Why the Tide of Turnover Is Coming & What Employers Can Do to Prepare

- Job & Career

by Bruce Tulgan. Learn more from Bruce in our podcast

After huge recent fluctuations in the job market—record low unemployment in the months before the Covid-19 pandemic, record job losses during, and record re-hiring in the aftermath—employers are facing more severe talent shortages than any time since we at RainmakerThinking began our workplace research in 1993.

And it isn’t just talent shortages employers should worry about. The tide of turnover—even among the happiest or best employees—may be even greater than anticipated. According to recent data, more than half of satisfied workers are open to making a career transition.

If employers want to prepare themselves for the impending surge in voluntary departures, they must start asking: “What can we do to make sure you stay?”

There is great consistency in data over more than two decades, including the last two years, in the top causes of early voluntary departures among newly hired employees (within two years). Here are some reasons.

#1: Buyer’s remorse. This results from the employer overselling the job to potential candidates. The newly hired employee is very disappointed by the real conditions of the job as compared with representations or promises made during the hiring process.

#2: Inadequate on-boarding and/or up-to-speed training processes: This occurs when the first days and weeks of a new hire’s employment are not rigorously scheduled with interactions, experiences, and assignments designed to make a connection between them and the new organization. That means clearly presenting and continuously reinforcing the mission, values, history, culture, people, and work. It is important to transfer ownership of at least one concrete task, responsibility, or project to every new hire.

#3: Hand-off to a disengaged or unsupportive manager: This is when the manager does not provide clear expectations, regular feedback about performance, engage in resource planning/troubleshooting/problem-solving, or give credit and reward for high performance.

#4: Limited flexibility: This could mean flexibility in anything from assignment choice, to schedule, to location or workspace, to any other preferred work condition.

While much hiring was postponed during the pandemic, where hiring was occurring, some of the underlying conditions contributing to these causes were exacerbated, resulting in unnecessary hiring failures. At the same time, some new hires suffering these causes may have hesitated to leave their jobs during the pandemic, even if they had concluded that taking the job was ‘a mistake.’ When employees, whether new hires or longer-term, decide to quit when the time is right, we call this ‘leaving in your head,’ or ‘leaving without leaving.’ This phenomenon is sometimes the explanation for diminished performance or bad attitude from a previously good employee.

Leaving without leaving is also a big component of pent-up departure demand. The top causes of pent-up departure demand in today’s workforce also overlap with data over the last two decades regarding top causes of mid-stage voluntary departure occurring within two to five years of employment. Some of these causes are:

#1: Overcommitment syndrome for an extended period with no end in sight: Chronic overcommitment syndrome results in siege mentality: When all incoming requests, assignments, and opportunities feel like an assault. This inevitably leads to burnout.

#2: Disengaged or unsupportive manager: When someone’s manager does not engage in regular, ongoing, 1:1 conversations about the work with them, they will stagnate. They may feel their manager does not provide the guidance and direction to set them up for achieving their best work. Or, they may come to resent the manager for failing to recognize the great work they do. An employee may also perceive a manager’s lack of engagement as representative of how valuable they are to the organization as a whole.

#3: Limited flexibility: This may be flexibility in anything from assignment choice, to schedule, to location or workspace, or any other preferred work condition. Now that employees have seen it is possible to achieve nearly universal work-from-home conditions, they are more skeptical of employers or managers who refuse to offer sufficient flexibility.

#4: Lack of career path: The best employees will leave when there are no clear steps toward role/position growth or career advancement.

#5: Relationship conflict: This could be cliques, ringleaders, or other exclusionary social formations. Or, growing friction resulting from a lack of clear communication when it comes to collaborative work.

Again, the Covid-19 pandemic—with its attendant dangers, fears, lockdowns, supply chain disruptions, market volatility, and other pressures—exacerbated many conditions underlying these causes. While many people did leave jobs (or the workforce altogether) during the pandemic, many others stayed in place waiting for the right time to leave. As hiring soars to record levels in the post-pandemic era, quit rates are also soaring as pent-up departure demand is released.

So, what should organizations do to address these factors?

The first step to gaining a strategic hiring advantage in 2021 and beyond, is to define a clear value proposition, one that goes beyond the typical list of salary and benefits. Decide who or what you want to be as an employer and tell your story loud and clear. This should not just be in terms of mission, vision, and culture, but specifically in terms of the work your organization accomplishes, how, and the value proposition you have to offer to the employees who do that work.

That means you need a purposeful staffing strategy. After all, the value proposition you offer to some employees may be very different from the value proposition you offer others.

The employer side of the transaction is always the same:
Employers want to get as much of the highest priority work done as well as possible, as fast as possible, with the least possible cost or friction. The employee side of the transaction is more complex and variable: Employees want to earn money, have favorable working conditions, and make a positive contribution to the mission.

Every employer value proposition is based on some balancing calculus, mixing and matching on each side of the ledger various aspects of eight defining factors. We call these the ‘dream job factors.’

#1: Performance-based compensation: How much is baseline pay and benefits? Are they comparable to your competition? Are there clearly defined opportunities to learn more based on extra-mile effort and results?

#2: Supportive leadership: Is there an immediate manager who provides regular guidance, support, and direction? Will they make expectations clear, provide regular feedback and recognition?

#3: Role and responsibilities: What is the nature of the actual work itself? Is it difficult, repetitive, or tedious? Or, is it interesting and valuable? Is it mission driven? Does it have positive, meaningful results?

#4: Location and workspace: Is the work done in a particular place in a specific geography? Or can the work be done from anywhere? Sometime? All of the time? If there is a particular place, is it pleasant?

#5: Scheduling flexibility: Is the job full-time, extra time? Or is it part-time, flex-time? Is there any ability to set one’s own schedule? Occasional scheduling accommodations?

#6: Training and development: Are there formal and informal opportunities to build new, relevant knowledge and skills? Is there a chance to become a deep subject matter expert? Or to build a wide repertoire?

#7: Relationships at work: Is the workplace welcoming and inclusive? Are there opportunities to build productive and mutually supportive working relationships with colleagues, leaders, clients, or decision makers?

#8: Autonomy and creative freedom: Is it clear what exactly is up to employees, and what is not? What is required in every job? What is allowed? Where do employees have discretion in how they complete their work?

It’s no secret that Covid-19 has changed how we work. Modes of work are different, sites of work are varied, and means of performance are broader than ever. If the dream job factors weren’t a part of your organization’s repertoire prior to the pandemic, they probably are in some shape or form now. If not, it’s time to take action.

This article is based on data and findings presented in RainmakerThinking’s new white paper: Winning the Talent Wars: Recruiting and Retention for the New Hybrid Workplace

About the Author
Bruce Tulgan is internationally recognized as the leading expert on young people in the workplace and one of the leading experts on leadership and management. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, a management research and consulting firm. Bruce is a best-selling author, an advisor to business leaders all over the world, and a sought-after keynote speaker and management trainer.

Bruce is the author of numerous books, including the best-seller It’s Okay to Be the Boss, Not Everyone Gets a Trophy and his newest book from Harvard Business Review Press, The Art of Being Indispensable at Work.

Photo credit Yoav Hornung via Unsplash

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