Strategies for Surviving the Turnover Tsunami

Posted on August 17, 2021

Time for Change

Time for Change

Today’s Morning Buzz is brought to you by Kayla Barber-Perrotta, Budget Manager for the City of Brighton, Colorado. Connect with Kayla on LinkedIn.

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Strategies for Surviving the Turnover Tsunami

With new postings coming across my desk for budget approval and a slew of empty offices in our suite, it’s impossible to ignore the reality of the “Great Resignation” or “Turnover Tsunami”. There seems to be a new article every night discussing the growing gap between positions employers need to fill and the willingness of employees to take on those roles. Whether it is COVID-19 burnout, lagging wages, or the desire for remote work, the reality is that, as per a recent Business Insider article, up to 95% of employees are looking to leave their current positions in 2021. These are numbers that exceed the turnover experienced by many during the Silver Tsunami of the last few years and should be concerning to any city. Turnover is expensive, not just financially, but also in terms of institutional knowledge and employee morale. So what do we do about it? How do we prepare our organizations, our communities, and our employees for this seismic change?


Address the Root Cause

The ideal way to deal with the mass turnover that looms over us all is to find ways to prevent it from happening at all. Employees very rarely just decided, “Hey, I think I’d like to change jobs.” It is generally a progression of events or circumstances that results in a desire to change their current position. For many, burnout, work environment, and culture are often huge drivers.

According to HR Executive, 40% of employees are reporting they are experiencing pandemic-related burnout. Additionally, the increased productivity of working from home for many companies flipped the traditional work environment expectation on its head, with 47% of employees reporting they would quit their current job if a hybrid or remote work option was not made available. This coupled with many employees feeling like they have lost a year of their career progression, and negative cultural impacts that stemmed from stress and separation are all drivers for an exodus.

But all is not lost. Employers can still real some of these employees back in by addressing these concerns. We are all familiar with the concept of the exit interview, and finding out why someone is leaving as they are already walking out the door, but less common is the stay interview. As a manager, when was the last time you sat down with your employees (in-person or virtual) to ask them how they are doing in your organization, what is working for them, and what is not? SHRM has a great list of starting questions that can be found here, but the important piece of this is opening up dialogue between you and your employee and helping you to understand where their head is at and what is motivating them. You can’t fix a problem you don’t know about. Once you are armed with information on why employees might be looking to leave you can begin brainstorming and assessing solutions such as flexible work schedules, better employee recognition, or stretch assignments depending on the circumstance. For culture issues, I encourage you to check out this blog, The Culture Crux: Defining Your Organization’s New Normal, I published a few months ago regarding building your culture back stronger as you return to the office. It takes a much deeper dive into how to define and habitualize culture than I can in the context of this broader article.


Reassess Recruitment

Not all employees will be reeled back in, however, and not all concerns are problems that can be solved. In these cases replacement is inevitable and it becomes necessary to strategize how best to make it work in your organization’s favor. It is tempting to simply dust off your old posting and slap it onto every job board as quickly as possible to get a butt in the seat, but this can have negative consequences in the long run. It is natural for organizations to change over time, and the pandemic accelerated many of those changes. Just take a moment to think about your work and how much it has changed over the last year. I personally am adding GSuite Guru, Citizen IT, and Public Assistance Purveyor to my list of skills. You too can probably list at least a dozen ways in which your work environment or service delivery has changed in the last year, and many of those may not be reflected in your current posting.

So instead of looking to recruit as quickly as possible, look to make the right recruitment. Assess what the duties of a position are and whether or not they are still what your organization needs. We just recently used turnover as an opportunity to bolster our grants team. Instead of just filling a Senior Management Analyst position as written, we discussed our needs, identified that what we were really lacking was grants expertise and capacity, and instead worked out a way to convert the position to a Grants Administrator. Now instead of feeling stressed about the impending recruitment, we can be excited about the new talent and services this will bring our team.

Just as important as making sure you are looking to fill the right job is making sure you will be enticing the right person. You hear a lot about finding people who are the right fit, but in my experience, most cities wait until they have their pool of candidates and are in the interview process before really focusing on that aspect. The problem with this, however, is that your pool of potential candidates has already self-selected in or out based on your posting. If you aren’t taking the time to convey your organization’s needs, culture, and employee expectations in your posting then you are having them make that decision based on poor information. A few months ago, the Town of Eerie, CO posted a fantastic posting for their Deputy Town Administrator. It not only discussed duties, but let potential candidates know about the culture and values of the organization, and provided them expectations for growth and development opportunities. I have no shame in admitting I used that posting as a template when I had to post for a new employee a few short weeks later. We ended up with so many highly qualified candidates that we had to cut the application window short to allow our Human Resources team the ability to process them all.  This is a far cry from other postings at the time and now that struggle to get even one promising applicant. I truly believe our posting worked because we gave candidates what they needed to see themselves in the position, on the team, and as part of the organization.


SUCCESSion Planning

Finally, being proactive about succession planning can have huge impacts on the amount of brain drain that occurs when an employee leaves, and how much time is needed to bring someone new up to speed. I am a huge fan of writing standard operating procedures to capture those repetitive tasks that you do each day, month, quarter, or year. We have a few dozen for our Budget Team alone, and they were instrumental in helping to onboard a recent hire as well as allowing other members of our Finance team to assist during the transition period.

I have heard many managers complain that they can never find time to make these documents, and as someone who regularly works crazy weeks, I hear you. What worked for me, however, was to stop thinking of it as a separate task and to require myself and my employees to write them as they were doing the actual work. It’s amazing how painlessly they got done once we stopped trying to carve out a few hours to remember what we did three weeks ago and instead just addressed them as we went along. That being said, there were still several we hadn’t got to and as soon as my employee gave notice, I shifted them into writing out these final procedures as well as transition memos on their key projects.

Succession planning isn’t all about developing documents though, it is also about developing people. Take a look around your team and your city. Chances are you have some strong talent that maybe just hasn’t had the chance to develop a particular set of skills that would allow them to move up in their career. It’s time to change that and take a proactive role in ensuring they have those opportunities. Sit these employees down and have a conversation about where they want to go, where you believe they can go, and what they need to get there. Then, support them.

Take advantage of many training courses still being offered virtually to build up more skills at a lower cost. Have a manager who is going to be out on vacation or in quarantine? Use that as an opportunity for cross-training and for another employee to gain leadership and management experience. Give them special projects where they get the chance to lead and manage on a smaller scale. By building a strong talent pipeline within your organization, not only are you preparing yourself for eventual turnover, but you are likely giving other employees who may be considering a change a reason to stay as they can see real opportunities for growth and development.


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