important in the context of their work-life, they also have a tendency to blame others for the consequences of the choices that they make. So, if during their interview you asked them to give you examples of mistakes they had made (in order to see how they dealt with the situation and learnt from their errors) they may have struggled to respond. Because they are less likely to see that any problem has actually been anything to do with, or caused by them.

Other warning signs include:

  • their decision making becomes more impulsive
  • they are less willing to commit to anything
  • when things get difficult they often run away from the problem, rather than trying to identify the solution
  • they are so focused on the future — which they think will be better but, to them, never actually is — that they are unable to enjoy the present.

Without counselling, there is a strong possibility that your employee with GIGS will leave soon, and there may be nothing that you can do about it.

But if you want to reduce the likelihood of recruiting somebody similar in the future, the following 3 interview questions may help you to make the right recruitment decision:

Have you ever been promoted within a company, or do you prefer to move between companies to get the jobs you want?

Can you give me an example of something that you were responsible for, that went wrong, and what process(es) you put in place to put it right?

Where do you see yourselves being in 3 years time?

If they struggle to respond to any or all of these questions, they may not be the person for you.

Because, as James Russell Lowell said…

“…One thorn of experience is worth a whole wilderness of warning”

👋🏻 P.S. Do you want to hear my fireside chat with top QC, Daniel Barnett — ‘Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Grievances…BUT Were Afraid To Ask’ — ? If so, click the link below and it will take the page on my website that contains my ‘Top 10 Tips’ for you to listen to.

➡️ My Top 10 Grievance Tips



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Paul Helsby HR

HR Consultant @ PR-HR Solutions Ltd. Writing to share experiences — good and bad — gained from 25+ years in HR.