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3 ways HR Leaders can reduce attrition

Jim Cunningham

Jim Cunningham

March 28, 2023 7 min read

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May be cliché but very true, a company’s most valuable asset is its people, and keeping them engaged in the work and ambitions of a company is core to achieving an organization’s mission. Turnover of employees happens for a whole host of reasons, and when losing employees faster than replacing them it is a troublesome sign of employee attrition. Hence, every HR leader must consider utilizing our 3 ways to reduce attrition.

Frontline managers have the greatest impact on improving employee engagement, especially when processes and information are in place to support them.

Losing an employee can impact time-dependent work, create hardships on the remaining team, and add costs for recruiting and training of replacements. Often companies consider turnover, or attrition, as the cost of doing business and don’t regularly measure it and learn from the data. There are three steps leadership can take to ensure managers minimize employee attrition and improve overall employee engagement.

1. Understand What is Going On

You can’t improve what you don’t measure. When it comes to employee engagement there are three categories of metrics that should be collected and analyzed on a regular basis. If you are not conducting exit interviews, it is an important first step to understanding. The interview should be conducted by someone on your HR/People team and the goal should be to translate the conversation into discrete data that can be used for reporting and analysis. Break it down by departments or business units so that you can see where specific issues may be more predominant. Also, develop a set of standard “reasons” for why an employee might depart the organization. Allow for the ability to collect up to three, in ranked order; it is not always a single reason why someone has chosen to leave an organization. You may learn that the employee resigned because they were offered another opportunity for more money, but also discover that they sought out the opportunity because their manager was showing favoritism to other employees and the department culture had become uncomfortable to work in. 

Collecting this information is not a perfect science, but it can shed a lot of light on opportunities for improvement.

At least quarterly, if not monthly, your company should send out employee engagement surveys. This can be tricky because employees can get survey fatigue. Select a survey instrument that strikes the right balance between not providing enough meaningful and actionable information and one that employees stop responding to because it takes up too much time. Tracking the response rate is important because it is also a sign of overall engagement. If employees aren’t responding, it could be because they don’t trust the company to either act on their feedback or keep it anonymous. Encourage managers to routinely ask their team members to complete the survey and emphasize how important it is to the company to understand what is working for people, and what is not. Employees should feel there is substantial weight placed on their anonymous responses.

Know your turnover rate and track how company activities and engagement strategies are impacting it; this is as important as tracking supply costs or productivity. We recommend this metric be part of monthly leadership meetings and shared openly with employees. To calculate your attrition rate, you simply take the number of separations divided by your avg number of employees and multiply by 100.

2. Be Intentional About Engagement

Engagement is a broad term and can easily become awash in leadership jargon. Be intentional about what employee engagement means to your organization and make sure your managers can fluently articulate it. How do you want to describe the experience your employees have working for your company; give yourself something to shoot for. Most companies will have mission, vision, and values statements; all important directional anchors to help guide decision-making and culture. It is equally important to have a well-articulated engagement statement that serves as a strategy. Imagine while a manager is interviewing a candidate, the candidate asks them what working for your company is really like. They might say, “we strive to build diverse and trusting teams, empower our people to innovate and create, make sure management is listening, and remain as flexible as practical to promote a healthy work-life balance.” This engagement statement should remain dynamic and can be fine-tuned as it is informed by what you are learning from employees.

3. Connect the Dots

Now you are collecting data and measuring all the right things. Your employees know you are collecting this information, so it is a positive signal that you want to improve. Many companies stop here and fail to connect the dots between collecting data and acting on it. Consider the steps we are outlining here as a continuous feedback loop. The data you are collecting is describing the current state of employee engagement at your company. Your employee engagement statement describes your desired future state of engagement; comparing these two tells your frontline managers where the opportunities exist.

Why focus on the manager?

Our 3 ways to reduce attrition revolve around your managers because they are the connecting links between organizational culture and employee experience. Our research shows that 67% of attrition and retention is induced by managers. The same research also shows that 64% of employees with ineffective managers plan to leave their organization.

Managers should be transparent with employees about the gaps and opportunities so that they can engage with them on solutions. An easy trap with any process where you are seeking out information about an employee’s experience is that it can create a culture of problem-identifiers. Managers can instead create a culture that is solutions-oriented where employees feel ownership for the steps taken to improve their workplace. Maybe a manager learns that there are hiring decisions they have made that bring the wrong skill set or personality type into certain roles, or teams.

The Manager can meet with people closest to the work and build a new hiring qualifications profile or set of interview questions. Perhaps the data suggests that one manager is viewed as “not competent”. You might spend more time with that manager to understand where they struggle and if training or coaching is a worthy investment. Common in most survey responses are opportunities to improve communications. Pull a cross-section of employees together and brainstorm tactics to improve.

No matter how you connect the dots, managers should have an ongoing plan that reflects what is being learned through your company’s feedback loop so they can drive toward solutions.

Help your managers plan to prioritize; eventually, they will see improvements and get closer and closer to creating the work environment and experience your teams will want to remain a part of.

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