“I’ve never had such a hard time hanging on to good talent.”
That’s what a business leader bemoaned to me recently, and I’ve heard similar sentiments almost every day for the past two years.
We’re in the midst of one of the most tumultuous times on record for hiring and retaining workers. Citing the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) wrote recently that in 2021 alone, an average of 3.95 million Americans left their jobs — each month!
This is obviously bad news for employers considering the negative downstream impacts of lost labor on a business. Whenever a worker leaves their post, their previous team experiences an immediate lag in production as former peers have to stretch to cover newly abandoned responsibilities. Then there’s the financial cost of searching for a new team member and training them to perform ably.
Backfilling one job is tough enough. Worse, when it becomes a regular occurrence, it can seriously undercut the growth of a business.
I work with business leaders across the country, specifically in the supply chain realm, helping them bolster their retention efforts. With data gleaned from my company’s worker feedback platform, we’ve been able to quantitatively identify why employees decide to seek greener pastures. Some of the reasons are industry-specific, and some of them are universal. But whatever the particular reason is that a worker leaves their job, there is one helpful thing employers can do to slow (sometimes even halt) a painful employee exodus. It’s what I tell every single business leader I know to do, and it’s what has helped propel the business I lead to substantial and sustainable growth.
Problem 1: Poor Training
When we sift through our data, we sort worker feedback based on a few different factors, including sentiment (was it positive or negative feedback?) and topic (pay, communication, etc.). When looking at the most frequently mentioned topics in 2021, we found that nearly 50 percent of workers who mentioned “training” as a concern last year were no longer with their employer when the calendar flipped to 2022.
This finding confirmed something that we already felt to be true: that the early days of a worker’s experience with an employer are the most critical for building loyalty and trust. This attrition metric is also important because it provides an opportunity for companies to clearly see this gaping hole in their HR “leaky bucket.” There are few things that will create an environment for high turnover more than pushing new hires into positions where they are ill-equipped to meet the demands facing them. Chances are strong that their tenure will never satisfy expectations—yours or theirs.
Problem 2: Lack of Non-Work Down Time
Since most of our clients are in the supply chain space (specifically trucking where it costs upwards of $5,000 to hire a new driver), we internally classify this topic as “home time,” but what it can translate to in a universal sense is “non-work down time.” In business lingo, the closest cliché would be the proper management of a healthy “work/life balance.” No matter what phrase is used, it’s important. So important that our 2021 data revealed that more than 40 percent of workers who cited “home time” as a problematic topic left their job by year’s end.
People have to have the opportunity to find fulfillment in their lives outside of work. For the fortunate, work can be an environment that affords an immense source of contentment. However, most individuals need to have the chance to fully unplug from their professional demands to spend time with family, pursue hobbies, travel or just knock out life’s other to-do’s. Few things, from my vantage point, contribute to burnout more than the inability to regularly untether oneself from work.
Problem 3: Unsatisfactory Compensation
This, I’m sure, comes as no surprise to anyone reading this article: unsatisfactory compensation is a key contributor to turnover. According to our statistics from last year, 36 percent of workers who mentioned pay as a troublesome issue left by the start of the new year. My hunch is that as inflation continues to rise, this trend will only grow. But, I think it’s more than a matter of dollars and cents. It’s deeper.
Businesses pay their workers a set rate based on how much they value the work that a specific employee delivers. For company management, it’s cold math, yet for the employee it’s almost impossible for them to disassociate their place on a pay scale from their own humanity. And if their paycheck doesn’t show them they’re valued, chances are strong they’ll go somewhere else where the dollar amount is more in line with their sense of individual worth.
A Fix: Feedback Culture
There will never be a magic elixir that solves every factor leading to employee turnover since there are simply too many variables in that equation—and you’ll have to address each of them appropriately. Take heart, though, because there is one thing you can do to get ahead of all of your retention pain points: create and cultivate a proactive feedback culture.
By proactively and regularly seeking out employee feedback, you will be able to get a firm grasp (in real time) of their wants and needs, and be able to take appropriate actions to remedy those issues as a part of your culture and retention efforts. Exit interviews are autopsy reports. They’re simply too little too late, and they operate inherently from a reactive stance. The most successful businesses are the ones that take initiative and try to get ahead of problems. A feedback culture is an obvious indicator of a healthy company, and the list of benefits they deliver is lengthy.
Want proof? Here’s one perfect example.
After what USA Truck referred to as a “lost decade,” business rebounded after instituting a company culture shift that puts change management based on driver feedback at their operations forefront. USA Truck offered the feedback platform that my company built as an anonymous feedback channel starting in 2019 and has since improved driver retention rates by 50 percent. A happier, more stable driver roster has enhanced their financial standing, contributed to an overall better working environment and has enabled them to adopt a more future-facing hiring approach rather than constantly plugging labor holes.
Feedback Powers You Forward
It’s simple, if you want to show your employees that you value them, then ask them how they’re doing on a regular basis. And when they bring up topics of concern, engage them about those issues in an effort to find fixes. Waiting until a worker is unhappy enough to quit won’t cut it, and it also won’t keep you from spinning your wheels backfilling the same roles over and over.
A feedback culture will minimize turnover and give you the freedom to train your eyes on the horizon, and we all know it’s easier to move along when we’re able to actually see what’s ahead of us rather than constantly stopping to address a nagging problem nipping at our heels.
Feedback will power you forward. I promise.