Has Major Employee Churn Just Hit Your Company? My Experience Says It Will Bounce Back.
Free Book Preview: Coach ’Em Way Up
It hasn’t been Uber’s year -- or years, let’s be honest -- and its latest hurdle involves employee retention. Not only is the ride-sharing company struggling to find new recruits, but it’s also struggling to keep its current ones, according to a February 2018 Recode article. In fact, maintaining its existing drivers has become one of Uber's main priorities for profitability -- against the fact that it's still losing almost $1.5 billion quarterly.
Uber plans to clean up its act, in part, by reducing high employee turnover by offering fairer, better treatment. The Recode analysis suggested that, historically, drivers who attempted to work for Uber showed a churn rate as high as 30 percent quarterly.
So, action is warranted. But, even as the ride-sharing giant strives to keep its workforce fat and happy, I can’t help but reflect on a retention issue my own company recently faced.
Maybe the grass was greener.
During one trying two-month span, roughly a dozen employees left my company, Hawke Media. For a team of 100, that loss was certainly felt -- it spurred uncertainty and forced leadership to get a pulse on the situation. Here’s what we learned:
Six months prior to the churn, we had decided to renew our focus on overall staff performance. So, in the subsequent months, we put a handful of employees on performance-improvement plans. In my experience, half of the employees put on such performance plans will quit to find other opportunities.
That was certainly true in our case.
Hawke’s turnover also occurred because other companies vetted and eventually nabbed some of our talent. Rounding our fourth year as a fledgling but successful company, we didn’t notice the target on our backs.
Finally, some employees simply sought career changes.
Our company has since recovered from the “mass exodus,” but that didn't happen without persistence and transparency. If it looks like you too are encountering choppy waters, here are four suggestions on how to navigate:
1. Openly discuss the churn with current employees.
Keeping current staff members in the dark about what probably feels like a mass exodus of their peers will only make matters worse. According to Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer, only 44 percent of those surveyed considered CEOs credible and trustworthy.
Reverse the stigma during this sensitive time in your company by addressing the turnover candidly. Explain what leadership believes motivated it -- higher compensation, talent “poaching,” different career opportunities, family changes, etc. -- and how management plans to bounce back. Also acknowledge your team’s vulnerability. Likely, employees are feeling a combination of uncertainty and sadness; don’t ignore it. In fact, be vulnerable with them, but insert moments of positivity and hope, too.
Finally, when addressing your team,do so in person; emails and memos are impersonal and cold. But no matter how you choose to do it, do it transparently.
2. Implement and share a clearly defined operations plan.
This is your opportunity to break down how the company will function in the immediate future following the turnover wave. Some of the employees who left had specific duties -- your current crew will need to know how to cover those now-unmanned bases. It goes without saying that a 60-to-90-day plan should be created carefully by leadership prior to its introduction to your team. Hash out project cadence and priority items and deadlines; after relaying these to your staff, outline the details in an email.
Additionally, having so many people leaving at once will likely cause a backlog of work. So overload or burnout could occur. Find the right balance between performance and pressure. This means keeping your team's stress levels and mental health in mind. If you don't, employees could easily fall prey to work-related stress and anxiety along with the 72 percent of workers who, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America says, deal with those issues daily.
Finally, don’t be afraid to give recognition where it’s due. If a team member steps up during this mini-exodus, acknowledge it. If he or she goes above and beyond, consider putting this person into a managerial role that one of those now-former employeesonce held.
3. Look in the mirror: Maybe the exodus is because of you.
You've probably heard those stories that paint Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos as nearly impossible to work for; they were illuminated in a 2015 Quartz article in the form of an open letter to the man himself. The letter, written by the wife of a former Amazon employee, pointed fingers at the CEO for wearing her spouse down so badly that he needed therapy:
“When [my husband’s] pager went off, he was expected to respond within 15 minutes or risk blowback or a call from a manager,” Beth Anderson wrote, addressing Bezos directly. “If something came directly from you, Jeff, it was all hands on deck until that problem got figured out. No matter the emotional or physical toll.”
The letter continued, highlighting other Amazon-inflicted damages. Needless to say, the employee quit and never looked back.
If your company is experiencing a sudden, high turnover, could you, Mr. or Ms. CEO, be the problem? If you answered “yes,” you’re not alone: A whopping 75 percent of people quit jobs because of their boss, according to a 2017 Officevibe survey. So, if you’re questioning whether you’re that boss, it's time to re-evaluate.
Start by meeting with your team collectively, then one on one. Ask employees to candidly provide insights into your leadership. What could you improve? Are your communication skills off? Are you failing to listen to your team’s needs or concerns? Are your methods outdated or unwarranted? If you’re concerned that employees' responses won’t be totally honest when expressed in a public setting, you might find anonymous polls or surveys effective.
Once you’ve received feedback and know how the team sees you, there are two things left to do: Admit your mistakes, and ensure future change on your end.
4. Hold team-building exercises to remind your employees they matter.
After the dust finally settles, let healing -- and, yes, fun -- begin. Throw work to the wind and take your team out for pizza, beer and arcade games. Or, consider a fun run or a day of hands-on, collaborative sports, such as dodgeball or softball.
The key here is to build up your team’s confidence and security, traits that likely have been temporarily lost amid the change. Ideally, promoting such engagement will prevent high churn rates from occurring again. The good news: The Officevibe survey said that engaged workers are 87 percent less likely to quit a job, so take heart from the likelihood that you’re going in the right direction.
Related: How to Prevent Employee Turnover
Even the biggest industry names -- Virgin’s Richard Branson, for instance -- are firm believers in the power of team-building. That company’s CEO invests in regular team events that boost engagement and strengthen relationships. It’s all based on a belief Branson keeps close to his heart: “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients,” he's said.
If your own company suddenly sees a slew of good talent departing, don’t panic -- but don’t ignore it, either. Get to the root, discuss the exodus openly with your remaining team, then look inward and prevent it from ever happening again.