4 Strategies to Combat Turnover

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Turnover is a reality for every business. It can be a warning sign that something is wrong with our workplace, managers, or teams that needs to be fixed. It can also signal that we might be hiring poor fits into the organization.

The problem of turnover demands that we understand why we are not able to retain some of our employees and fix it before the situation spirals and we lose many talented employees. Here are 4 strategies to combat turnover.

Step 1: Track it.

The first step to deal with turnover is to track and benchmark it. You must understand how your numbers compare to normal turnover for your industry and size and if the turnover you are experiencing is healthy or unhealthy for your business. For example, are your best employees leaving or are your new-hires leaving, and is turnover primarily voluntary or involuntary? At a minimum, track the following types of turnover:

  • Voluntary and involuntary turnover
  • All employee and top performer turnover
  • New-hire turnover at intervals (90 days, 180 days, and 1 year)

Step 2: Research the context.

The second step in combating turnover is to research the context of the termination, including the work area affected and characteristics of the employee. You'll also want to explore the former employee's reason for leaving as well as their supervisor's and coworkers' feedback on the termination. Turnover issues tend to follow a pattern so look for trends in the following:

  • Work area (location, division, department, team, and supervisor)
  • Individual characteristics (length of service, performance, type of job)
  • Reason for leaving (per exit interview/survey)
  • Supervisor and team feedback

Step 3: Identify critical incidences.

Turnover is generally not caused by a single workplace event. Research shows that turnover results from a process of progressive disengagement, which can take weeks, months, and sometimes even years to escalate to a final decision. Eventually, however, a critical incident causes an employee to decide to quit.

To understand the cause of turnover and fix it, you need to identify these critical turning points and causes of disengagement so that repeat scenarios with other employees are prevented. Examine what went wrong, what you could have done differently, and how you will approach a similar situation in the future.

Step 4: Implement interventions.

After determining the causes and context of turnover and putting together the pieces of each former employee's story, there are several major interventions that you can use to solve turnover problems. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Job design: changing a job's design, reducing workload, providing more training, or enhancing employees' skills
  • Management: training or developing a manager's skills, removing a manager from their position, improving performance management or feedback
  • Hiring and selection: making a change in the hiring or selection procedure, enhancing on-boarding
  • Communication: communicating changes and reasons for changes, being sensitive to and dealing with employee reactions, managing and mediating coworker conflict
  • Total rewards: making changes to pay and benefits, enhancing advancement opportunities, enhancing work/life benefits

Turnover is as critical to monitor and address as expenses in your organization. It is a lost investment in your business that can take significant time and money to recover, especially when you lose a high performer. While there’s no magic bullet solution to prevent it, your organization can better manage turnover by tracking it, better understanding why it happens, and implementing interventions that deal with it.

Additional Resources

2012 ERC Turnover & HR Department Practices Survey
This survey collected information from Northeast Ohio employers on voluntary and involuntary turnover of employees and new-hires as well as HR department practices including the role of HR, common HR metrics and benchmarks, and the use of technology and information systems within the HR department.

7 Ways to Respond When an Employee Quits

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Employers often must deal with turnover and resignations of their best people. When an employee quits, there are many right and wrong ways to respond. Here are 7 critical questions to ask to guide your responses and actions when an employee says “I quit.”

1. Do you value the employee?

When an employee approaches you about their transition, how you respond to the employee depends on how much you value them. If you value the employee, you have two options: do everything you can to keep them at your organization or accept the resignation and show gratitude for their contributions. The option you choose will likely depend on the reason for the resignation and your relationship with the employee.

As an employer, you have an obligation to help address any issue that is preventing you from retaining a top performer. Sometimes these issues are personal and beyond your ability to impact, but many other times there will be something you can adjust in the workplace. This, however, should ideally be done before the employee approaches you with their resignation, because by that time they have likely already made a firm decision.

If you don’t value the employee, accept the resignation without negative commentary, request it in writing, and quickly coordinate logistics for their transition (final paycheck, etc.). Keep your dialogue with the employee limited, professional, and operational in nature.

2. Do you want their feedback?

While most employers conduct exit interviews or surveys to gather feedback from exiting employees, not all organizations consider whether they actually want the feedback of these employees. In fact, it’s not uncommon for employers to mandate exit interviews. Let’s face it though, not all employees’ opinions should be counted equally, especially if they are poor performers. You could find yourself implementing changes to feedback that are simply unproductive complaints.

Be sure that the employees’ opinions and suggestions are worthwhile before you spend time and resources on gathering their feedback in the first place. Top performers, new-hires, and highly tenured employees are all those whom you will likely want to solicit feedback. Their ideas and opinions are often helpful in making changes to workplace and on-boarding programs.

3. Do you have a replacement?

Do you have a replacement who is currently employed at the organization? An employee can quit, leave, or get “hit by a truck” at any time. Knowing this, good managers always make sure that they have a replacement for themselves and for the members of their team, in the event of an emergency. They ensure that someone is cross-trained in the role and can step to the plate if needed. As employers and managers, you should always be asking yourselves: “What if xxxx leaves?” to better your business and minimize risk. Otherwise, you’ll be scrambling to figure out how to fill your or their shoes, and this lack of planning can potentially disrupt your business.

4. How will you retain their knowledge?

Many employees carry a great deal of knowledge, talent, and expertise that is sometimes difficult to train or hire, especially those with significant tenures or unique skills. Increasingly, organizations are focusing on knowledge-sharing practices to cope with this issue before they encounter significant talent losses. The bad news is that it might be too late to retain the knowledge of your key employee if you haven’t already implemented knowledge-sharing practices. These practices could include succession planning, mentoring, knowledge management systems, and procedural/workflow documents which capture their knowledge before it’s lost.

5. How will you notify others?

A best practice when notifying others about a resignation is to start the communication process intimately, with the employee’s managers/supervisors, then with the employee’s team or department, and finally the entire organization. Alert staff of the transition, the timeline until his/her departure, and plan for replacing the employee.

If you want the employee to leave immediately or don’t trust them to work productively until their last day, it’s best to send an immediate written notification to your employees and not use this tiered communication approach. Keep the communication general and let employees know that their coworker has moved on to other career opportunities.

6. How will you respond in their remaining days?

If the employee is going to continue to work through their last day, your organization will need to decide how to deal with their existing assignments and project load, and transition their customer relationships. You’ll need to determine which projects the employee will finish, and which ones will be directed to other employees or put on hold.

In addition to responding to work issues, you’ll also need to determine how you will respond to the departure. It’s best to remain positive about the employee’s new opportunity and wish them success, even though you may be upset with the decision.  Also, decide if or how your organization will wish the employee good luck in their new endeavors, perhaps through a social gathering. Oftentimes, coworkers appreciate a formal opportunity to “send off” the former employee. This, however, isn’t always appropriate.

7. Do you want to keep the door open for a future relationship?

When an employee leaves, you can choose to close the door on the relationship or maintain it. Increasingly, employers are keeping the door open and maintaining relationships with employees who have left their organizations. Social networking tools, in particular, provide an opportunity for them to do this easily. This helps organizations continue a positive relationship with their previous employees which can benefit their recruitment efforts. For example, previous employees can serve as excellent referral sources, and some employers use their “alumni” as a network to attract applicants. These organizations recognize that former employees will be asked about their past employment, potentially by their job candidates, and their honest responses can help (or hurt) their organization’s hiring efforts and reputation.

Another way that organizations keep the door open is by having re-hire policies, which allow the former employee to be considered for employment opportunities in the future. Oftentimes, the employee may end up being even more valuable once they have developed more industry experience and skills, which can benefit your organization.

Inevitably, a talented employee will choose to leave your organization at one time or another, and how you prepare for this departure ahead of time and respond as an employer and manager can make a difference during their transition. Streamlining your exit strategies, creating a good exit interview, developing standard communication practices, implementing knowledge sharing, preparing possible replacements, and maintaining positive relationships with your “alumni” are all ways that you can effectively respond to unavoidable resignations.

Additional Resources

Supervisory SeriesIn the series, participants will gain an understanding of their role as a supervisor as well as employment law as it relates to common supervisory issues. They will also learn how to apply basic managerial and interpersonal skills including dealing with the everyday challenges of being a supervisor, communicating effectively with others, resolving workplace conflict, managing performance, and coaching.

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