Retaining the best: the answer may not be what you think

It’s repeated so often, it’s a business cliché: “People don’t leave companies, they leave managers.”  But that’s just not always true, says Nobscot Corp’s Beth Carvin after analyzing data from nine years of exit interviews.

“In our analysis of over 3 million exit interview responses between January 2001 to May 2009, we uncovered more than 20 irritations that lead to turnover,” says Carvin, President and CEO of Hawaii-based Nobscot Corp, developers of WebExit Online Exit Interview Management System.   

Here are some of the most common reasons Carvin uncovered:

  • Limited growth or advancement opportunities
  • Inadequate training
  • Unreasonable workload
  • Dislike the type of work
  • Perception of unfairness
  • Unreasonable procedures
  • Sexual harassment
  • Perceived discrimination
  • Difficult colleagues/co-worker issues
  • Lack of quality products and services
  • Uncomfortable or incompatible with the organization’s ethics
  • Future prospects of the organization
  • Lack of communication about what's happening in the organization

However, Carvin notes that it’s never just one reason that tops the list as the main reason why people leave.
She recalls one instance in which a client company  experienced low turnover, except in one department. Not surprisingly, management believed the department manager, who was a woman and known to be tough, was the cause. However, after examining confidential online interviews, they discovered that it wasn’t the manager’s fault at all. Instead, employees were unhappy that the organization has stopped offering training programs, which were important to the employees as it allowed them to grow in the company. Management reinstated the programs and turnover indeed went down.

Carvin warns, though, that collecting data is only half the story. Companies can dive into stats, but along with that information, management also needs to research the best practices in organizations they respect, and they need to map out their own organization’s weaknesses and strengths, as well as the opportunities and threats.

What organizations can learn from that process is that retention and turnover issues are going to be unique to their specific organization and its culture. As Carvin and Nobscot discovered, causes for turnover are going to differ from organization to organization, and perhaps even from department to department.

So, rather than assuming what those causes are and guessing at fixes, Carvin suggests that starting the research with solid exit interviews, accompanied by expanded research into the organization’s culture, weaknesses and strengths will go a long way in getting to the bottom of the real reason for turnover.

Tools such as Nobscot’s WebExit helps organizations to ensure that those leaving the organization will be comfortable in discussing the real reasons for their departure and offer real information to kick start the research process.

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