Employee turnover is affecting every organization in every industry from Iowa to India, from California to China. It doesn’t seem to matter if you are a small company or a multi-national, whether you’re selling food, clothes, and technology or providing healthcare to patients. Employee turnover is a growing problem.

That begs the question: Why do employees leave?

employee turnoverA quick Google search reveals nearly a million reasons, far too many to mention here. Unfortunately even the least-discriminating person can see that most are anecdotal and rhetoric. The culprit? Few managers (HR included) rarely if ever collect data, other than going through the exercise of an obligatory exit interview. Even fewer mine the data after the fact. The way to retain employees and reduce employee turnover becomes pass the buck or hit-or-miss tactics.

Finding a way to retain employees and reduce employee turnover that works lies in asking the right questions, aggregating data, and then continuously analyzing it. Once a company takes a deep dark look into the data it has buried in employee files and spreadsheets, reducing employee turnover generally boils down to one of several common sources.

Bad Supervisors Fail to Retain Employees

Before you find yourself falling down rabbit holes and blaming your recruiters and HR department, it is realistic to consider the supervisors’ role. Topping nearly every survey and study of employee turnover is poor supervision. Research has proven time and again that employees don’t quit companies, they leave supervisors. If your organization is experiencing turnover, the first place to look is the supervisor.

Bad supervision evolves from a multitude of management sins.

The most popular and undeniable cause of turnover is an interpersonal conflict between supervisor and employee — something in each person’s make-up just rubs the other person the wrong way. It could be attitude, or communication style. It could be different approaches to work. Often times neither party is wrong or right, good or bad, their styles just don’t work together … and the employee leaves voluntarily or involuntarily.

Tip: DISC is an excellent tool at helping pinpoint and resolve interpersonal conflict as well as building high performing teams. It’s a great way to reduce employee turnover.

Interpersonal conflict is not always the cause.  Often it’s just mismanagement. Research consistently confirms that more than half of front-line supervisors fail due to poor management skills, often the result of little or no people-management training. Many front-line supervisors are hired based on past technical accomplishments but lack adequate experience or training managing teams and motivating other employees to complete projects. Internally, many workers are promoted to management as a reward for tenure and loyalty.  Both strategies are recipes for higher turnover and lower productivity.

Tip: Before you hire or promote, assess the candidate. Even if you don’t use the report for selection, many assessments compare the candidate to other top managers and then provide specific performance development suggestions.

To eliminate supervisors as the cause of failing to retain employees, you need to ask the following questions:

  1. Has he or she received adequate training?
  2. Does one supervisor have more or less turnover than another?
  3. Is turnover high on one shift or in one location but good in another?
  4. Does the supervisor have performance goals that include retention, turnover, and employee engagement?

To evaluate other potential causes of turnover, ask:

  1. Are employees leaving after three to five years or during their first few months?
  2. Are you providing Millennials and Generation Z enough opportunities to learn?
  3. Are you providing Millennials and Generation X enough opportunities to advance?
  4. Are your wages and benefits competitive?

(In other words, Is it a hiring, training, or retention problem?)

Higher turnover is a trend that will become more common in the future. As a result HR and managers feel compelled to fill open positions quickly with less-qualified people to satisfy frustrated managers.

While employee turnover is impacting many organizations especially hard hit are companies that have not experienced turnover in the past. For each Baby Boomer that leaves, it often takes multiple new hires to get the right fit.  It is not uncommon for a 20- or 30-year employee to be replaced with a millennial who tends to change jobs every two to three years.

There’s a lot of chicken-or–the-egg thinking when trying to find solutions to reduce employee turnover. To be fair, there are other causes of employee turnover. Don’t make supervisors the catch-all scapegoat.

The best way to reduce employee turnover is a good hiring process and effective leadership development. It means placing the right employees on the right teams with the right managers. Likewise, equipping supervisors and managers with the right people management skills and resources is no longer optional and a just “nice-to-have” but essential for improving productivity and sustained business growth. Without people management skills, your business won’t retain employees, and you can’t reduce employee turnover in order to succeed.