Turnover is Turnover: What Churning Employees Says About Your Culture

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“You are not going to believe this, but our admin just quit. She just handed in her two weeks’ notice.”

This is the third admin to come in within the past year and within a month all showed signs that their exit is imminent. Working till 10/11 pm three to four nights a week will cause anyone to rethink a job, especially if you are the new person on the block.”

As our discussion continued, I asked what the manager/HR is going to do about this. Her remarkable reply was, “Oh, they just reposted the job.” I almost dropped the phone reacting to that statement.

How could you allow the job to be re-posted after having three people walk out the door?

When this turnover issue first surfaced, I was told that the first person in the job had been there for just a few weeks, went to lunch one day and did not return or call back. The phrase for that is quitting over lunch.

The dysfunction and the after shock

When there is dysfunction in an organization, these type things happen all the time. But the question is what type of job causes organizations to churn dollars over and over again? What I found out was that this role requires lots of late nights and flying out on Fridays to work through weekends in various cities.

The ones that need the job will stay till they get something else. The ones that are probably financially stronger will look for the exit sign right away.

The last young lady that survived (and has been there over year now) made it through the gauntlet. She could not quit — student loans, rent, and other bills served as a weighted ball that would not allow her exit. However, she was rewarded with a promotion and a substantial raise. She said that there were many nights of coming home in tears, sleep for a few hours, and then back to the grind.

Even now, with a new title and lots more money, she said that she will eventually leave. Working 50-60 hours is commonplace, and she said that she cannot live the rest of her life like this

Leading from behind the desk

What I always find amazing is when leaders of companies discuss their workplace culture; you almost can hear the violins playing in the background. However, if you were to stand outside the door at the end of the day or night and get an unvarnished opinion, there just may be a huge disconnect.

This is what I call “leading from behind the desk” — saying great things in an email, blog or company monthly newsletter and thinking that just doing that is going to drive the culture. This was borne out in a recent study by Deloitte titled Core Beliefs and Culture. It says, at one point:

There is a disconnect between organizations simply talking about their culture and those that are embedding their beliefs into their operations.”

Leadership disconnect!

Leaders often time have an inflated sense of their workplace culture when compared to what their workforce thinks. According to the Deloitte report, when considering what factors impact workplace culture, executives rank tangible elements such as financial performance (65 percent) and competitive compensation (62 percent) among the highest, whereas those factors were among the lowest for employees.

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In contrast, employees rank intangible elements such as regular and candid communications (50 percent), employee recognition (49 percent), and access to management/leadership (47 percent) the highest.

So executives perceive employee satisfaction and their company culture as being stronger than it really is. Recognizing employees for their achievements, honestly communicating with them, and ensuring that you are connecting with them in person are all critical aspects of embedding values into a culture and expressing forward-thinking leadership.

These disconnects show that what connects with employees has no significant cost, dollar wise. Yes, honest communications, employee recognition and access to the organization’s leadership don’t cost a lot.

Turnover, and why it should matter

These turnover numbers should push an extensive look into an organization’s turnover rate to figure out why. Even though this admin role is probably at the low end of the totem pole, it shows that there is a serious fissure in this corporate culture. It should cause concern not only for the managers of that department, but an organizational concern that calls for an all hands on deck look into this situation.

Imagine what would happen if, instead of this situation being about an administrative assistant, that it was three VP’s who resigned within a year. If that happened, it would surely cause a serious look into the situation. The fact that it is an administrative position should not matter at it shouldn’t be looked at any differently.

Maybe, by finding the root cause of that level of turnover, it could give you some insight into how to fix the problem and avoid behavior that could drive other employees to the exits.

Titles don’t matter. Turnover is turnover.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

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