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Aug 2021

Attrition is on the rise - here’s how to not panic

Author: John Tarrant

Attrition. It’s on the rise everywhere and many organisations are in panic mode – and not just in the UK, in the USA staff turnover is at its highest rate since 2000. Those organisations may have been complacent throughout COVID whilst enjoying lower than usual levels of turnover but now, for a number of reasons, the rate of people heading for the exit seems to be growing exponentially each month. There are a number of factors in play driving this, including; suppressed demand in that no-one has wanted to be ‘Last in First out’ during COVID, and therefore stayed put; people seeking more from their current employer – whether that’s a stronger sense of purpose, belonging, better managers, flexibility and career pathways; companies reaping what they sowed in having a ‘bad COVID’, failing their staff in key moments of truth in the psychological contract; big jumps in money in a candidate driven market; and, people simply reconsidering what they want their work life to look and feel like. 

The annual engagement survey is seen by some as old hat, preferring a new shiny ‘always on’ tool or even to do nothing at all (which too often equates to the same thing) but, used effectively, the survey will give you the gold dust information regarding the employment experience you offer, from those very people you’re seeking to retain. But it doesn’t just happen. It requires careful planning and constructing exactly the right suite of questions. 

Your starting point needs to be why people leave. So, first and foremost, as the relationship with the immediate Line Manager is the biggest driver of employee engagement, you need to fully understand the fabric of those relationships. Therefore, some punchy and insightful questions around approachability, recognition, a regular dialogue around performance, in-team communication are essential – both individually and taken in the context of a suite of questions. You need to be able break your survey response down by Department and Team to know what’s really happening on the ground. As we always say to clients, this isn’t a stick to beat your managers with, it’s an essential additional support they may not have had before. 

Secondly, never forget that ‘broken career paths drive staff turnover’ or, more broadly, ‘a perception of stagnation drives staff turnover’. You may recall the Docebo survey that highlighted 36% of all employees (and 48% of millennials) said they would quit a job due to a lack of learning and development opportunities. It’s worth investigating your staff turnover patterns – you’ll often see a spike at 18 months or just as your Trainees have qualified if you’re a professional services firm. Dive into the data because the numbers don’t lie. (Talking of diving into the Attrition data, experience tells us that, more often than not, staff turnover within the first 3 months is actually a recruitment problem not a retention problem. And anything in 6-9 months could well be related to ineffective onboarding and induction.) 

Your engagement survey is all about how people feel – whether they are ‘right or wrong’, we are dealing with their truth. Do they feel fairly treated, do they feel fairly rewarded, do they feel the business is run on sound values, are they proud to work for you, do they feel they have a positive future with you, do they feel in the loop on communication, do they feel listened to? If you don’t ask, directly, you’ll never know – not just how they feel but why. And of course, whoever they are, wherever they are, people deserve to be led. So what is their view of the leaders who shape the journey and the culture to deliver it. 

Finally, the other area you need to explore is often overlooked. This relates to enablement rather than engagement. No-one comes to work to do a less than adequate job and not being given the adequate support, resources or environment is a sure fire way to demotivate an employee or even a whole team. Much of this is around communication and cooperation between Departments, some is in providing the right equipment and environment. Either way, it has to be dealt with or the churn will continue unabated. 

We see too many surveys that ask the wrong questions, that can’t be you. We also see too many surveys that miss the opportunity to reinforce the mission and values or seek feedback on new and better ways of working. That can’t be you either. Typically the surveys we run will have around 25 questions plus three or four text questions. That should be ample to tell you everything you need to know and everything you need to do.

So, set clear objectives, plan carefully, be brave, execute with flair, measure everything and act quickly and transparently on the response. And do it now.

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