Staff Attrition - 15 March 2011
One of my favourite comedy movies from the 1980s is War of the Roses starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner as a married couple getting a divorce. Danny DeVito was their lawyer. In one scene, Michael Douglas asks Kathleen Turner for one reason – just one reason – why she wants to break up.
Her response: “Because. When I watch you eat. When I see you asleep. When I look at you lately, I just want to smash your face in.”
Staff attrition has a lot in common with marital divorce. In both cases, someone decides to call it quits. In both cases, there’s an initial marriage – either to a person or a job – that lasts for a certain period of time. And, in both cases, there’s often at least one individual with a little bit of Kathleen Turner in them, desperate to get out before it’s too late.
Last year, a survey was conducted in the United States to identify the causes of marital divorce. Unsurprisingly, these causes apply to the realm of work as much as they do to the realm of love and marriage. Here are the top five in order.
Communication problems: There are two issues that arise with communication. The first is that managers don’t communicate enough, and the second is that they don’t adapt their communication style to suit the recipient’s preferred method. To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, the biggest problem with communication is the illusion it has taken place.
Unhappiness: Occasionally, it’s difficult for people to pinpoint a specific reason why they want to quit. They’re simply unhappy. However, three common origins of workplace unhappiness include: (1) the neglect of employees’ talents, (2) incongruence between an employee’s values and the organisation’s, and (3) a lack of challenges and interesting work.
Incompatible with spouse: Sometimes, two people just aren’t meant to work together, but usually it’s more a case of managers not investing the time to build a relationship with their employees. This is despite research by Gallup showing that when employees have a close relationship with their boss, they are 2.5 times more likely to have high job satisfaction.
Emotional abuse: If a manager’s moods are unstable, employees view this unpredictability as too effortful and draining. If work colleagues are catty and bad-tempered, amiable workers get fed up and leave, thinking it’s not worth the stress. Or, as is increasingly the case, there could be a workplace bully in the team making work unbearable.
Financial problems: If an employee resigns to go elsewhere for a pay rise of less than 20 per cent, chances are they’re not really leaving for more money. They’re most probably leaving for other reasons (one of the above), and that little bit of extra cash is just a bonus. Studies show that employees desire fair compensation, rather than the highest.
There’s another scene in War of the Roses that reminds me of the corporate world. It’s one where the lawyer, Danny DeVito, says: “There are two dilemmas that rattle the human skull. How do you hold onto someone who won't stay? And how do you get rid of someone who won't go?” And that latter dilemma is one thing worse than staff attrition.
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