The basic principle of managing turnover is that everyone eventually leaves. But the “when” can feel like a mystery. Sometimes the signs are obvious, sometimes there are not so obvious. In trying to manage turnover and also retain top talent, it would be ideal for managers to at least have an idea of how to spot behaviours of someone who is about to quit.
To help managers and companies identify employees at risk of quitting, Professor Gardner (an Associate Professor of Management at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University) and Professor Hom (Professor of Management at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University) investigated this very question and uncovered a set of behavioral changes exhibited by employees, what they called pre-quitting behavior, that are strong predictors of voluntary quits in the 12 months after they are observed by managers.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, direct employee replacement costs can reach as high as 50% to 60% of an employee’s annual salary. Basically employee turnover can cost an organisation a lot of money. In conducting their study, Professor Gardner & Professor Hom asked nearly 100 managers to answer the following question: Think for a moment of the peers and subordinates who have voluntarily quit your organization in the last two years. How was their behavior different in the months prior quitting that might have told you they were on their way out? They also asked 100 employees to describe their own changes in behavior before leaving a previous job. These inquiries yielded over 900 different pre-quitting behaviors. The survey respondents reported relatively odd behavioral changes (e.g., “stopped caring about their personal appearance;” “became aggressive toward other employees”) as well as many common ones (e.g., “less willing to volunteer for special projects;” “decreased attendance at staff meetings”).
The following are the popular pre-quitting behaviours that came out of Professor Gardner & Professor Hom’s study:
- Their work productivity has decreased more than usual.
- They have acted less like a team player than usual.
- They have been doing the minimum amount of work more frequently than usual.
- They have been less interested in pleasing their manager than usual.
- They have been less willing to commit to long-term timelines than usual.
- They have exhibited a negative change in attitude.
- They have exhibited less effort and work motivation than usual.
- They have exhibited less focus on job-related matters than usual.
- They have expressed dissatisfaction with their current job more frequently than usual.
- They have expressed dissatisfaction with their supervisor more frequently than usual.
- They have left early from work more frequently than usual.
- They have lost enthusiasm for the mission of the organization.
- They have shown less interest in working with customers than usual.
Apart from noticing the above, nine members of Forbes Human Resources Council illustrate crucial elements businesses should look to when experiencing a higher-than-average turnover rate, and why addressing them is so important:
1. Where turnover is trending
Knowing where the turnover is happening can give HR and leadership an idea of where to start looking and what action to take. First look at where it is coming from in the company. Is it all on one team? Then look at that leadership. Is it a certain demographic? Then look at policies that impact them.
2. Common reasons for departure
Look for whether or not there are commonalities in the reasons why an employee is leaving from a specific department. This can be done by reviewing exit interview surveys and looking for similar answers to the questions. It's important to know if the reason is the manager, a team member or something else.
3. The Bigger the Story
You need to understand the story behind the numbers before raising a red flag. It could be that people are unhappy with pay, benefits or leadership at the organization; or that the organization is undergoing great change and there is a shift in the skills or competencies needed within the workforce. Perhaps people are being poached by competitors. So it is important to know and understand the story behind why people are leaving.
4. Direct Management
Some employees leave an organization to get away from their manager. Poor leadership can break people’s sense of safety, it can prevent a sense of belonging, have people feeling excluded and depress engagement. So focus on whether your people are leaving, or whether they are being driven away.
5. Relevant Performance Data
According to Marilyn Tyfting, SVP & Chief Corporate Officer at TELUS International, it is important for organisations to use data to understand the causes, rather than act on speculation. Companies must identify the root causes of turnover by accessing data to answer questions such as, is the attrition organization-wide or is it concentrated on just a few teams? Are other indicators such as increased absenteeism, decreased sales or poor customer feedback also present?
5. Employee Tenure
When turnover is high, organizations should analyze several factors to identify the root cause, including tenure. If employees are leaving within the first 90 days, then there is an issue with either the hiring or the onboarding process. Either the wrong candidates are being hired or employees are not being effectively trained or oriented into the organization and or their respective departments.
6. What Other Companies Offer
Employers should look at others in their industry to ensure they are keeping pace. If a company faces high turnover, it may be because competitors offer better remuneration, a clearer path to promotion, better work/life balance, etc. Knowing this can help determine the necessary changes.
7. Market Compensation Alignment
Compensation analysis might help proactively adjust salaries instead of reacting to exit interview findings. Looking into job tenure and market compensation at least annually might offer additional insights;
8. If Employees Feel Cared For
As an organisation you need to ask yourselves, do our employees feel cared for? And how is our organization showing it? Authentically caring about employees as human beings is the first step in creating a great place to work and is linked to a greater intent to stay.
Typically, organizations handle a turnover problem with large scale interventions to improve departmental or firm-level commitment, job satisfaction, and job engagement. These strategies may work, but they take time to design and implement. Thinking in terms of the turnover risk of specific employees allows you to invest your time and resources into those employees who create the most value and are actually at risk of leaving. Professor Gardner and Professor Hom recommend that instead of conducting only exit interviews to learn what caused good employees to quit, hold regular one-on-one interviews with current high-performing employees to learn what keeps them working in your organization and what could be changed to keep them from straying. So the next time you have a hunch about whether someone is about to leave, know that you may be onto something when you take the right indicators into account.