Turning Around Employee Turnover

Here is a brief excerpt from a classic essay from Jennifer Robison, featured in the Gallup Business Journal. No other firm has gathered more and better information about workplace realities. Gallup’s wide and deep research initiatives continue, with results shared in countless books and articles. To learn more about the firm and check out its vast resources available at no cost, please click here.

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Costly churn can be reduced if managers know what to look for — and they usually don’t.

Anna recently quit her job. She had held the same job for 19 years and never registered a complaint, so her resignation came as quite a shock to her manager. It shouldn’t have. Turnover can be predictable if you know what to look for.

“When I turned in my letter, [the manager] said he was surprised and wanted to know what it would take to make me stay,” says Anna. “I said that the working conditions were not conducive to effective performance, because I couldn’t say the truth — that he made us all miserable. So two days later, he comes back with a new offer. I could have more money or fewer hours, but nothing else was any different. It’s still the same toxic atmosphere.”

Unfortunately, this is a common problem — and a common management response. According to Gallup research, which included a meta-analysis of 44 organizations and 10,609 business units, Gallup Polls of the U.S. working population, exit interviews conducted on behalf of several companies, and Gallup’s selection research database, most people quit for a few explainable reasons. What’s more, a set of engagement elements explains 96% of the attitudes that drive voluntary turnover rates for work units. But the reasons people leave might not be what most bosses think.

Money can’t buy love — or loyalty

According to James K. Harter, Ph.D., Gallup’s chief scientist for workplace management, people leave companies because of factors that filter through the local work environment. At least 75% of the reasons for voluntary turnover can be influenced by managers. Still, many bosses think — like Anna’s does — that all turnover comes down to money.

Money is important, but it doesn’t buy employee loyalty. Gallup conducted two polls in 2006 regarding turnover. Of those who quit their jobs, 82.8% left their companies, while 17.2% moved to a new position in the same company. When those who quit voluntarily were asked why they quit, “pay and benefits” was the second most common answer, but only 22.4% of respondents mentioned it.

Pay can seem adequate to engaged employees and an insult to actively disengaged workers, even when the pay rate is essentially the same. The polls found that the median pay for all nonmanagerial respondents was between $25,000 and $35,000. When asked if their pay, from an objective viewpoint, was appropriate for the work they do, 42.9% of engaged workers said it was, compared to 15.2% of not engaged workers and 13% of actively disengaged employees.

The most common answer respondents gave for why they were moving on was for career advancement or promotional opportunities (31.5%), while 20.2% said they lacked job fit. And 16.5% said they were leaving, like Anna did, because of management or the general work environment. Much smaller percentages quit because of flexibility or scheduling (7.7%) or job security (1.7%). (See graphic “Why People Change Jobs.”)

Notice a pattern? Most of the reasons employees cited for their turnover are things that managers can influence. And managers who can’t or won’t alter the factors that drive turnover can expect to be writing help-wanted ads in the near future. But there are additional ways to predict turnover in a business unit.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Jennifer Robison is a Senior Editor at Gallup. A graduate of the University of Nebraska, she has written for various publications for almost 30 years.

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