Flipping Around the Attrition Problem

Flipping Around the Attrition Problem

While a 20% attrition rate is normal, it means 80% of employees aren’t leaving. What makes them buck the trend?

Managers, human resource professionals have been dealing with too much on their plate for the last two years, and sometimes it can be quite exhausting. The great resignation wave is the latest to have hit them, not to speak of Omicron, the COVID-19 mutant that is threatening another spate of lockdowns. In such situations it is always better to focus on what you can control and what is your scope. There will always be things that you cannot do anything about; it could need a larger organization decision, or even a political action that has to be taken by a government, way beyond your sphere of control or action.

Flipping around the problem

While dealing with an average of 20% attrition, people managers, and HR teams are often trying to address a challenge that could be solved if only we flipped it around. In the frantic need to hire more people, the group we often forget to attend to are the folks who stay — those showing up day-in and day-out shouldering the work that needs to get done. Think about what these people — the ones who are here, working for and with you — need now. The short answer is they need to be seen for who they are and what they are contributing. It’s the job of the leader to make sure they’re getting the recognition they deserve.

So, let’s think differently, for instance 80% of employees aren’t leaving, they’re the loyal bunch who are committed to the organization. Why not try and understand why they are sticking around; what makes them buck the trend? Could we do something to reward and respect these people? Something that sends out a message that the company values those are loyal. It can have an interesting impact on those who are considering leaving. It could lead them to think that it is worthwhile to stay back.

Making it okay to leave

In far too many companies, when an employee gives notice the reaction is akin to an emotional breakup — you’ve been left, and you feel rejected. This triggers some not great behavior like a tendency to make the person leaving “wrong” and doubt their trustworthiness or integrity — even though that was not the case before they gave notice. There is a proclivity to dismiss their presence and devalue their contribution. Think deeply about what this type of behavior signals to the departing employee and remember, those that remain and are watching.

On the other hand, why not make it okay to leave? One must accept that, lifelong employment in a single organization will no longer be the norm. Rather, the company could be a pitstop in one’s career. A place where one has learnt, contributed, built a network, and now time to leave for another opportunity. It is always possible the paths will cross in the future and opportunities to help each other individually to create value for our old organizations will arise.

What could be created if you paused to acknowledge how both sides of the relationship have grown and evolved? Rather than viewing a resignation as a rejection of the relationship, what could be possible if you began to view it as an inflection point in its evolution? The talent pool is tight, and careers are long. End this phase of your time together with appreciation.

Engage them

Businesses are hurting and at the root of that pain for many today is a shortage of people to do the work. The existing people feel that pain as they extend themselves to pick-up extra shifts to provide coverage, listen to customer complaints when they are helpless to fix the real issue, or witness one more colleague call it “quits” when their tipping point is reached. So, be bold and engage your people in helping you solve problems.

  • Ask for their help. This requires courage because admitting that you do not know all the answers is vulnerable work. It takes strength and confidence to appreciate that outcomes are better when more ideas are included, when fuller representation is present and diverse perspectives are heard.
  • Give them agency to help mitigate the day-to-day concerns they are faced with. Create space for them to step up, participate and inform the way forward. This sends the crucial message that they are trusted and valued.
  • Focus on the desired outcome. Actively seek the insights of diverse voices and points of view into what will help achieve it, especially insights and ideas different than your own. Remain open to being surprised and delighted.

Looking for Flexibility

In the last two years, we have changed as people, as employees, as managers or leaders. We are no longer what we used to be before the pandemic. Most employees are seeking flexibility in their work, a greater balance between work and life, the freedom to deliver the outcome and not be micro-managed. The program managers, project managers, supervisors, team leads, of the pre-pandemic age must transform themselves to measure by outcome not by how long they were logged on. The metrics have changed, and we must understand this change, adapt, and use it in a way to build new relationships, and innovate new ways of working.

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