Before becoming a career advisor at the University of Phoenix, Mark Vitale worked for a company that ran a call center, where he ran into turnover and talent retention issues firsthand.
The university planned to implement chatbots alongside live callers to speed up their call center operations. To make it a smooth transition, leadership needed people who could train and launch the chat bots, he said.
They had two options: Hire new tech experts to lead the project, or train the existing call center employees to do the work. From one perspective, it might’ve been easier to bring in outside help with the chatbots and let go of some call center employees. However, the University of Phoenix decided to invest in their current team, keeping all call center employees on their payroll and upskilling them to use their preexisting product knowledge to train the bots.
Vitale said these events taught him a valuable lesson about talent management.
Tips for Improving High Employee Turnover
- Focus on early-stage resignations. This could indicate an issue with your onboarding process
- Offer flexibility. More employees want the option to work from home.
- Support employee wellness. Mental health issues are why many employees quit.
- Offer professional development. Employees are more likely to stay at companies that help them upskill.
- Recognize and reward employees. Employees want their hard work to be noticed.
- Identify clear career paths. Employees in stagnant roles might look for a more-defined career path.
- Make sure role responsibilities are clear. Employees who have a clear understanding of their role feel better equipped to do their work.
- Offer fair and competitive pay. Employees want to be paid fairly for their work.
“Just like with your customers, it’s easier and more sustainable to keep a current employee than replace them with a new one,” he said.
Turnover and talent retention have always been hot button issues, but over the past few years they’ve come into much sharper focus. The tech industry is currently in the midst of a talent shortage, and millions of employees are quitting their jobs every month. It’s natural for every company to expect some turnover, but employee departure numbers have been skyrocketing, and it’s getting more and more difficult for recruiters to find replacements.
“Because of this insane job market that has evolved, people are reevaluating their careers like they never had before,” said Brad Goldoor, chief employee experience officer at recruiting software company Phenom. “The stressful environment that the pandemic has created is especially escalating people’s thought processes and decisions. No matter what company you work for, you’re going to be affected, and you need to do things to mitigate your turnover.”
Combatting turnover in the midst of the Great Resignation is a daunting task. According to Vitale, the most crucial first step is treating your employees as partners, rather than viewing them as replaceable assets. As demonstrated by the leadership at the call center, the rewards of investing in your current teams far outweigh the costs of supporting them.
“When you treat your employees like business partners, they’re going to have a personal investment in your company,” he said. “That naturally means lower turnover rates, because they care about your business as much as you do.”
Some turnover is natural, and there’s no way to wipe it out completely. But if your resignation rates are abnormally high, don’t start panicking — there’s still a lot you can do to fix things. To reduce your turnover rates, here’s a few things to keep in mind.
The Great Resignation Isn’t a New Problem
The sudden surge in resignation numbers that began with the start of the coronavirus pandemic took many leaders in tech by surprise. However, forces driving the Great Resignation like wage stagnation and burnout were brewing for a long time. According to Vitale, the pandemic only exacerbated the problem, and because of this, it’s only become harder for leaders to correct things retroactively.
“It’s kind of akin to trying to bail out the Titanic with a teacup,” said Vitale. “We were reaching crisis mode before the pandemic hit, and it just brought light to it.”
“Assisting employees’ physical health, mental wellbeing, and professional growth have all been brought to the forefront ... But quite honestly, these are things we should have been doing all along.”
The pandemic introduced new concerns, but many of the factors that have led millions to leave their jobs were present long before March 2020. Goldoor explained that, in order for companies to truly make a dent in their turnover rates, they have to look beyond the surface to find out what’s really pushing their employees away.
“Assisting employees’ physical health, mental wellbeing, and professional growth have all been brought to the forefront,” he said. “But quite honestly, these are things we should have been doing all along.”
The Reasons Turnover Happens
There are countless reasons why employees quit their jobs. In addition to traditional reasons like career growth opportunities or financial goals, employees are now leaving because of remote work burnout, health concerns, or even just restlessness. According to Vitale, another more overlooked reason for the recent spike in turnover is generational.
“For your older workers, it’s a health risk to return to work at this time if they can’t stay remote,” said Vitale. “And the housing market, which has just gone insane in the last year, allows people to cash out their equity at a profit and accelerate their retirement.”
Unfortunately for leaders, all this means there can never be a one-size-fits-all solution to high turnover. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t strategies leaders can adopt to categorize and reduce resignation rates.
“Not all turnover is created equally. Anybody who leaves within the first six months is the ultimate fail for us, because we spend all the money recruiting and training only for them to leave.”
Resigning employees can be grouped into two categories: those who quit within the first six months, and those who quit after six months, said Goldoor. He explained that when employees quit after that six month period, it’s more likely that they’re resigning for organic reasons — maybe they want to make a career change or have family needs that take priority. But when employees quit before that six month checkpoint, it could have more to do with company weaknesses when it comes to recruiting and onboarding.
“Not all turnover is created equally. Anybody who leaves within the first six months is the ultimate fail for us, because we spend all the money recruiting and training only for them to leave,” he said. “It’s okay for turnover to happen organically after some time, but you really have to focus on that early turnover, because it’s costly and it hurts.”
How to Reduce Employee Turnover
Make Work Flexible
Many of the rules and policies companies accept as the norm may also be driving high employee turnover. One being the 40 hour (or more) week — it’s becoming increasingly unpopular. In fact, around 74 percent of American workers say that they would consider leaving their jobs if they could work for a company that provides a four day work week.
“Most people don’t realize that our current five day week is less than 100 years old,” said Vitale. “It didn't come around until 1926, when Henry Ford rolled it out after years of political maneuvering.”
While the concept may seem radical, tech companies are actually in an ideal position to make the shift to a more flexible work schedule, said Vitale.
“In tech, you work based on projects, but for some reason people are still measured by the number of hours they work, punching in at nine and punching out at five,” Vitale said. “Does it really matter if somebody decides they want to get the work done at two o’clock in the morning, as opposed to five o’clock at night?”
Prioritize Employee Wellness
Your employees’ mental health should be considered and cared for — poor mental health can have a dramatic impact on productivity as well as turnover rate. According to research from the Harvard Business Review, around 68 percent of Millenials and 81 percent of Gen Zers have quit their jobs due to mental health reasons. To keep their employees for the long term, leaders cannot afford to see mental health support as optional. Luckily, there are a lot of ways leaders can support their employees’ well-being. Offering mental health leave, telehealth services and regular check-ins are all great first steps.
“HR leaders have always been in charge of programs designed to care for employee mental and physical well-being, and I think taking a whole person approach will help employers of choice dampen turnover,” said Kevin Parker, former CEO and executive advisor of Salt Lake City-based recruiting software company HireVue. “In practice that looks like treating employees as complex beings with physical, mental, social, spiritual and emotional needs who are looking for growth opportunities and new experiences.
Help Employees Develop Skills
Money and benefits definitely can sweeten the deal for employees about to leave, but most managers know that already, and it isn’t a cure-all. To conquer high turnover, employers have to think outside the box and consider the less obvious factors driving their employees away.
“All this stuff about free snacks, open working environments, office scooters and other things we’ve seen coming out of Silicon Valley — they’re nice on a surface level. But I think we have to push deeper than that,” Vitale said.
One of the more overlooked factors in retaining employees is upskilling. Recent research shows that when companies invest in the professional development of their employees, they enjoy a 34 percent higher retention rate than companies that don’t. Helping your employees build their skills isn’t just about supporting their individual career growth, and can in fact help you build longer lasting teams.
“At HireVue, we put a premium on internal promotions,” said Parker. “In 2021 we promoted 25 percent of our team members into new roles and responsibilities. This focus on creating compelling internal opportunities has dulled some of the effects of the Great Resignation.”
When Employees Leave, Ask Why
You can lower your turnover rates, but getting that number to zero is an unrealistic expectation. There’s a lot that HR leaders can do to try to convince employees to stay, but there are times where employees will leave regardless of what you say or do. In such cases, all you can do is try to find out why they’re leaving.
“The first thing HR leaders need to do is talk to the people who are leaving, and try to get some honesty out of them,” Vitale said. “It’s possible to be professional and give direct feedback at the same time, so let them know while you know you can’t stop them from leaving, you’d like to learn what is driving them away.”
“Everybody is obsessed with the customer, because they bring in the revenue ... but guess what, your employees are the one’s taking care of that customer. Shouldn’t we think of employees as customers too, and provide them with the utmost experience?”
Remember that your employees aren’t just people that work for you, but are partners who help build your company. Any past employee is a potential spokesperson for your organization, and leaving them feeling good about your leadership will help you better secure your employer branding and attract strong candidates to fill their role. Your relationship with your employees doesn’t end when they stop working for you, so make sure that you provide them with a seamless and positive experience — even when they’re walking out the door.
“Everybody is obsessed with the customer, because they bring in the revenue,” Goldoor said. “But guess what, your employees are the one’s taking care of that customer. Shouldn’t we think of employees as customers too, and provide them with the utmost experience?”