Embracing turnover

Apr 16, 2023

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If you can approach the situation with empathy, compassion, and an open mind, you can create a positive experience and leave the door open for future opportunities.

After dealing with mass voluntary turnover over the past couple of years, it may hardly come as a surprise to managers when yet another employee hands in their notice. Whether their exit is due to accepting a better opportunity, moving, family reasons, or going back to school, losing an employee through voluntary turnover is always challenging.

Not only does this mean you will need to promote or hire their replacement, like, yesterday, but it can also cause feelings of shock, disappointment, and even betrayal. These initial feelings can be natural, whether the exiting employee is a direct report or a favorite colleague. Still, it is essential to step back and look at the bigger picture. There will be plenty of time to delve into the coulda-woulda-shoulda cycle later. Your one job at this moment should be to support the exiting employee. Why? How you handle an employee’s exit can impact your future relationship with them – and your other employees are watching. If you can approach the situation with empathy, compassion, and an open mind, you can create a positive offboarding experience and leave the door open for future opportunities.

Here are three reasons why voluntary turnover can be viewed as an opportunity:

  1. They are not ex-employees; they are alums. When an employee leaves, a major point of impact to business operations is the loss of institutional knowledge. When you provide the employee with a positive offboarding experience, you leave open the chance of that knowledge returning someday. Find ways to stay in touch with the alum, whether directly with the employee, through shared professional associations, or by working to establish a company alum program which puts on regular quarterly events for alums and current employees. Even if that employee was to have moved on for good, keeping the air clear and engagement efforts high can foster an environment that speaks to your continued commitment to their success. Whether they are disappointed with their new job and seeking to return or have a connection they could refer, cultivating a bench of alums can be a great source of future talent.
  2. Sometimes they run out of room to grow, and that’s OK. According to an article from the Society for Human Resource Management, a recent study of HR professionals indicated that turnover due to lack of growth and learning opportunities ranked as the No. 2 reason for employee exits at their organizations, second only to pay dissatisfaction.
    When managing in an organization with limited upward mobility, training resources, or mentoring opportunities, it should not only not come as a surprise when employees cite these areas as reasons for leaving, but it should also be an expected part of their development plan. Like teachers imparting knowledge to their students and then watching them take on the world, the manager’s job is to grow and develop their teams so that they are ready to flourish without us – internally or externally. If managers do their jobs right, the employees they develop could become future industry leaders, colleagues, business partners, or leaders of a professional association.
    When employees have run out of room to grow within the organization, managers have an opportunity to support them in seeking continued professional development elsewhere. In addition to maintaining a positive offboarding experience for the employee, this approach can also help keep the door open so someday that employee could return with a new perspective, new skills, and, hopefully, a few referrals.
  3. Feedback is a gift. Hearing honest feedback is vital to a company’s success. Leveraging employee, client, and candidate surveys is huge, but the value of the exit interview cannot be stressed enough. Candidate surveys can give you a snapshot of one small part of your process, and employee and client surveys can let you know how you are doing. Exit interviews can let you know how you did and what you can do better. An alum’s exit interview is likely to be candid, and honest feedback is good feedback. Feedback, however, is only as good as what the company does with the information it receives. Make sure to utilize the feedback wisely and to create opportunities from turnover! 

Jennifer Haddad, GPHR, SHRM-SCP is the human resources manager at Urban Engineers. She can be reached at jvhaddad@urbanengineers.com.

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