Written by: Team PredictiveHire
"Please don't go" - How to diagnose, cure and prevent Turnover Contagion
“Will the last team member to leave please turn out the lights”
New year, new job.
January is the most popular month for employees to look for new opportunities. But that doesn’t have to mean starting the year with an epidemic of departures.
People leave their jobs for all sorts of reasons.
- Personal – for instance when a family member needs to relocate.
- Professional – to get more pay, a promotion, or make a career change.
- And of course,
- Organisational – when they are no longer required or suitable for their job.
Any thriving business will want to see a healthy level of turnover in its staff. But what if your people are leaving simply because their colleagues are leaving?
We call this the Turnover Contagion Effect (TCE) and it’s something that every business should care about.
Diagnosing Turnover Contagion
You may have experienced Turnover Contagion yourself. It’s that growing sense that “everyone” in your team is job hunting, and it’s been around for as long as people have worked together.
Your colleagues may not have told you directly that they’re searching. But when there’s a sudden spate of funerals, urgent repair visits or caring for holidaying parents’ goats (all true stories) you may get a sense that something’s up.
Then there are the colleagues who are cagey about letting you see their screens. And of course the ones who quite blatantly tell the rest of the team that it’s only a matter of time before they leave.
However confident and secure you may feel in your role and the organisation, it’s only natural to begin to question your position.
Have your colleagues spotted some major flaw in the business that you’ve overlooked? Do they know something you don’t? Should you put some feelers out there, just in case?
But if you’re observing that disintegrating team from the Human Resources department, you’re probably asking rather different questions.
How did TCE start? Can you stop it spreading further? And how can you prevent it from happening in the first place?
What causes the Turnover Contagion Effect?
Turnover contagion stems from co-workers sharing how they’re feeling and how they’re valued at work. When it’s positive it contributes to more productive working environments and more engaged workers. But when workers are looking around it breeds unrest – it becomes contagious. And once TCE starts it can be hard to stop.
And it seems to be getting worse nowadays, for a variety of reasons;
- Lower unemployment rates globally make it much easier for your employees to find a new job, and feel more confident in looking for one. There’s also some evidence that the current political climate is discouraging people from looking outside their home countries. So once an employee starts to look, they may find that they are up against far fewer competitors on the shortlist.
- Social media, and the web in general, have made it amazingly easy to browse for new jobs, even for those who are “not really” looking. LinkedIn is the most obvious place, but there’s a wealth of job sites and careers advice sites that can stir up job dissatisfaction. Social media also spreads the contagion. It’s always been obvious when an unexpectedly large number from one team leave, but now any employee who has reasonable internal connections can spot a trend.
- Lack of job satisfaction also contributes. Just a few little shared problems in the magic combination that includes pay satisfaction, team relationships and support, communication across, up and down the organisation, the demands of the job, and opportunities for growth and training can add to the spread of TCE.
- Poor job embeddedness in your company makes things even worse. Studies (1) show that a highly embedded employee is less likely to leave, and very likely to motivate co-workers to stay. A well-embedded employee has many connections within the organisation and the local community, and their job fits with other aspects in their life. The stronger those links, the more committed a worker is to the organisation. Leaving their job would mean sacrificing more than salary. They also risk the loss of friendships, community links and their sense of belonging. So a company where many workers are strongly embedded is less susceptible to TCE. When workers are poorly embedded, far more are ready to leave. They’ll be updating their resumes, watching job postings, applying for new positions, and that inevitably causes an increased individual turnover.
Add these together and you may also experience a fifth factor.
- Damaged employer reputation. As awareness of increasing staff turnover grows, your reputation as an employer may take a hit. And from there it can become a downward spiral. Your employees notice that more people are on the move. They start to think there’s something wrong with the organisation. They conclude there’s something wrong with anyone who chooses to stay, and they start their own job hunts. The internal damage spreads rapidly over social and traditional media to the local community and across your industry, making it harder to persuade new people to work with you, as well as increasing turnover. It can even start to damage the reputation of the products or services you provide.
Why does Turnover Contagion Effect matter?
When your business starts to suffer from TCE you might think there’s an upside. A long-awaited clear out of rotten wood. A way to make savings on employee costs. A chance for re-organising a dysfunctional department. And yes, all those can be somewhat true.
But whenever you lose a team member there are costs, apart from the obvious ones of losing their production and having to recruit and train a replacement. And these costs far outweigh the benefits.
- You lose the training you’ve invested in that person.
- You lose their knowledge of your business and all the relationships they’ve built up, internal and external.
- You may have to ask other team members to take on their workload while you recruit and then get the new hire up to full productivity – with potential detriment to their normal work.
And as you lose more and more from a team you also risk the engagement and morale of all of their former colleagues. In fact, that’s the greatest risk of the Turnover Contagion Effect – that it spreads further.
As our recent White Paper says (2), “… failing to monitor and moderate turnover can result in leaver behaviour becoming a cultural mainstay of a particular role type, or an accepted norm in the business as a whole.”
A Possible Cure for Turnover Contagion Effect
Like most infectious diseases, TCE is easier to prevent than it is to cure. But if you do find that you’re already suffering from TCE, there are a few dos and don’ts.
Reduce Social Communication
It’s certainly NOT effective to apply one commentator’s suggestion of trying to “…combat the social environment that stimulates turnover”.
That social side of work may be spreading the contagion, but it’s also the foundation of the strong sense of belonging to a business and a community that encourages people to stay.
Trying to move desks further apart, ban Tweets and Facebook posts or prevent canteen gossip will cause more problems than it solves.
Instead, it may be more productive to consider the root cause of the lack of organisational commitment.
You should be asking:
- Are supervisors and managers actively supporting the teams experiencing Turnover Contagion?
- Should you be finding ways to make your business feel a true part of your local community or your industry?
- Are there working practices and benefits that could be flexed to make workers’ life and work more balanced?
- Could community engagement or social responsibility programmes help?
… and Probable Prevention for Turnover Contagion Effect
But as mentioned, it’s easier to prevent than cure, so better still is to start at the beginning.
Think about who you hire and how you look after them when they start work.
Are you hiring people who align well with your company culture and values? Are you hiring people with the personality and behavioural traits that make them more likely to stay and perform in your company?
If you’re unsure, that’s where you should start. Try to find out what makes people stay with your organisation. What do your long tenure employees have in common? With your newfound knowledge of your ideal candidate, identify the applicants that fit the bill and prioritise them in your shortlist.
This may sound like a difficult task, but nowadays there are even analytics and technology solutions that can do this for you.
Once you’ve found the right people you still need to look after them and help them commit to your organisation. Introducing each new hire to your company in a motivating induction
process, where they get to know other workers, will give them a strong start.
As they become truly embedded they’re your best hope for preventing future outbreaks of Turnover Contagion.
At Sapia, we help you find your shortlist of candidates who are more likely to stay in your specific business. We combine your data with our workforce and data science to scientifically screen your applicants and predict who is more likely to succeed. And that can also include how well those candidates will fit into your team, your organisation and your community.
(1) Felps et al. “TURNOVER CONTAGION: HOW COWORKERS’ JOB EMBEDDEDNESS AND JOB SEARCH BEHAVIORS INFLUENCE QUITTING” © Academy of Management Journal 2009, Vol. 52, No. 3, 545–561
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