Pay Attention to Causes of Preventable Employee Turnover

March 1st, 2016 by
Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

Bruce Clarke, President and CEO

The following post is by Bruce Clarke, CAI’s CEO and President. The article originally appeared in Bruce’s News and Observer column, The View from HR.

When employees leave their jobs, we in Human Resources call it turnover. Then we label it “voluntary” or “involuntary” and assign drop-down reasons like “higher pay.” These labels are more about what happened than why it happened. You want to know why, not just what.

Turnover has as many causes as there are managers and employees. These four causes of preventable talent loss need more attention.

“I didn’t know.”I did not know this job had so much travel, that I have to cold call, that there is so much pressure to produce, that the business is unsound, that my manager is inexperienced, that it requires weekend work” and so on. These things are discoverable during the interview and application processes. Both sides own the problem: employers tend to accentuate the positive and applicants want to appear eager. If everyone spent more time in interviews talking about the job realities (and not just the fun stuff), painful and expensive early turnover would be reduced.

“We never talked about it”. I am convinced much of the turnover among talented, experienced and high potential contributors is caused by a lack of communication. Sure, no workplace has every opportunity or salary level a key player needs. Leaving for a new role might make the most sense. Too often, a great employee leaves because they do not understand all the ways this workplace could be as good as or greener than the grass on the other side.

Whether the motive to leave is pain avoidance (manager, hours, stress, type of work) or opportunity seeking (responsibility, autonomy, flexibility, pay) open conversations with a trusted mentor/manager will either make the choice clearer or uncover alternatives meeting everyone’s needs. Great managers create an environment where employees feel comfortable discussing these big decisions in time to respond.

“I need a change.” Some people need change. What used to be challenging becomes routine. Without new challenges, the normal push and pull of any job seems futile. What is this all about? Why work this hard each day for the same set of problems, people, customers and results? This happens at all pay levels.

It should be easy to agree on fresh objectives, skills and behaviors the business truly needs. Even without a new role, finding better and more effective ways to do important things requires good communication and agreement. Your best people are hungry for this conversation.

This is an emotional decision. Sometimes, the decision to change jobs is mostly about pay, but usually emotion controls. Where will I enjoy my work more, where will I get new challenges, where will I have an impact on real people, where can I find a manager who knows how to manage? Employers that understand the importance of emotion in decisions to leave can address them proactively. The signs are usually present. Explaining turnover in primarily rational and economic terms misses the mark.

Of course there are often institutional reasons for turnover, but remember the individual, preventable and emotional reasons.

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