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What To Do When People Keep Quitting

Sometimes the best efforts at retention fail. Here’s how to understand why people leave, and what to do about it.

What To Do When People Keep Quitting
[Photo: TonyFalconenyc/iStock]

Ever notice how one person quitting their job can lead to a rush of others out the door in short order? 

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Whatever the reason, says Lisa Sterling, chief people officer at Ceridian, a global human capital management technology company, managing a team with high attrition requires internal changes to ensure employees feel satisfied and engaged, as well as stop further departures that can eat into the bottom line. The Bureau of National Affairs has estimated that $11 billion is lost annually due to employee turnover. 

A Multitude Of Reasons Why

To pinpoint the source of resignations, it helps to check on broader workplace trends. Surveys suggest that many factors can fester and influence a wave of people quitting.

Overall, the latest Gallup report found that a record 47% of the workforce says now is a good time to find a quality job, and more than half of employees (51%) are searching for new jobs or watching for openings. Gallup found that this is due in part to a national employee engagement rate currently hovering at just 30%.

Workers also switch employers to get a salary bump that can go above the traditional annual cost of living raise that hovers around 3%, barely outpacing inflation. Right Management, ManpowerGroup’s global career and talent development expert, polled 4,600 workers globally, and found 1 in 5 people are simply in the wrong role.

A new report from Ceridian, based on a survey of 1,602 U.S. and Canadian employees, revealed that even generational differences are influencing the urge to jump ship. Over a third (33%) of gen-Xers were actively looking for work versus just 22% of millennials and gen-Z. Those between the ages of 18-29 did say that they wouldn’t stick with one employer for more than five years.

While all these factors can contribute to an exodus, there are likely other underlying reasons why staff are dissatisfied.

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The Culture Question

Digging deeper, Mohit Garg, cofounder of the sales training platform MindTickle, says that millennial loyalty–or lack thereof– is driven by the need to build a career that resonates with their values and what helps them self-actualize. “They are looking to work for companies and managers that provide them with psychological safety to express themselves, transparent communication, a well-understood path for their learning and growth, and most importantly, to be accepted for who they are,” Garg explains. If they don’t find this, they’re likely to leave, says Garg, who believes that culture is more important than the need for advancement.

Ziprecruiter’s CEO Ian Seigel, agrees that workplace culture is the biggest and most direct driver in turnover. But Seigel says they’re looking beyond feedback and clear communication of opportunities to advance. “Seventy-five percent of millennials want flexibility that also keeps them on promotion tracks,” Seigel notes. That’s why he recommends that managers take a closer look at what motivates their teams, and how to diverge from traditional best practices in order to retain them.

Is Silence Encouraged?

Recent news of the firings of high-profile leaders for sexual harassment and sexism have illuminated just how deeply a “culture of silence” exists at many companies, even at those with formal systems for reporting bad behavior. 

A survey from theBoardlist and Qualtrics found that the vast majority of boards (77%) had not discussed accusations of sexually inappropriate behavior and/or sexism in the workplace. Only a few had discussed risks/rewards of company culture that encourages drinking or partying at work (8%). The reasons? They were focusing on other things or it didn’t feel like a board-level issue. Unfortunately, fear of the repercussions of speaking out can lead to turnover.

Listen Before They Go

To figure out whether employees are leaving because of the culture, Fran Katsoudas, Cisco’s chief people officer, suggests that managers listen and engage with their team regularly.  “If you understand your team dynamics, the individuals on your team, and their strengths,” she explains, “you will have a much better lens on what is going well or where there are challenges.” She encourages leaders to show their vulnerability and take ownership of what is not working, which is key to getting to the root causes of people retreating.

Another way to do this is to use data and analytics. Cisco has a weekly check-in tool, quarterly surveys, and regular feedback from every monthly and quarterly event. “When employees know that their manager is regularly listening to them, the impact is significant,” she says.

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Mohit Garg of MindTickle says this is particularly helpful in larger organizations where subcultures can form. “Data analytics on attrition by region, department, or business unit can help highlight hot spots of good and bad by comparing industry averages and company averages,” he points out. “It is always good to share the (anonymous) data with the managers on where their team ranks.”

Exit Interviews

Garg says the last talk with an employee who is leaving needs to be as honest and open as possible. He advises that it is led by someone who is seen as trusted and neutral, and with the reassurance that the conversation will be kept confidential.

Lisa Sterling at Ceridian says that exit interviews can help managers to understand why that specific employee is leaving, but engaging the remaining workforce to understand why they choose to stay can be far more useful, especially when turnover rates are rising.

Instead of just interviewing the employees who are leaving, she recommends talking to those who stay about their work experiences, and get both the positive and negative takes on working for your company. “Don’t simply ask employees why they stay,” she cautions, “but probe into what sometimes tempts them to leave, be it money or career growth or whatever else.”

Managers should also ask if they are getting any new employee referrals from their team, suggests Garg. This is consistently the top source of hires, according to the Society of Human Resource Management. Referrals are responsible for 30% of all hires overall in 2016, and 45% of internal hires. If staff are unwilling to recommend the workplace to a friend or colleague, it can be a red flag, says Garg.

Don’t be afraid to ask early and often. As common themes emerge, says Sterling, managers will gain a better sense of the root cause or causes of attrition, and which factors have the biggest influence on employee flight risk, empowering them to recognize turnover trends and address issues before they become unmanageable.

About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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