Your Career Q&A: Better Management to Reduce Employee Churn

By Martin Yate Jan 9, 2018
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Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column

I am looking forward to hiring new staff this year, yet I know it will be one step forward and one step back, because I'm probably going to lose people as well. Is there anything I can do about this?

With the new year, your new hiring budget has been replenished and the number of job applications you receive are likely to soar in January and February.

At the same time that you're excited to bring the right new people on board, you are almost certain to lose some of your existing staff to new opportunities, and all too often those losses will be of your best workers. We know from experience that this is true.

Tune in to subtle employee behavioral changes, and you can lessen this likelihood and become a better leader. You'll also strengthen your job security; as a manager, your three underlying responsibilities are the foundation of ongoing success:

  1. Your job as a manager is to get work done through others.
  2. If you do not hire effectively, you can never manage productively.
  3. You need to turn over employees in a way that suits your needs.

Bearing these considerations in mind, watch for these four red flags.

Changes in behavior. A normally reliable staffer begins to behave differently. Perhaps you feel he is expending less effort, coming to work later, leaving earlier and generally not being as reliable. She may participate less in meetings, events and group activities, or withdraw from her peers.

While most managers notice when someone goes from having a good attitude to a poor one, the reverse can also identify someone on the way out. Sudden improvement in any of these same areas could mean he is angling for a better reference or using that new early arrival time for working on a resume or networking.  Any and all of these behavioral changes could be signs that a valued team member is demotivated, disengaged and perhaps has already psychologically quit.

Major personal change. Marriage, childbirth, death, divorce, illness and elder care issues are all causes for enormous change in someone's life.

Personal days and improved appearance. Increased personal days and "dental appointments" accompanied by more frequent "go to meeting" dress are obvious indicators that add to your analysis.

Unsettled environment. When the company is going through a rough patch or there are rumors of a merger or acquisition, many people will be examining their options.

Becoming more aware of these signs probably won't keep those who already have one foot out the door, but you can lessen the churn of valuable players, this year and beyond.

What You Can Do

As a manager, departmental continuity depends on finding and keeping the right people. How many of your reports will think about change this year? Probably everyone at some point:

  1. Raises have barely kept pace with the cost of living for many years, let alone increased our standard of living.
  2. Frequently, one of the reasons my clients give for leaving a job is that they do not feel recognized or encouraged by management. They don't feel that they matter.

As a supervisor, you must be known for your expertise, wisdom and fairness and you must help your reports meet their professional goals, just as you expect their drive to meet your departmental goals. When you care about them, people will follow you through hell and high water. That is what differentiates a leader from a manager.

Most people don't want to change jobs; they want to stay and grow. Almost everyone wants to do their best and increase their earning capacity, and they are willing to work hard to do so. Consequently, there are a couple of things you can do to minimize employee turnover.  

Know your people. Make time for informal meetings in the first weeks of the new year to discuss departmental plans and goals for the year. Get to know that employee as a person and colleague with professional goals that you need to know.

We live in a whirlwind of disruption and if, as individuals, we are not learning something new every year, our skills become steadily obsolete and our marketability declines. Being clear about performance expectations, along with help for ongoing skill development, will greatly improve performance and motivation.

Create your magic database. Because a manager's job is to get work done through others, you see that your personal success depends on having good candidates for a range of jobs on hand for when you need them.

Maintain a personal database of every resume you receive. You might not need an employee with a particular skill set right now, but five weeks or five years down the road, he could be exactly who you are looking for. 

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.  

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