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This is not advice. Items herein are general comments only and do not constitute or convey advice per se. The information contained in these articles is for guidance only and should not be relied upon without obtaining professional advice having regard to your direct circumstances.


Understanding why people leave

Employee retention is a major issue with all sizes. Understanding why people leave can help to stem the loss of good people.

When it comes to working through employee retention issues, we cannot put the right interventions in place until we have enough data and facts – and we use these to make targeted, informed decisions. Simply put, we must have the facts right to improve employee retention.

And to get the relevant facts, you only need to go straight to the most relevant source of data – people who joined and have since left your organisation - and ask them. They have the answers and, in our experience, are happy to share it.

The main themes of a good exit study will look into these areas:

1. Why do employees join your organisation?
2. Why do they stay?
3. Why do they perform?
4. Why do they choose not to stay any longer?

Exit interviews

Gathering facts is all about doing effective exit interviews. An exit interview doesn’t have to mean someone from HR or a manager sitting down with the employee  on their last day, trudging through the questions without conviction. If it were your last day at work, would you be providing as much useful input as you could ... or would you be more interested in your outstanding holiday pay, your farewell lunch and whether your manager will let you go home early?

Interviewing employees soon after they have left and started another role will give them perspective and help them give you those insights you are craving.

And outsourcing these all-important exit interviews to a third party who guarantees confidentiality gives you the best insights and some real data you can meaningfully base decisions on.

The aim is to interview all past employees, particularly those employees who you would consider high value. But once you have gathered the facts and are then looking at analysing the result and doing something about it – it is incredibly important to focus on what is most useful to the organisation, not what is most interesting. Importantly, and this may come as a surprise, do not concern yourself with the annual attrition percentage.

Instead, look to how the annual employee figure is composed – and that will give you the real story and point you straight to the solution. Ask yourself, where are the main losses coming from? How does the profile of resigned employees compare to your workforce?

For example, if you find that over 60 per cent of your resigned employees are women but women only represent 35 per cent of your workforce, then something is going seriously awry with the experience women have in your organisation and this knowledge needs to feed your retention strategy.

By gathering data through exit interviews and by doing a small amount of analysis, your retention solutions become obvious. You now have direction and a starting post and a yardstick to measure your retention success.

You also have the data you need to redraft your HR policies around learning and development, around performance reviews, around reward and remuneration, and so on. And it doesn’t just have to be exited employees – you can also do a confidential “stay survey” with your current team and get data from them. The sampling needs to be representative to have any meaning and allow enough confidentiality for them to speak freely.

The other incredibly useful outcome of exit interviews and gathering data is that it helps your managers and human resources staff more fully represent the organisation when it comes to the other end of things, at the recruitment stage.

Instead of sitting in front of a candidate and sharing a personal view of what you feel the organisation is good at, you will be able to share the view of what past employees have told you the organisation is good at. This will be significantly closer to the real story and result in future candidates staying longer because you’ve told them what the organisation is really like from an employee’s perspective.

Telling the real story in your advertising, at interviews, and through the recruitment phase means that you will end up recruiting new starters who are attracted o your actual work environment and therefore are more likely to succeed in the environment you actually have on offer, rather than something manufactured in the mind of one individual.

Managers are under incredible pressure to hire “anyone” now will really struggle with this idea – they may just be desperate enough to grab any “warm-blooded” person to fill the empty seat. But if you can tell the story at recruitment, retention will start to look after itself.

Collecting data through exit interviews to answer all-important questions around why people join, stay, perform and leave, then applying this learning to recruitment and other HR initiatives will result in employees staying longer and performing higher than average. And that makes good business sense in anyone’s book.

Caroline Hermann and Lisa Halloran
My Business, November 2008


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