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Our Company Began Tracking Employee Tenure, Here’s What We Found

The results gave Buffer insights that help them serve their employees’ career goals better.

Our Company Began Tracking Employee Tenure, Here’s What We Found
[Photo: olm26250/iStock]

Imagine working at a company where on your first day, the CEO says: “We are really excited to have you here. Now, how can I use my personal network to help you get your next job?” That’s exactly how Jon Bischke from Entelo kicks off the first day for his employees on day one.

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What a positive way to bring up the fact that employees probably won’t stay at your company forever. Instead of pretending that they will, Entelo works on how they can most impact someone’s career while that person is employed with them.

At Buffer, we sometimes think of this as ‘stealing someone’s time.’ If we, or they, have any intuition that it might not be a good fit, it’s always better to end things sooner rather than later, and not take away any of their opportunities to go and do great things elsewhere.

Still, we’ve never before shared employee tenure stats at Buffer. Not because we’re hiding them, but because it’s not something we thought to ask about or calculate. As it turns out though, there are tons of benefits to calculating your employee tenure and many ways that you can bring that information into your company to make positive changes.

Eager to learn more about our own employees, we did two things to discover tenure. First, the People team at Buffer included a question about tenure in two anonymous internal surveys. I want to emphasize anonymous because these surveys are not meant to single out anyone at Buffer; they’re purely for the purpose of collecting information, learning more about ourselves, and improving.


Related: 3 Reasons Why “Employee Engagement” Isn’t Enough


Second, we looked at the data on people who have left Buffer and how long people have been working at Buffer to calculate employee tenure, retention rate, and turnover rate.

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Let’s start by taking a look at what our employees said, then dive into some of our own data to see how it compares to industry averages, and we’ll share a bit more about how this data has been valuable to us, too.

How Long Our Team Plans To Stay At Buffer

Every two months we send out an anonymous survey to the entire team, primarily used to determine our team NPS score. In two past surveys, we decided to add in a question asking, “How long do you plan to stay at Buffer?” The purpose here was to discover the self-reported number for how long we might expect people to stay at Buffer.

These were the multiple choice answers in the surveys (plus an optional section to leave comments):

  • Short term (1–2 years)
  • Medium term (3–4 years)
  • Long term (5+ years)
  • As long as possible
  • I don’t know

59% of respondents want to stay as long as possible, 21% of respondents plan on staying five-plus years, 14% of respondents plan to stay three to four years, 4% of respondents plan to stay one to two years, and 2% of respondents responded that they don’t know.

With this information, we can see that 80% of respondents (remember the total respondents was 79% of Buffer) would like to stay at Buffer for more than five years total.

Now, this is the self-reported number. And things absolutely change, both for people and at Buffer. So next let’s look at some hard numbers that look a little more scientifically at tenure.

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Buffer’s Tenure Numbers

It turns out, there are tons of ways that you can calculate the data related to how long employees stay. These are roughly broken into three sections: retention, turnover, and tenure. Here’s the difference:

  • Retention rate: How many employees have stayed at your company during a certain period of time, often simultaneously calculated with turnover. According to Monster, a healthy retention rate is around 90%.
  • Turnover rate: How many employees have left your company during a certain period of time, often simultaneously calculated with retention rate. Turnover can either be calculated with employees who have voluntarily left or the entire turnover rate including employees who are let go. The healthy number here is less than 10%.
  • Average tenure: Used to find out how long employees stay. One calculation focuses on how long current employees have been around, while another focuses on longevity and calculates the total number of months worked before quitting.

Buffer’s numbers for each of these:

  • Retention rate for 2017 = 91%
  • Turnover rate for 2017 = 9%
  • Average employee tenure of current employees = 29 months/2.4 years
  • Average employee longevity tenure in the past 12 months = 34.7 months/2.9 years

How We Made These Calculations

It’s worth noting here that there are tons of different ways to slice and dice these calculations. To be consistent, we grabbed all of these formulas from one place, the SAMHSA website. These might change in the future as we discover new ways we want to calculate these numbers.


Related: Why Great Bosses Don’t Worry About Employee Turnover 


Retention rate formula: Number of employees who remain at the end of a period of time ÷ number of employees at the beginning of a period of time x 100 = your retention rate.

Buffer’s retention rate: 71 teammates at the end of 2017 ÷ 78 teammates at the beginning of 2017 = 91%.

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Turnover rate formula: The number of employees who have left during your calculation period ÷ by the total number of people employed during your calculation period x 100 = your turnover rate.

Buffer’s turnover rate: 7 employees who have left in 2017 ÷ 78 employees employed total in 2017 x 100 = 9% turnover rate in 2017

Average tenure for current employees: The sum of months worked by all current employees ÷ by the number of employees you have today = the tenure of employees who are still employed.

Buffer’s average tenure for current employee: Sum of months worked by all current employees is 2064 ÷ number of employees we have today is 71 = 29 months.

Average tenure for longevity: The sum of months worked by people who have left who worked in the last 12 months and resigned before today ÷ by the total number of people who have left who worked in the last 12 months and resigned before today = the average tenure of employees who have left over the previous 12 months.

Buffer’s tenure for longevity: The sum of months worked by people who worked in the last 12 months and resigned before today is 313 ÷ total number of people who have left who worked in the last 12 months is 9 = 34.7 months

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How Is This Valuable?

Why are we bothering to send out teamwide surveys and dig through tenure data? Well, there are tons of good reasons.

Average employee tenure can be very valuable to business leaders for getting a sense of how the company is doing, if people are happy and growing enough, and if they have confidence in the direction the company is going. Knowing the number might also help improve it, which can be extremely cost-effective when you consider the expense of a low employee tenure rate.

The survey that we sent also came with some great insightful comments. It was the anonymous way that we were able to ask how we might be able to help people land their next job. Here are a few ways:

Career Growth

In the comments of our survey, we received great feedback about mentorship and career growth. It’s something people want more of, and we have control over giving it to them. These are changes we’ve been working to make internally since we first saw the results. One of the biggest changes we’ve been able to make here has been creating career frameworks for everyone at the company. Meaning that people can see exactly where they fall on the experience level and how they might get to the next stage.


Related: Why Employees At Apple And Google Are More Productive


Leaving To Start A Startup

We were so excited to see comments from quite a few people about hoping to start their own business one day. As it happens, our CEO Joel is passionate about helping early-stage startup founders, and he has personally said how happy he would be to help our team with advice and follow along with their journey.

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Should We Pay Employees To Leave?

We are also currently considering paying employees to leave if they want to start their own business or if they realize the path Buffer is currently on isn’t the right fit for them, similar to something Zappos does that we quite admire. This is still in the works, but the survey results are a good indicator that this could be a great idea to make sure people are continually moving and growing toward their goals.

Measuring Employee Happiness

This is also a good measurement for employee happiness at Buffer. We want to keep employees at Buffer happy. It is part of our company culture, and a good business practice. Asking these questions helps us see how people are doing.


A version of this article originally appeared on Buffer and is reprinted with permission.

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