High staff turnover and attrition rates? Are you to blame?


It can be tough when staff turn on their heel and walk away from your business. But, as James Adonis points out, the reason why could lie a little closer to home than you might think.

Here’s a scary thought: according to a study by Flex Executives, most employees don’t leave jobs. Rather, they leave managers.

Let me ask you a question. Do you feel that people are the key to your company’s success?

If you don’t, consider this: employee turnover can cost 1.5 times the salary of the employee being replaced. That’s according to international consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers, at any rate.

So how do you keep good employees? Over 1,000 employees participating in a George Mason University survey reported feeling motivated by taking part in interesting work, being appreciated, receiving opportunities for development, and feeling like they’re part of a team.

Where, you might ask, did pay fit in? Sure, employees ranked job security and good wages as important. Yet they still featured lower on the list. Another study found the top reason employees leave an organisation isn’t due to issues with pay.

Rather, it’s because they feel they aren’t recognised and praised for their work.

So, how can you reduce turnover in your organisation? The answer is simple: focus on the four key elements of employee engagement: recruitment; support; relationships; and opportunities.

1) Recruitment

Does your hiring process focus on identifying candidates with the right skills and experience? If so, that’s a great start. But do you identify the candidates with the right attitude?

Take a look at your organisation and assess what soft skills employees need. Determine if candidates have those skills by asking behavioural questions during the interview. Almost anyone can bluff his or her way through ‘opinion’ questions. In contrast, behavioural interviewing is based on the premise that what a candidate has actually done in the past is a good indication of what he or she will do in the future. The underlying premise of behavioural interviewing, after all, is that actions speak louder than words.

Your goal is to find the candidate with the attitude that fits your organisation, so helping ensure they’ll be more likely to stay. Here are a few examples of behavioural questions you can incorporate in to your interview process.

If you need: Ask questions like:

Willingness to learn – “Tell me about a time you had to absorb complex information.”

Self-motivation – “Tell me about a time you worked on a task that was repetitive and structured. How did you maintain your focus and enthusiasm?”

Optimism – “Tell me about a time when everything around you was going wrong. How did you get yourself through it?”

2) Support

Maintaining a supportive work environment takes consistent effort and attention. Keys to providing support include communicating frequently, recognising your employees’ accomplishments, and creating a positive work environment to promote a healthy work/life balance. Here are some ways to provide support that will help you retain your best employees:

  • Use intrinsic motivators instead of just extrinsic motivators. Extrinsic motivators are external rewards like pay increases or bonuses. Intrinsic motivators are feelings of satisfaction or accomplishment that come from inside the employee: a sense of achievement, purpose, empowerment, ownership and so on. Intrinsic motivators help your employees feel valued and important to the organisation and are easy to provide.
    How? It can be as simple as saying thank you for a job well done. More than this, though, it’s critical to communicate, and often. Share positive results with your team. Seek input and act on good suggestions. Allow some amount of autonomy and decision-making.
    The more valuable your employees feel, the more engaged they’ll become – and engaged employees are much more likely to stay. (For more on intrinsic motivation, see James’ previous article on the topic
  • Communicate face-to-face rather than by e-mail whenever possible. E-mail, while great for disseminating policies and procedures, is also impersonal. The best way to communicate effectively is in person.
  • Create a fun work environment. Ask your team members to come up with fun ideas for a non-work-related competition. Hold office sweepstakes for sporting events, horse races or awards shows. Or run a baby photo competition where each team member brings in a photo of themselves from when they were a baby. The winner is the person with the most correct answers.
  • Seek feedback. Ask your employees how you can help them, and how you can create a better work environment. But don’t just ask. Act on good suggestions.
  • Promote flexibility so that people have a work/life balance. The next time an employee makes a simple request, before you automatically say no, take a second and think about ways you can accommodate their request if at all possible.
    If you’re tempted to reject the request simply because it means a little more work for you, don’t. Your team will appreciate you going out of your way to help them.
  • Reward and recognise performance. Every team and every individual has goals. And if they don’t, set some, fast. Moreover, when a goal is reached, celebrate. Track performance, post results and, most importantly, publicly and privately recognise employees for their achievements.

3) Relationships

Fail to create a close and lasting bond with your employees and the chance they’ll leave increases dramatically.

Ways to develop a good relationship with employees include:

  • Getting to know individuals on an informal basis. People who feel you only know them as employees won’t feel valued and important; they’ll feel like a resource, not like a person. Easy discussion topics include weekend activities, family updates, sports or movies. Your team won’t expect you to know everything about them, but they will appreciate you care enough to try.
  • Demonstrating support for differences. Every team member is unique. The more you understand and appreciate the different backgrounds, skills and viewpoints of your employees, the more engaged and valued they’ll feel.
  • Maximising team interaction, both at and outside of work. At work, hold employee-led training sessions. Hold regular team meetings and encourage input and discussion. Take advantage of one-on-one training and mentoring opportunities within the team.
    Outside of work, organise a team dinner. Donate time or resources to those in need (as a team). Also, take your team out for lunch, offsite if possible. If it isn’t possible to get offsite, make sure the conversation isn’t about work. Find ways, both formal and informal, to get your team together.

4) Opportunities

Help employees to reach their personal and professional goals and they may be employees for life. Great managers provide opportunities for development, growth and advancement. Ways to help employees reach their goals include:

  • Sending employees to seminars, conferences and networking functions.
  • Offering inter-departmental training opportunities. Not only will employees gain more skills, they’ll also get a better sense of how they fit in to the organisation as a whole.
  • Creating a development plan for each employee based on his or her individual goals. How do you know what employees’ goals are? Sit privately with each team member and ask. Then help each individual stay on track with his or her development plan.
  • Helping employees find a good mentor. Depending on an employee’s goals, you may or may not be the best mentor for them. If you’re not, help them find the right mentor.
  • Involving employees in decision-making and problem-solving. You’ll get great ideas and you’ll create a more engaged team.

Empower your employees. Set expectations, set boundaries, and allow employees to make decisions within those boundaries. Not only will they feel a greater sense of ownership and responsibility, but you’ll be freed up to focus on making improvements instead of monitoring day-to-day activities.

In conclusion

Competitive pay levels are important, but if you want to dramatically reduce turnover, recruit people with the right attitude, spend a portion of every day focusing on supporting employees, building positive work and personal relationships, and provide opportunities for development and growth.

If you do, you’ll do more than retain good employees. What you’ll be doing is creating a more engaged, empowered and productive team.

Read our article on the Top 20 Ways to Reduce Attrition in Your Contact Centre

James Adonis is an engagement expert. He consults managers on how to engage their employees, and individuals on how to engage themselves. He is also a motivational speaker and workshop facilitator www.jamesadonis.com

Author: Jonty Pearce

Published On: 30th Nov 2006 - Last modified: 28th Oct 2020
Read more about - Workforce Planning, ,

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