Why You Need to Get Past the Usual Employee Turnover Conversation

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I recently attended a presentation focused on the topic of employee turnover. As I listened, I kept thinking about how much attention we pay to turnover.

This is not surprising as there appears to be renewed interest in reducing turnover because economic conditions are slowly but surely improving in various areas, and employers are worried about losing people. These same employers always have been worried about their best people, keeping them productive and assuring they do not leave.

However, the focus employers and researchers often take is on turnover — the big leaving event.

The 3 employee “turning” options

The focus on turnover may be problematic because it really is part of a bigger continuous variable, and turnover is way at the end of that continuum and in the negative direction. In reality, when one examines what employees do within organizations, they can engage anywhere along the “turning” continuum. Here are three options:

  • TurnOver – they leave (at the one end of the turning continuum and negative);
  • TurnUnder – they stay but hide – this is often called “withdrawal” behavior (in the middle of the turning continuum); and,
  • TurnIn – they work to become a key part of the organization, and they bring other people along with them, inside the firm (at other end of the turning continuum and positive).

What makes an employee “TurnIn,” “TurnUnder,” and TurnOver?” After we learn the totality of events, we can then use that information to continually improve the work environment and ultimately the business.

I’ve been studying employee energy at work, and over the years have collected over 1 million data points analyzing how energized people are at work and what’s energizing or de-energizing them. There are clues to the “turning” challenge in this work.

How to improve “TurnIn” rates

People “TurnIn” when they feel they are part of something bigger than themselves. There are two interventions that employers can do immediately to improve their ‘”TurnIn” rates:

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  • Provide a way for employees, with no fear or risk, to submit new ideas and suggestions. Employees have reported that being listened to and having their ideas acted upon is more powerful than many traditional incentives.
  • Engage in ongoing, real-time conversations with employees about priorities. I’ve called these “priority moments.” The pace of change at work means that employees are getting bombarded with new work every day, and they just want to know how to reprioritize. Teach everyone how to engage in priority moment conversations.

From the energy data we also can identity at least two ways to assure employees will TurnOver and run as quickly as possible away from their company.

  • Ignore problems when they occur; pretend the low performers are really doing OK; ignore bad customer experiences; do nothing when employees are angry and upset.
  • Fail to communicate to the point where employees lose all confidence in the top leadership team, the firm’s vision and the people around them. Confidence, we find, is a key predictor of energy, which in turn directly predicts “turning” stage (turned-in, turned-under or turned-over).

Employees will “TurnOver” when …

Below are two ways to assure your employees will “TurnUnder” or hide, trying to keep under the radar and avoiding being noticed, slowly withdrawing until they finally have time to “TurnOver.”

  1. Refuse to hold people accountable. If people are not accountable at work, then keeping quiet and laying low works incredibly well.
  2. Provide no means for employees to speak up. People can become invisible and just “get along” fairly easily in this type of environment.

Getting to an ideal state, with most employees being at the turned-in stage in the turning continuum does not take a lot of money or effort. It involves listening, interacting, and being agile, with a start being simply admitting the need to be more flexible. It involves creating an environment where people are part of something bigger than themselves.

TurningIn employees leads to winning business and growing an organization.

Dr. Theresa M. Welbourne is the founder, president, and CEO of eePulse, Inc., a human capital technology and consulting firm. Dr. Welbourne’s expertise is in the areas of leadership and human capital management in high growth and high-change organizations. She has a large body of work on initial public offerings; in addition, she works in the areas of employee energy and engagement as well as managing a large project on employee resource groups (ERGs). Theresa also holds an appointment as an affiliated senior research scientist with the University of Southern California’s Center for Effective Organizations. She also is Executive Director of the Alabama Entrepreneurship Institute as well as the Will and Maggie Brooke Professor in Entrepreneurship at the Culverhouse College of Business.

Dr. Welbourne’s research and work have been featured in popular publications such as Inc. Magazine, Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, Business Week, New York Times, and Entrepreneur Magazine and published in books and in journals such as the Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Review, Strategic Management Journal, Journal of Applied Psychology, Leader to Leader and Organization Dynamics.  Theresa is a prolific writer, well known speaker, and she focuses on turning rigorous research into practical tools that are being used by organizations around the world.  Theresa was awarded the 2012 Academy of Management Distinguished HR Executive Award (for contributions in research, teaching and practice).  She was named a Top Technology Trendsetter in 2014 by Survey Magazine, and in 2017 she was inducted as a Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology (SIOP) fellow.