Ask These 8 Questions to Fix Employee Turnover

December 11, 2017 in HR Best Practices


Employee Turnover Cause: Sour Supervisors?

Employee turnover is affecting every organization in every industry from Iowa to India, from California to China. It doesn’t seem to matter if you are a small company or a multi-national, whether you’re selling food, clothes, and technology or providing healthcare to patients. Employee turnover is a growing problem.

That begs the question: Why do employees leave?

A quick Google search reveals nearly a million reasons, far too many to mention here. Unfortunately even the least-discriminating person can see that most are anecdotal and rhetoric. The culprit? Few managers (HR included) rarely, if ever, collect data other than going through the exercise of an obligatory exit interview. Even fewer mine the data after the fact. The solution becomes “pass the buck” or “hit-or-miss” tactics.

Finding solutions that work lies in asking the right questions, aggregating data, and then continuously analyzing it. Once a company takes a deep dark look into the data it has buried in employee files and spreadsheets, reducing employee turnover generally boils down to one of several common sources.

Bad Supervisors

Before you find yourself falling down rabbit holes and blaming your recruiters and HR department, it is realistic to consider the supervisor’s role. Topping nearly every survey and study of employee turnover is poor supervision. Research has proven time and again that employees don’t quit companies, they leave supervisors. If your organization is experiencing turnover, the first place to look is the supervisor.

Bad supervision evolves from a multitude of management sins. The most popular and undeniable cause of turnover is an interpersonal conflict between supervisor and employee–something in each person’s make-up just rubs the other person the wrong way. It could be attitude or communication style. It could be different approaches to work. Often times, neither party is wrong or right, good or bad; their styles just don’t work together…and the employee leaves voluntarily or involuntarily.

Interpersonal conflict is not always the cause.  Often it’s just mismanagement. Research consistently confirms that more than half of front-line supervisors fail due to poor management skills, often the result of little or no people-management training. Many front-line supervisors are hired based on past technical accomplishments but lack adequate experience or training managing teams and motivating other employees to complete projects. Internally, many workers are promoted to management as a reward for tenure and loyalty.  Both strategies are recipes for higher turnover and lower productivity.

To eliminate supervisors as a cause of turnover, you need to ask the following questions:

  • Has he or she received adequate training?
  • Does one supervisor have more or less turnover than another?
  • Is turnover high on one shift or in one location but good in another?
  • Does the supervisor have performance goals that include retention, turnover, and employee engagement?

To evaluate other potential causes of turnover, ask:

  • Are employees leaving after three to five years or during their first few months?
  • Are you providing Millennials and Generation Z enough opportunities to learn?
  • Are you providing Millennials and Generation X enough opportunities to advance?
  • Are your wages and benefits competitive?

In other words, is it a hiring, training, or retention problem?

Higher turnover is a trend that will become more common in the future. As a result, HR and managers feel compelled to fill open positions quickly with less-qualified people to satisfy frustrated managers.

While employee turnover is impacting many organizations, especially hard hit are companies that have not experienced turnover in the past. For each Baby Boomer that leaves, it often takes multiple new hires to get the right fit. It is not uncommon for a 20- or 30-year employee to be replaced with a millennial who tends to change jobs every two to three years.

Solving employee turnover has a lot of chicken-or-the-egg thinking in it. To be fair, there are other causes of employee turnover. Don’t make supervisors the catch-all scapegoat.

The best solution for employee turnover is a good hiring process and effective leadership development. It means placing the right employees on the right teams with the right managers. Likewise, equipping supervisors and managers with the right people management skills and resources is no longer optional and a just “nice-to-have,” but rather an essential for improving productivity and sustained business growth.

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Editorial Note: The content of this blog originally appeared in the November, 2017 edition of ABR Employment Services e-newsletter,  HR Insights. It was written by Ira Wolfe.