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The Real Truth About Employee Turnover

Retention. Attrition. Turnover. These are attention-getting words today. It costs too much and is too difficult to find and hire good people, that finally employee turnover is having its day. It’s about time.

Much of the research, discussion and rhetoric out there is incorrect. Let's debunk a bunch of it.

  1. Turnover is inherently bad. WrongThe Real Truth About Employee Turnover

    Unplanned turnover is bad. Unexpected turnover can be bad. Some turnover is as necessary as good hiring, for instance:

    • Some employees are overpaid for their skill set in the market. Or your benefits are just too good to pass up. Ferret them out, tell them to step it up or step them out.
    • Some are simply not motivated to advance. Is that a crime? No, provided they aren't holding a role that could be used to develop someone who is motivated. If they are, then either move them elsewhere or it's 'up or out'.
    • Some have you comfortably trained to accept their behaviour and idiosyncrasies, and aren’t interested in retraining a new employer. This is your fault, so fix it. Many behaviours and performance standards should be non-negotiable; make sure yours are.

  2. Turnover is unpreventable. Wrong

    This false information has been unloaded on the masses by those incapable of grasping the very things necessary to reduce unplanned turnover. Granted, all turnover may not be preventable, but most of it is. Ask yourself - is anyone else in my industry space enjoying less turnover? If so, just accept it and realise it's you. Effective leadership correlates to staff retention.

  3. Turnover is HR's responsibility. Wrong

    You can't put the blame on HR. HR may be the keeper of the measurement, but they only own a few small pieces. Yes, they generally do the hiring, a critical component of retention, and no question we can always get better. However if HR helps you hire someone (who wanted to work there), who agreed to the wage, and showed up on the first day, then they've done their part, or most of it. It is highly unlikely for a disgruntled employee leaving to say, "I loved my job, but HR sucks, so I'm out of here".

  4.  Most people leave for more money. Wrong

    Simply untrue. Not to say many of the dearly departed don't accept a job that pays more, but listen up - why were they looking in the first place? Except for near-minimum wage jobs, employees don't leave for a 10% bump. Most won't leave for a 20% bump. If they've been offered 50% more (and your pay really is competitive), simply wish them well and tell them to introduce you.

  5. Turnover is just a cost of doing business. This is a complete myth

    Raw materials are just a cost of doing business as a producer - so let's not try to reduce those costs. Energy (electricity, gas, water) are just a cost of doing business - let's not work to lower those. Wages are just a cost of doing business - let's just pay people whatever they ask. Even if turnover is unpreventable (it isn't), why would we not want to reduce the financial impact if we could?

Aside from being distressed, and since HR can't be shouldering the blame, what's a manager to do? How do we deal with this situation? To that end, there is good news, and there is bad news.

The good news -  it's just not that complicated. The bad news - you'll have to change how you lead.

Let's keep things really simple. If you are serious about reducing employee turnover, do these things well:

  1. Value the position

    If you don't, don't expect the employee to.

    • Be involved in the hiring process. It matters.
    • Get real about onboarding, nesting, and assimilation.

  2. Give feedback

    This is a big deal. Give meaningful, helpful feedback, and be specific. Explain why it matters, and include both positive and improvement opportunities. Then take feedback. Insist on it, ask for it, and create an expectation that they'll give it. Then, just listen. Say thank you. Performance management should be a dialog, and it does not need to be painful.

  3. Care for them

    • Develop them. This adds value, both to the position as well as the person. No one wants to be in a dead-end job; help them grow and improve.
    • Talk to them. Not just about assignments, operations and deadlines; discuss their weekends, their family, their desires, goals, aspirations. They're people - treat them the way you would like to be treated.

  4. Run interference

    You are the buffer. Embrace that, or turn in your authority. No one gets to launch directly on your staff as long as you're still breathing. Don't directly pass down every criticism you get - be that buffer.

  5. Chop the dead wood

    Nothing aggravates a good performer more than watching you coddle and keep a bad one. Stop doing that. Work with those not measuring up, give them reasonable opportunities to improve, and then pound them if they don't. Your good performers will appreciate it.

Pay attention to your staff; remember that most employees have the same general wants, desires, and needs from a workplace. It isn't all that hard.

Author Credits

Kevin Berchelmann, Triangle Performance. Described as a Human Capital Expert by The Harvard Business Press, Kevin Berchelmann helps new managers at private equity, Fortune 500 and small to medium-sized businesses become top leaders that deliver results. Now you can sign up to get access to his 'At C-Level', cutting edge newsletter at triangleperformance.com
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