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Stop Attrition Before It Starts

August 09, 2022 Talent Management
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By Sarah Fister Gale

Employees are quitting at an alarming rate, and companies are scrambling to find ways to retain their top talent. But if you don’t know who’s at risk of leaving, it’s difficult to intervene. HR leaders who pay attention to employee data have better chances of understanding the quitting trends — and prevent devastating departures from happening.

“Companies spend a lot of time thinking about attraction and onboarding,” said Emily Killham, global head of research and insights for Perceptyx. "If companies can identify turning points in an employee experience that may lead to an early exit, they can find ways to intervene.”

Correlating Attrition Risk With Key Career Moments

For most organizations, the metrics that enable HR leaders to make quit and stay predictions already exists in onboarding and employee engagement surveys, 360-degree reviews, exit interviews and other historic data. When analyzed, these data sets can help HR both understand the overall employee experience and identify those experiences that raise the risk of attrition.

“From day one, at any given point in their tenure, there is a probability of exit,” said HR data analyst Mike West. The key, he said, is locating that moment in time in an employee's career and see if any patterns emerge.

His team uses employee data to create equations that calculate attrition risk at key career moments. They then conduct in-depth analyses to figure out why the risk level is changing at those moments.

Mathematically, it is relatively simple. It starts with measuring how many new hires were still with the company after three, six and 12 months, then attaching a probability score to it. “You may find there is 95% probability that an employee will last 90 days, but it drops to 90% at 180 days,” he said.

Having this data helps leadership explore survival functions by different segments. For example, is the probability of exit at these time marks different for men vs women or do they vary more depending on roles, salaries or business functions?

Once HR leaders have identified the change, they can dig into why it might be happening. When companies identify a group of employees who left prematurely, they can track similarities in their experiences and how those compare to other groups. For example, employees who weren’t promoted after three years may be twice as likely to leave as those who were. Or, it could be that certain managers have historically higher rates of attrition compared to their peers.

All of these findings are important in pinpointing the issues causing the high turnover — and then taking action. “Surveys give you a window into what might happen six months from now," Killham said. “It allows us to define intervention policies in response.” 

Related Article: Why More Women Than Men Are Quitting in the Great Resignation

What to Ask Employees

Employers can generate additional insights by surveying employees to help them better identify attrition triggers. One way to do that is by asking employees to agree or disagree with statements that describe the workplace experience. For example:

  • My manager supports my career development.
  • My work is fulfilling.
  • I am satisfied with my pay and benefits.

Answers to these questions provide a measurement of how employees perceive their manager, benefits package, the company culture, etc. HR can then link those responses to attrition rates to figure out which aspect of work has the biggest impact. That connection is where the real value lies in linking employee data to attrition because oftentimes, the results go against gut instinct.

For example, when West worked at Google, employee survey data analysis found that whether someone thought their pay was good or bad didn't meaningfully predict attrition. “We could have taken action on pay, and it would have had zero impact,” he said. “It is an example of an underlying assumption that's false and can be really expensive if you get it wrong.”

Instead, they found an employee’s sense that they were on track for further career development had a much greater impact on whether or not they stayed. “Just the perception of career opportunity could reduce their risk of leaving in the next year by three times,” West said.

Related Article: A Last-Minute Employee Retention Conversation

How to Increase Retention

Employee insights help companies deliver meaningful interventions that are driven by data. If employees are more likely to leave when they don’t see opportunities for growth, companies might schedule annual career conversations with employees about where they see themselves going in the company, then set them up for stretch assignments, coaching or career pathing.

HR plays a key role in the process by monitoring the impact of these interventions over time. “If there is a one-in-five chance that someone is going to leave, we can measure how having a conversation with them about their next opportunity affects their likelihood of exit,” West said. Then, HR can use that outcome data to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Surveying employees on the current business environment is also a great way to monitor emerging trends. For example, during the pandemic, many companies shifted to remote onboarding, which changed how new employees engaged with the business and built relationships.

“When we did onboarding surveys for clients, we found new hires no longer have a honeymoon of making connections,” she said. “By the six-month point, if they hadn't made real connections with their peers, it was easy for them to turnover.” That inspired her clients to look for more purposeful ways to help new hires create relationships in the company.

Related Article: A Guide to Improving Employee Training and Development Opportunities

Start Digging

Companies like Perceptyx and OpenComp can help companies conduct these analyses and craft targeted interventions — though organizations can also use the data they already have to do basic attrition analyses on their own. “If you measure engagement, you've already got a good idea about whether people are going to leave,” Killham said.

She also suggests holding stay interviews with high-value employees to talk about what they are hoping to achieve in the next two years and what they need from HR and their managers to make that happen. This can be a broad first step to stemming the risk of attrition.

“When you recruit someone, you have all of those conversations, but once they are installed in your organization, they don’t continue,” she said.

Yet, highly skilled or valued employee are most likely going to be attractive to competitors as well, and if you're not talking to them about their future, someone else outside the organization probably is. “If someone else is courting your best employee, you should be too,” Killham said.


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