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This week ushered in the first day of spring.  Spring is a natural time for people to wake up from hibernation, throw off the winter garb, and look around at their life situation.

Some will realize that their state of affairs is not what they’d hoped it would be. This explains why the rise in temperature brings a corresponding rise in employee turnover.

Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report states that “51% of U.S. employees say they are actively looking for a new job or watching for openings.” 

Gulp.  Most of us would be in a serious pickle if half our people left in the next few months.

Since we know it could be coming, let’s explore how to dodge the turnover bullet.

Why Do People Leave?

There is a whole host of reasons people leave jobs. Here’s what the Gallup report tells us about why people leave.

Most Common Explanations for Employees Leaving Jobs
Career growth opportunities
Pay and benefits
Manager or management
Company culture
Job fit

Many supervisors believe that most people leave for better pay and benefits. They are often constrained by tight budgets, so they feel that retaining employees is largely out of their hands.

As we can see, there are other reasons for employee turnover that a supervisor can significantly influence.  Bundled together, they are all issues of job satisfaction.

There’s a correlation between job satisfaction and pay satisfaction.  The more an employee likes his/her job, the less likely he/she is to feel underpaid.  So, if we focus on improving how people feel about work, we can also have a positive impact on the compensation and benefits issue.

Of course, we should continue to find ways to pay people competitively and ensure that our benefit packages meet their needs.  But for today, let’s focus on the other top reasons people leave, which all fall into the job satisfaction bucket.

The relationship an employee has with their supervisor can drive people away from an organization.

But what about other aspects of the job? A lack of opportunity for progress and development, job fit, and company culture are just a few areas that impact whether a person is happy in their position.

Why You Must Stir the Pot

You can’t assume that your staff members have job satisfaction issues… or that they don’t.  You must start a conversation and ask them questions.

Likely, you’ve built a good rapport with your team members as individuals, and they’re comfortable talking to you.  If not, this conversation is a great way to start to build the relationship and establish trust.

You’re going to ask them to share what they want and need.  Now for most managers that sounds scary.  You might be thinking, “What if I ask them what they want, they tell me, and I can’t give it to them? I don’t want to stir the pot.”

The issues are there and may have been brewing for a while; you just didn’t know about it.

It is true that if you ask someone what they need, you need to try to get it for them and explain to them if you can’t.  Don’t just ask and then that’s the last they hear about it and nothing changes.  That is damaging to morale.

It is very likely that many things that they need are things you can do for them.  For the ones that you can’t, maybe there is a way that you can help, just not in the way they were thinking.

For example, if an employee wants the company to pay for them to take college classes and the budget doesn’t allow for this.  You can offer to support in other ways, such as adjusting their schedule to allow them time to get to classes and study groups.

Most people are reasonable and understand they won’t get everything they ask for.

Simply staying out of the kitchen altogether may make you feel better, but it doesn’t mean the pot won’t boil over while you’re not looking.

I encourage you to give the pot some attention. Stir it so the ingredients don’t get stuck to the bottom, and turn down the heat!  That’s our job as leaders.

Ask Good Questions

If you agree that it’s better for you to know what people are thinking and feeling, you’re ready to prepare for the conversation.

A good conversation won’t just happen on its own.  Think about this person, their background, their work, and what questions would best draw out of them what their needs are.

In fact, the questions you ask are the secret to a productive conversation.   If you simply say, “Hey, how are things going?”,  you’re likely like to get a programmed response such as “fine” or “busy”.

If you ask specific questions, you’ll get specific answers.

Here are some possible conversation-fueling questions to try out:

  • What tools or materials do you think would help you do your job better?
  • What information do you need access to?
  • What training would help you do your job more efficiently or effectively?
  • Is the level of challenge your work is providing right?
  • What other projects or areas of the business are you interested in getting involved in or learning more about?
  • Do you have a clear understanding of what your role is and what your primary focus should be?
  • Do you have enough input from me and others about how you are doing?
  • What are your short- and long-term career goals? How can I support you in attaining those?

Keep the questions open-ended, and cover a wide variety of issues.  Most people are not used to this type of conversation, so give them time to warm up and time to think.

Tips for a Quality Discussion

In addition to preparing good questions, spend some time thinking of other things you can do to ensure you glean the information you’re looking for during the talk and build a stronger relationship with the person.

Here are a few tips:

  • Set the stage. Explain the reason for wanting to meet in advance. You might say, “Hey Sue, would you mind if we sit down for about 30 minutes tomorrow and talk about how work is going for you and what I can do to ensure you’re getting the support you need and want?” Make sure they are clear that it’s not a meeting to evaluate or correct them, or they’ll come in being defensive.
  • Stay Curious. This is a conversation, not an inquisition, so keep it light and focused on joint problem-solving. Guard against slipping into a defensive mode if you start to hear things that you don’t like.
  • Hold Your Response. When they open up and share what they need, don’t give a yes or no answer. Instead, engage them in brainstorming.  Maybe there is a tool you already have at your disposal that could help them, but they were simply unaware of it.  In order to uncover effective solutions, you have to understand why it is they believe they need what they are asking for, so be sure to ask follow-up questions to uncover it.
  • Involve Them in the Solution: You may want to ask them to research the issue further, and then meet again to review the options. For example, have them identify training courses, and analyze what the company will get out of sending them to it.
  • Focus on Them. Let this conversation be just about them and how you can support their work. It may be tempting to start asking for things you’d like their cooperation or assistance with, but save that for another time.

Open Communication Can Pull Them Back In

Do your employees have one foot out the door? You don’t know if you don’t ask.  Once you ask, you can look for solutions.  Investing time proactively looking for ways to retain great employees will save you dollars and stress related to turnover.

You won’t be able to retain everyone, but you may be able to prolong someone leaving by meeting as many of their needs as you and the organization can.  At the very least, you’ll have a heads-up that the person may need to find a job that can provide them what they need, and you can plan accordingly.

Try some of the questions above to open the lines of communication.  What you don’t know will hurt you!

Remember, as a supervisor, you have a significant impact on whether a person decides to stay or leave your company.

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