Employee Turnover: 7 Ways to Predict and Prevent It

It’s that time of year when we see annual data roll out, revealing employee engagement levels, job satisfaction scores, and more. In our prior blog, we took a look at some of this data, including Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) findings. (The 2015 FEVS results were recently released and can be viewed here.) In today’s blog, we’ll explore turnover. Is it predictable? Can you prevent it? Do you want to?

Most leaders recognize that all turnover isn’t bad and all retention isn’t good. Even so, there’s a tendency to think that a decline in turnover rate is good and an increase is bad. Is this true? It depends. Here’s how we look at turnover:

  • Positive turnover – a big picture perspective: Do you want to keep that marginal or below satisfactory level performer? Is could be a positive situation for your agency if they leave on their own, even if it means you will have a vacant position while you find the right person for the role.
  • Unavoidable or “neutral” turnover: The fact is that any agency can have changes to its environment from year to year that will have a bearing on turnover. Federal budget cuts and retirements are examples of unavoidable turnover. Even though this type of turnover could have a positive or negative impact on your agency, we group it with neutral, as these departures are beyond your control.
  • Undesirable or “negative” turnover: The key consideration really is whether you’re losing qualified contributors that you would prefer to retain. And, are they leaving for reasons that could have been prevented?

A look at comprehensive data for your organization will tell you how much turnover is costing you and it may show you important trends. However, it is only when you closely examine the information that you can take meaningful action to predict and prevent turnover in the future.

7 Tips for Predicting and Preventing Turnover (in no specific order)

  1. Know your history. It is the best predictor of the future.

Make sure you’re using the right metrics to identify what happened in the prior period, with enough detail to analyze by skill level, job category, and work group. Working with the right analytics will help to reveal patterns and trends – and this in turn will help you predict where there is likely to be turnover in the future. With this information, you can focus on preventing turnover you do not want.

  1. Watch for and address warning signs.

What are the turnover trends within work groups, teams, and roles? What does this information tell you? Here are important considerations:

  • Are there multiple departures from the same supervisor, work group or job category?
  • Is absenteeism an ongoing concern for certain jobs or teams? Do your employees participate in meetings and show initiative?
  • What does exit interview and/or survey data tell you? If you aren’t doing these, start!
  • What are your agency scores for FEVS and any other surveys? Are you using this information to address issues?
  • What does benchmarking tell you about how your agency compares to others in your market or with similar private sector jobs?

Preparing your leaders is also important. Ensure training programs equip leaders to listen effectively, watch for red flags, and explore options to address concerns. Make sure you create a safe environment for leaders to discuss issues and explore solutions.

  1. Foster a supportive culture.

Research over the years has shown that social support at work influences job satisfaction and employee engagement. The concept goes beyond workers getting the support they need from leaders and peers. The happiest and most productive employees, according to some studies, are those that are also giving support to others.

Create opportunities for employees to work together and support each other in completion of goals and projects. Formalize mentor programs and peer training. Establish new hire onboarding with existing team support where both the new hire and the rest of the team will benefit from the experience. Recognize and reward collaboration, peer support and teamwork.

  1. Communicate and collaborate with employees.

Involve your teams by scheduling regular interactive sessions to talk about your agency’s mission, key milestones, and relevant topics as well as to work on solutions to any challenges. Employees feel a stronger sense of ownership and satisfaction when their ideas are listened to – whether or not they’re acted upon every time. And, regular interactions with leaders in a collaborative work environment positively impacts employee satisfaction.

  1. Ensure you have a people-centric view.
  • If someone doesn’t fit well with one role, do you have a process in place to identify a more fitting position internally?
  • Are you creating opportunities for your workforce to learn, grow and contribute beyond their job descriptions?
  • Are they invited to be involved in activities that make them feel good about the agency’s overall mission, even if they’re in roles somewhat removed from that mission?
  • Do you provide opportunities for them to work together to serve the community?
  • Does your agency prioritize wellness and a healthy environment? Ideas include healthcare partner on-site seminars, encouragement to use vacation time regularly, and time away from the 24/7 technology-driven access of today’s world, among others.
  1. Assess the true cost of turnover.

Turnover for any organization is a costly reality that many don’t quantify extensively. Once you’ve done this exercise, you’ll have good information to use internally as you work to address this important and costly issue.

  • Use a rough estimated percentage of salary for cost of turnover if you choose; however, you’ll be even more accurate if you analyze employee groups and use these figures to apply a percentage to job categories or levels. (Note that sources cite cost of turnover in a wide range, often between 30 – 400% of annual salary depending upon the level of hire and availability of qualified candidates.)
  • Calculate relevant costs such as job ads and recruiting, interviewing, screening and background checks, hiring, placement fees, training a replacement, and more. Hard costs and other inputs (e.g. time) are relevant.
  • If you have mid-level mission critical skills that require you to fill in with contractors for a specific number of months, you should be able to factor in additional costs as a percentage of salary.
  1. Most importantly, use root cause analysis and refine processes.

Identifying the root causes of turnover will help to determine where your agency can improve recruiting, hiring and onboarding processes. Consider the following examples:

  • If someone didn’t perform well or fit in, what was the root cause of the mismatch? What, if anything, could you have done to identify it in the hiring process?
  • Are you missing important competencies or fit factors during recruiting and hiring stages?
  • Do you need to improve interview techniques and approaches to understand a candidate’s ideal and/or preferred environment or job? Once you give a description of what you want in your workplace, you give a candidate the opportunity to shape his/her responses to fit that description.
  • If someone did perform well and fit in but left voluntarily, could you have prevented it? Was this something unique for that person or are there common issues you can address?
  • Are you setting accurate expectations about the environment and role?
  • What is the new hire Onboarding experience? You can use technology to make the process as streamlined and user friendly as possible, while involving current employees to facilitate a team-oriented environment from day one.

And, remember to make the exit process the best possible. Explore our previous blog for information about exit interviews and surveys, automating the offboarding process and more!

In closing…

Make sure you keep proper perspective about turnover. The percentage alone will not give you enough information to draw any conclusions or act on the data. And, don’t take it personally. People change jobs at times because they want to develop new skills, experience other environments or meet some other personal need. You can work on everything within your control and still have people you’d prefer to retain leave your agency. Do you really want to keep people who would rather be elsewhere? Keep the door open for future opportunities and wish them well.

On a final note, consider that organizations have a “memory” and loss can have an impact that goes far beyond job duties or quantifiable costs. Employees develop bonds in the workplace and share a sense of community. Be sensitive to the impact on the people who stay. And, focus on doing what you can to create the best environment to make the right people want to stay with you in the months and years to come.

Thanks for reading our blog! We hope you’ll come back for the next one. Please contact us for more information about HRworx and how we help Federal agencies automate and streamline their talent processes!

Employee Separations Can Open New Doors

Most Federal leaders agree that hiring the right talent is a top priority for their teams. And, there’s a continued focus on improving employee engagement, the topic of our last blog, as well as job satisfaction. Yet, one underutilized opportunity pertains to understanding why employees leave agencies when they do.

When an employee resigns, do you think of it as a door closing? Most people do. But, a departure doesn’t have to be a closed door. When handled well, it can provide you with important information. And, it can provide tremendous opportunities to open new doors for your agency and your future hiring.

We all know that not all turnover is bad and not all retention is good. Either way, turnover is a fact of life. In a 2014 article, The Washington Post highlighted that of those leaving jobs in the Federal sector in 2013, 34 percent were resignations and 54 percent were retirements. Resignations reflect those workers who typically leave to pursue opportunities elsewhere. The question is whether you’re losing people you’d rather retain – and are you doing everything you can to make each departure a positive and informative experience, both for the departing employee and the agency?

Why Does It Matter?

When someone leaves, it may be due to a combination of reasons – issues with the workplace or management, mismatch in skills or fit, better opportunities elsewhere, and/or other reasons that the person gives upon departure. The employee may have positive or negative feelings about their time at the agency. Regardless of the separation reason and any negative or positive feelings involved, a departure experience can have a significant impact. And, if the separation experience is positive, people are more likely to come back for the right role in the future, refer candidates to the agency, or speak positively about the agency and their work.

So the key is to ask yourself if you really know why someone is leaving and are there things that you could have seen and addressed? Does the offboarding process you currently have help you gain important information so you can strengthen your existing workforce and generate a strong, positive agency reputation among potential talent?

3 Tactics for Positive Employee Separations

There’s a common saying that much harm has been done by things left unsaid. You may already do exit surveys to obtain data about job satisfaction and separation reasons. Best practice also gives an opportunity for the departing worker to be heard and for some “back and forth” with a member of your team to gather input. With this in mind, the following steps are recommended:

  1. Someone other than the person’s direct supervisor (e.g. human resources) should conduct the exit interview.
  2. Conduct an exit survey a week or two after the exit interview.
  3. Automate your offboarding to streamline the process for the departing employee and the agency.

Automating the process can make it easier for exiting employees to get all their benefits paperwork in order, return assets, and obtain other information needed about their separation. And, the agency gets improved tracking, time savings and better asset retrieval. Stay tuned for more information on this topic in the future! Read on for are more ideas about effective employee separation strategies for agencies.

3 Key Things To Know About Every Employee Separation

  1. Why is he/she leaving?

You may think you know why someone is leaving based on stated reasons, but there are typically unstated contributing factors that build up over time. Doing exit interviews is a great way to get more information in addition to providing a survey. Here are a few tips:

  • Make sure you provide a safe environment, with someone in human resources or another neutral team outside of the person’s work area.
  • Ensure that the interviewer is well trained in how to gather feedback without reacting or shutting down the conversation if it is negative.
  • Ask open-ended questions and/or probing questions. Here are a couple of examples: “If it weren’t for the fact that you feel you cannot grow anymore in your current role, would there be any other reason that you would leave at this time?”; “If you had been able to see a salary increase of that amount, what other reasons would impact your decision about leaving at this time?”; “So I understand you feel that [insert what they’ve said]. What other factors would impact your decision to stay or leave at this time?”
  • You can soothe difficult situations without implicating yourself. The experts advise that exit interviews include mirroring techniques and using key phrases to communicate that you heard what they said (e.g. “So you felt your circumstances were not taken into account when decisions were made, is that right?”, “That must have been difficult…”, “I appreciate your honesty…”). We suggest training in this area to ensure effectiveness and avoid any legal concerns.
  • Make sure you get advice from the right human resources and/or legal advisors on the tools that you use, the questions you ask, techniques such as those mentioned above, as well as about how the team should handle any legal or ethical concerns that may arise.
  1. Would he/she refer someone else to you?

Think of your employees as consumers of your culture and environment where they have options to make other job choices. Long before the invention of social media and social networks, it was often said that a dissatisfied customer would tell 10 others, on average, and a satisfied customer would tell only 3. In today’s highly connected world, that is only a small measure of the magnified potential for harm or good based upon your employees’ experiences.

If they do leave and the reason is negative, you can still achieve positive outcomes. Surveys tell us that employees want to be heard and that they would be happier if their ideas were listened to. When they are leaving, you have a unique opportunity to help them satisfy these needs. They are also more often inclined to speak freely when there’s less to lose.

Consider this: When the emotion is drained out of negative situations through an effective exit interview process, what will the departing employee be left with? What will he/she say? The chances are that, with the right process, they can remove the emotion and focus on the positives – or at least a neutral view that it is time to move on and the agency they are leaving might be right for someone else. They may not be ready during exit interviews to say they’ll make referrals – but asking will give you an important discussion topic and a later exit survey will tell you more.

  1. Would he/she consider rehire in the future?

It is often said that people leave a manager, not an organization. Sometimes it is due to a combination of the manager, the organization, the role and other opportunities or life choices. If the person is someone you’d like to retain in the right role, keep the door open by asking, “If the circumstances driving your departure were changed, would you consider returning in an appropriate role?”  Alumni networks – formal and informal – are powerful tools for future talent acquisition.

A Closing Tip for Federal Leaders

We wrote in our last blog about vehicles like Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) that are designed to get employee input with a focus on improving the factors that result in higher employee engagement and job satisfaction. Effective exit processes and interviews give you some more important information. Make sure you do something with the data to address issues that arise and continue to improve your culture and processes, as well as how you lead. This will make all the difference in your ability to attract and retain the right people in days and years to come.

Thank you for reading and we hope you’ll come back again for our next blog! Please contact us if you’d like more information about HRworx and how we help Federal agencies automate and streamline their talent processes, from onboarding to offboarding!