Why your staff keep walking out on you

By September 7, 2017September 7th, 2018Staff


Managers and business owners with high staff turnover are quick to blame a bunch of things – the economy, millennials, the industry, the youth of today, social media, the weather – all before taking stock and realising that the blame may actually lay with them. It’s an uncomfortable truth we’re all likely to need facing at some stage in our business life and it’s best tackled head on rather than living in denial.

First up, let’s define what staff turnover actually is. Staff turnover is the percentage of staff that leave and are replaced by new people. Normally this is expressed as an annual figure and you generally want the figure to be as low as possible.

So what exactly would we consider to be ‘high’ staff turnover? There are industry surveys rattling around the internet which offer figures to benchmark your business against for various industries. For example, media agencies were at 33.2% in 2014 data and public relations firms were at 20.5% in 2007 data. Both of which are significantly higher than the current Australia-wide turnover figure of 12.6%. Based on our experience, anything over 10% is going to be felt on your bottom line so let’s use that as a good benchmark to aim for.

As a side note, there is some argument that staff turnover at a small level is a good thing (say 5%-10%) because it means that the organisation has fresh ideas and energy coming into it each year and helps things from getting stale. There is definitely some merit to this, but for many organisations the problem isn’t encouraging a moderate level of turnover, it’s stopping huge amounts of voluntary turnover they have no control over.

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Now that we know what we’re talking about, let’s address the elephant in the room, the real reasons your staff are walking out on you. This list is aimed at professional services businesses (e.g. creative agencies, architecture firms, legal/accounting, design, etc.), but much of this will apply just the same to any number of businesses.

  • No clear career path. People like to know what is expected of them and there are few things more demotivating than not knowing what your boss expects of you and what the path to success looks like. Ensure that all team members have clear position descriptions which include a clear outline of their duties, responsibilities, reporting lines, as well as key performance indicators and the path to success.
  • No vision. Your team wants to understand what the vision and goals of the business are because people like to feel they are part of something bigger and they want to feel they are making a contribution towards those goals. Failing to have a clear vision that your team identifies with is a common reason people, particularly younger ones, are leaving organisations.
  • Boring work. Most people want to be challenged in the work that they do, they want to be interested in what they are doing 40 hours a week. Failing to identify people’s strengths and interests and then playing to those is another common reason people go looking for new work – or a new challenge as it’s often referred.
  • Poor culture. Failing to provide a dynamic and supportive culture within your organisation is a sure-fire way to lose staff and there’s more to it than bean bags and pool tables. Clear and open communication, flexible and understanding management, openness to change, team members demonstrating care, social events and honest feedback are just some of the ingredients that go into creating an enviable workplace culture. Great culture is a difficult thing to define, but you know it when you see it, and equally the results from having a toxic culture are equally clear to see in high staff turnover rates.
  • Work-life balance. Big business likes to talk about offering their staff work-life balance, but in my experience it’s often little more than lip service. Coming back from maternity leave to work 3 days a week? These guys love that because they pay you 3/5 salary, but weedle the full 40 hours a week out of you anyway. With many families now juggling the calendars and time demands of two workers rather than the traditional one, flexibility is more important than ever and failing to offer your staff true work-life balance is a recipe for disaster. Design roles around what needs to be achieved, not how or where the work gets done, and reward staff accordingly. If you’ve got a high achiever, who really cares that they leave at 3pm each day?

These lists can be endless, but in our experience those are the key issues that require addressing. You’ll notice that salary isn’t on there – money often features further down the list of reasons that people give for leaving organisations than most people assume. It’s important, don’t get me wrong, and you should ensure staff are paid market salaries so that money doesn’t become a reason for them to look around, but also don’t mistake it for being the be all and end all.

So, if you’ve got high staff turnover you may have nobody to blame but yourself and the way your organisation is structured. Perhaps now is the time to take a long, honest look at the business and see how you can change things for the better and stop high employee turnover from destroying your bottom line.

Here at Generate we work closely with business owners to help them overcome a huge range of problems they face and this certainly includes HR issues and dealing with staff turnover. If you’ve got issues in your business that you’d like to have a chat with someone about, why not get in touch? We’d love to help.