How to Reduce Employee Attrition: Master This Skill

High attrition.

— Manager, HR

Are good people quitting your team? Is your workload increasing, despite your best efforts to delegate?

I’ve lost count of the number of managers who said attrition was their biggest challenge at work. Ultimately, keeping and engaging employees is a manager’s first call of duty. If people quit—physically or mentally—you’ve got no one to manage, and you have to do all the work yourself.

I wrote Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? to address the fundamental reasons why managers fail to keep and motivate their employees. In order to understand these reasons, I looked at companies and managers who didn’t have that problem. I found twenty-three things they all had in common. Any one of them could be the key to your attrition problem. But without knowing the details, your guess is as good as mine.

So, instead of guessing what went wrong in this HR Manager’s company, let’s talk about the best ways to find out. In fact, there’s only one way I can think of that will get you the right answer. 

Ask the employees.

Since this particular company has a systematic attrition problem, the first part of the solution—asking employees for feedback—should also take a systematic form. What do I mean by that?

Collecting employee feedback is not a new idea. Many large companies regularly conduct employee surveys. And while a well-designed, correctly benchmarked and thoroughly analyzed survey can yield helpful insights, it’s impersonal and time-consuming, not to mention expensive. Therefore, a survey would not be my first line of defense. I’m thinking about something else…

An interview

Three kinds of interviews, specifically: a job interview, a stay interview, and an exit interview. If you’re bleeding employees, take a look at all three. Add the ones you don’t use and re-engineer the ones you do that don’t seem to work. I’m talking about your company’s typical…

Job interview

Attrition starts at the job interview. Hire people with the wrong motivation or skills, make them promises you can’t keep, and you can just sit back and watch them fail and quit.

Do any of your hiring managers have a record of hiring and keeping good people? If so, let them train the others. Hiring is not intuitive. I’ve done it for the last ten years, and I still make mistakes. Each hiring mistake has cost me tens of thousands in replacement costs and hundreds of thousands in lost revenues. It really pays to get it right! To learn how successful companies interview and test candidates, read Chapter 2 of my book, Hire Traits and Behaviors. (Download it for free here.)

But let’s say you’ve nailed the job interview. You’re letting the right people in and keeping the wrong ones out. If your employees are well matched to the jobs, what’s driving them away? You have twenty-two possibilities. If your company violates any of the remaining twenty-two workplace principles, it could be shattering employee loyalty as we speak. The only way to find out is to conduct a…

Stay interview

In addition to getting vital feedback, stay interviews have the power to prevent attrition. The purpose of this interview is to find out what employees like and dislike about their jobs. The interview itself makes people feel valued. It gives them a chance to open up and feel heard. If they’re thinking about quitting, this practice alone can change their minds.  

Conduct the first stay interview within a month of hiring. Ask the new hire what promises and expectations have been met and which have been broken. Find out whether he is getting the training he needs and meeting coworkers who could help him succeed. All important introductions should happen within the first two weeks on the job. By the time of his first stay interview, the new employee should feel comfortable with his team and well networked into the company. 
First impressions are critical. If your new hire started off an important work relationship on the wrong foot, an early stay interview is a unique chance to correct it. His most important work relationship is likely with his supervisor. So, if there is an issue, the employee may be more comfortable discussing it with someone outside his team, like an HR manager or—if yours is a small company—one of the owners.

This is not to say that managers shouldn’t attempt to clear the air directly with their reports. That’s the ideal scenario. However, just in case this is not happening, a stay interview lets HR or a higher level of management step in and restore sanity before it’s too late. 

No matter how busy you are, make checking in with your people a priority. All the good bosses do it. And all the bad ones skimp on it. That alone tells the new hire everything he needs to know about the company and his boss.  

Two to three years into the job, your best people will start looking for a promotion. Lack of opportunities will drive them to a competitor. Once again, a timely stay interview can save the day. Chances are your company has some attractive options, but the employee simply doesn’t know where to look. Did you know that 60% of employers believe employees hear about new job openings within the company, but only 30% of employees say they actually do? (Source: ADP)

Make sure your people have access to job postings throughout the company. Don’t worry if they apply for jobs for which they’re not qualified. If you know their ambitions, you can help them set realistic goals. That’s one more reason to stay with the company, and one less reason to leave. For more ideas on how to motivate promising employees at this important juncture, check this recent post: Will Your Employees Stay after the “Honeymoon” is over?

Ambitious employees can also get restless when they complete a course of study or pass professional examinations. Some companies welcome certain credentials with automatic raises and promotions. Whether or not this is the case at your company, the employee will be looking for new opportunities to go with the new set of letters after his name. Set up a stay interview to find out whether he can use all of his skills at work. And be prepared for a “no.” According to OfficeTeam, professionals say they’re bored at work an average of 10.5 hours a week.

Some unhappy and underutilized employees quit, and some hang around and cause trouble. An open and honest stay interview can spare you and your company a lot of passive-aggressiveness. Randstad reported that 38% of unhappy workers admitted to listening in on a private conversation, 5% to drinking alcohol, 15% to taking naps, 9% to helping themselves to coworkers’ food in the fridge, 40% playing pranks on coworkers, 5% to watching Netflix and 2% to using the company credit card for personal purchases.

But what if, despite your best efforts, your employee chose to try his luck somewhere else—is it too late to interview? Absolutely not! One employee is leaving, but his friends and associates are still there. You never know what kinds of ideas are circulating in the wake of his two-week notice. If you don’t want to be the last to find out, set up an…

Exit interview

An exit interview is the final authority on why employees leave. It’s a rare opportunity to speak directly to the employee who has made up his mind and has no reason to hide his motives. You’d think companies would jump at it. But no, many companies don’t interview outgoing employees for the dumbest reasons. Like management feeling blindsided and holding a grudge. Or assuming it’s all about money. Sometimes they buy the official explanation, without making an attempt to dig deeper. Most of the time, they just don’t have it in their policy books, and no one gives a damn.

Fortunately, it’s a problem you can easily correct. Put it in your employee handbook and write it into someone’s job description. Or make it an unwritten rule for your team. If you’re an HR manager and attrition is your challenge, do it before you leave the office today.

Make it your job to start gathering feedback, then take it a step further and suggest a solution. You can use stay interviews to validate your idea. You can use job interviews to learn what kinds of policies your competitors have in place, and what expectations your new hires bring with them from their past employment.

You can’t solve a problem unless you know exactly what it is. Make it a point to learn as much as you can from your employees. Show your loyalty by staying in the conversation—and expect them to return the favor.

?If you like a loyal workforce, you might like my book, because it gives them 23 reasons to stay put.

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Written by

Tim Eisenhauer is a co-founder of Axero Solutions, a leading intranet software vendor. He's also a bestselling author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.


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