Is it time to talk about staff turnover yet?

26th April 2019

Let’s say you’re a CEO and you’ve been told by HR that staff turnover in your business is a little under 50%. That means, on average, your people are staying with you for two years, give or take, before they move on.

That doesn’t sound good.

You start to think about the costs of high staff turnover – recruitment fees, time spent recruiting and onboarding – and you decide to do something about it.

So you review your recruitment process with your head of HR, hire more people who you think will stick around, and a few months later … nothing happens. Staff turnover doesn’t budge.

Oh dear.

Then you have another chat with your head of HR and decide that you need to improve your employer brand, so you invest heavily in promoting your business as a ‘go-to’ employer, offering people better benefits and training, and months later … nothing happens.

This is getting embarrassing.

Then one day, in a moment of divine inspiration, someone (it could even be you) decides to delve deeper into the staff turnover data, and you find that while your junior people are leaving at an alarming rate, your senior management are sticking around for at least five years on average.


So you ask a different question: what’s causing our junior people to move on so fast?

You read articles that discuss how hard it is to motivate and retain millennials.

You ask a few HR consultants and recruiters and they say yes, it is tough, but it’s not impossible. Some companies, maybe not in your sector, have staff turnover rates of less than 30%. They spend far less on recruitment and they reinvest a chunk of those savings on coaching and training.

Then your HR person shows you the Science for Work evidence summaries on employee turnover, recruitment and employee motivation.

Aha again!

So you decide to make some changes.

You stop measuring staff turnover and start measuring staff retention.

You include staff retention as a key measure in your managers’ performance related pay.

You ask your best performing recent hires what they need most to stay motivated and progress in the business.

You review the data from recent exit interviews and compare it with what your recent hires have told you. You follow, as far as you can, the Science for Work takeaways for those evidence summaries.

Lo and behold, things change.

Slowly but surely, people stick around for longer. Competition for management roles is fierce. You start to get more and more unsolicited CVs from quality candidates who want to work for you. Recruitment costs tumble. Margins improve, even after your reinvestment in coaching and training. Your business is buzzing; more creative, more successful, more fun.

So you review how you changed things:

You looked at the organisational data from different perspectives.

You asked industry experts for their opinions.

You spoke to stakeholders directly, where possible, to get their views.

And you looked at what the science says about it all.

You reframed your question, changed your method of evaluation, and incentivised the right behaviours. And you feel good, because it worked and it’s a straightforward process you can follow again.

Then a friend tells you about the Center for Evidence Based Management. So you look at the site and see pretty much everything you had done to change things in a simple diagram. Maybe not strictly by the book, but it worked for your business.

This makes you smile ruefully to yourself at all the wasted time, money and effort you put in before you got it right. If only you’d known sooner.

And then you…


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