The Magic Day/Month For Turnover?

Operations managers in many companies will tell you that if a person makes it to a certain number of days, their probability of leaving the organization becomes much lower.  Put another way, if the probability of someone leaving the organization is X out of 100 within 90 days, it shrinks to X-Y of 100 for the next 90 days (or some other time period).  This coincides with some companies’ probationary periods and when some benefits begin to kick in.

This article describes one company’s plan to get its new hires to the 90-day line.  The crux of it (and other examples provided) was, “Now that there’s high turnover, we really need to invest in our new employees because this is costing us real money!”  Just as interestingly, a person interviewed who quit a job basically looked at the first couple of months as one would while dating (“I’ll give this a shot, but if it’s not working out I’ll go find someone else”).  This is an excellent example of worker’s flexing their autonomy.

So, do you have a turnover sweet spot?  If so, how do you find it (besides urban legend, of course)?

  • You should have the data in your HR software. Don’t get hung up on whether the turnover was voluntary or not—most people jump before they get pushed, and vice versa.
  • Use the right data analysis tool. The most accurate way to measure where (or whether) turnover flattens out is using a hazard analysis, not counting things in a spreadsheet.  I won’t bore most of you with the details of why this is so, but write to me if you want them.
  • You should not be surprised that there are differences in turnover rates between people in different job titles. When doing this for a client, it was apparent that turnover for engineers was a very different animal than turnover for managers.  This will particularly be the case if your benefits program is different for salaried and hourly employees.

Seeing if there’s a turnover drop off can then inform for how long you need to keep new on-boarding programs in place.  In my experience, turnover goes down significantly at the point where an automatic raise kicks in.  However, if you are going the non-raise route, to know what should go into the programs, includes getting candid feedback from new hires and being open to their suggestions.  There may also be a bit of a Hawthorne effect—perhaps you do not need to change anything, but new hires will appreciate the additional communication and that will make it more likely that they stay.

Measuring impact is a critical part to implementing these programs.  Fortunately, the hazard analysis is very adept at doing this on an ongoing basis.

It’s unlikely that there is a “magic” day when your turnover goes down significantly.  But, people won’t stay for two years if they don’t stay for two months.  Setting this specific time period where you put in extra effort to give people the chance to be part of the team is useful for getting others to focus on turnover issues.  It is just more effective to set this time period based on data rather than myth.

Let Your Exit Interviews Leave the Building

One of the most intuitively appealing HR concepts is that of the exit interview.  If we only knew what was going through the mind of those who chose to leave our company, we could fix our turnover problems.  The thing is that there is more than enough research data to show that exit interviews are not useful in predicting or fixing turnover.  Yet, just the other day, I got a newsletter e-mail from a reputable management publication with suggestions on how to make my exit interviews better.

Exit interviews are not effective for several reasons, including:

  1. Low response rates. There really is not an upside for the leaving employee to participate, so why go through the stress and confrontation?  So, whatever data that you get is unlikely to be representative of the people who leave.

  2. Lack of candor.  Most people who would be willing to participate are also not very willing to burn bridges.  So their responses are going to be more about them than your organization.

  3. What do you think the leavers are going to tell you that you should not already know?  If a particular manager has higher turnover than the organization at large, it is probably because he/she/they is treating people poorly.  You do not need an exit interview to figure that out.

It is the last point that deserves a bit more attention.  The biggest problem with the concept of exit interviews is that they are reactive, trying to put the horses back in the barn, so to speak.  To keep turnover down, organizations should be addressing those things that lead to turnover before they become significant issues.  Identifying and acting upon turnover requires a commitment to gathering data and acting upon it.  Two steps you can take include:

  1. Using turnover as a performance measure when validating pre-employment tests.  You can lower churn for many entry level jobs by understanding which people are more likely to stay in the position and use that information in screening candidates.
  2. If you think you are going to get good information from people who are no longer engaged with your organization during the exit interview, why not get it from those who still are engaged and more likely to be candid? When you gather employee engagement data through short surveys over time, you can determine what the leading indicators of turnover are.  It takes commitment to view surveys as a process rather than events, but doing so can provide a high level of insight into employee turnover.

There will also be macro-economic factors that drive voluntary turnover that organizations may not be able to impact.  But, as the light at the end of the COVID tunnel becomes brighter and companies return to new-normal staffing levels, it provides a fresh opportunity to be proactive in understanding turnover.  This is a better approach than relying on failed techniques of the past.

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