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How to Avoid New Employee Turnover in Year One

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When unemployment is low, like it is right now, it’s not only hard to find good people, but it’s also hard to keep them.  With so many employers looking to hire, competition for talent is fierce.

You’re at risk of losing people in their first year of work through no fault of your own. New hires go through a predictable emotional cycle that makes them vulnerable to a premature exit.

Keep reading to learn more to see what you, as a supervisor or manager, can do to support them to keep them on your team.

We’re not in Kansas anymore!

In the 1960’s, Walter Menninger researched why so many energetic, motivated people joined the Peace Corp only to become depressed or disenchanted.  Menninger discovered that all people go through what he termed a “Morale Curve” when they experience a role change.

Job changes are definitely role changes.  Some bigger than others.  If a person moves from a position at one company to the exact same position at another company, it might not be perceived as a different role, but it is.

Although many of the tasks may be the same, the work environment, such as company culture, supervisor, and coworkers are not.  These three factors significantly affect a person’s job satisfaction.

This can also happen when a person changes jobs within the same organization. Whole groups can go through the Morale Curve at the same time when there are sweeping changes to a workplace such as restructuring, new leadership, or downsizing.

Moving to a different industry or different position magnifies the changes.

It’s normal to go through several stages of emotions during the first year in a new job.  The goal is not to avoid experiencing these emotions, but to move through them without getting stuck.

When people get stuck or enter a phase where they feel uncomfortable, confused, and like they don’t have support, they may feel that the job or company is not a good fit for them and leave the new role.

Let’s take a look at the stages of the Morale Curve and what we can do in each to keep your new hires moving along the curve.

Stage 1: Crisis of Entry – Months 1-3

As a person enters a new or changed situation, they’ll experience the following:

  • Enthusiasm
  • Anxiety
  • Motivation
  • Apprehension

Before hiring someone, you can help them with the Crisis of Entry by giving a realistic preview of the job.  It is impossible to completely understand a job, company, or industry until you’re in it, but by not sugar coating anything, you set the person up to be less surprised as they experience it for themselves.

Once hired, the first thing you can do to help someone surf the waves of emotion is to share with them what you know about the Morale Curve.  Knowing what to expect at each stage gives the person the ability to notice their feelings, recognize that the feelings are normal, and welcome them as a sign that they are progressing through the curve.

Another important part of this entry phase is to orient and train well, give them the tools and resources they need to succeed including supportive people, and remind them that no matter how much explanation you give, some parts of the job will be unexpected.

Stage 2: Crisis of Arrival – Months 4-9

After a few months, there is the realization that the job is not exactly what was expected.  The feelings during this stage include:

  • Depression
  • Realization of loss
  • Limited outlets
  • Frustration

When you’ve done a job for a while or watch others that have, it can be hard to remember how it feels to be learning it for the first time.  During this stage, a supervisor can be most helpful by remembering that the newbie has only been on the job a few months.

Don’t judge their performance too critically during this phase.  Although feedback in the early stages of a job is important to make sure good habits are formed, avoid rushing to a decision that they aren’t cutting it during this phase unless there are serious issues.

If you haven’t started coaching on a regular basis, now’s the time to set up those reoccurring meetings.  The individual needs support and guidance during this time to reassure them that they can succeed in their new role.

Stage 3: Crisis of Acceptance – Months 9-12

By this time, the person is discovering those unexpected things you warned them about.  Some might be positive and some negative.  This leads to feelings of:

  • Anger
  • Activism
  • Speaking out
  • Reassessment of the situation

It’s important during this phase that the person has healthy outlets for their anger.  Allow them the safe space to vent a bit, while not tolerating any disrespectful or abusive behavior.

Resist the urge to do things to try to pacify them.  Increasing their pay, giving them special fringe benefits, or reducing their responsibilities will only serve to cement them in stage three.  It’s a very unhappy place to be stuck.

Stage 4: Crisis of Re-Entry – Months 13+

This last stage is where the person will choose to either accept the new role with all its pros and cons or decide to make a change. The feelings in this stage are:

  • Anxiety
  • Satisfaction of completion
  • Thoughts of the future

When you have what appears to be a well-qualified candidate who frequently changes jobs, the thing to look for is whether they make it past the one-year mark.  If so, they aren’t impulsively running from emotionally tough adjustment periods, but reach the point of fully understanding the job, it’s benefits and drawbacks, worked through the entire curve and made the decision that they’d be happier elsewhere.

On the other hand, if someone repeatedly leaves jobs at the 6 to 9-month mark, they are likely getting stuck in the Crisis of Arrival phase and don’t have the coping skills to get through it.  Proceed with caution, and prepare to help them break this cycle.

Knowledge Enables Retention

Remember that this cycle is normal.  Now that you understand it, you can help others proactively manage it.

Take a few moments now to consider where your recent hires or newly promoted people are on the curve.  Write down and commit to one thing you’ll do for each of them to ease their progress through the stages.

By staying in-tune with your team members, you can retain good people who may turn into your stars within a few more months!  Building a top team takes care and patience, but the pride and success that it brings is worth it.

In what ways do these stages sound familiar to you based on your experience in a new role?

You can leave your answer in a comment below.

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