Measuring Employee Satisfaction Through Voluntary Turnover

Schedule, workload, environment, salary, culture, values, management – these all affect employee satisfaction in one capacity or another. Although there’s no such thing as the “perfect job” (or the perfect employer, for that matter), odds are that high turnover means there’s an issue in one or more of these areas.

Regardless of the cause, voluntary separation and employee satisfaction are invariably linked, making the former a reliable way to measure the latter – when done properly. As managers, it’s our responsibility to keep on top of these trends to ensure maximum satisfaction and, consequently, high retention as well.

Why It’s Difficult to Measure

Although measuring voluntary turnover can effectively indicate the level of engagement and satisfaction, the biggest challenge to this metric is how it can easily vary by industry.

Based on trends measured by CompData surveys, the gap in voluntary turnover from one area to the next can be quite significant. In 2013, it varied between 18.2% for hospitality and 5.2% for utilities – the highest and lowest respectively.

The bottom line is that if we’re going to use this metric to measure satisfaction, the line of work we’re dealing with has to be taken into consideration. Trying to create a standard expected rate isn’t just unrealistic, it’s misleading. And as we all know, inaccurate data makes statistically based decisions ineffective and potentially disastrous.

Don’t Just Rely on Numbers

The key here is a hybrid approach. Look at the numbers, but also critically examine the nature of your company and how it serves its employees. Unlike solely relying on percentages, the latter is easier to measure and – more importantly – to fix.

Pay equity is an important factor to consider. In an ideal world, people who perform well should receive higher bonuses and more raises. But this isn’t a perfect world, and many employers make the mistake of not properly rewarding those who perform.

If an employee puts in extra effort and gets compensated at the same level as his co-worker who spends most of his time playing Tetris, then his loyalty will eventually wain. In this scenario, the one thing this industrious worker has is a lot more ammunition to place on a resume, and chances are that’s exactly what he’ll do.

The solution here is to make sure you conduct regular performance reviews. If you notice that pay doesn’t appear to increase with employee contribution, this needs to be fixed. Over time, you’re likely to see that increasing recognition for high performers will lead to a decrease in your voluntary turnover percentage – an indication that something is working.

Career advancement is another important piece of the puzzle. We all know the term “dead-end job,” but we may not realize that this is more than a buzzword to describe some career grievance. It’s a serious problem that leads to complacency, depression, low engagement and – you guessed it – voluntary turnover.

To be fair, the economy is volatile. You can’t always create a senior management position if your organization is in a hiring freeze, or staffing doesn’t require it. But the beauty is that economies can improve as well. When they do, it’s always good to have people trained in the responsibilities needed to get that internal promotion when it’s available. It’s a classic “carrot on a stick,” but it works.

If your level of voluntary turnover is high, take a look at upward mobility and see if it’s lacking. If so, consider offering coaching opportunities to those looking for advancement.

Realistic expectations are critical in an industry. If the performance demands are too high, nobody will be able to achieve them, let alone move up. Placing too much strain on employees won’t motivate them to stay.

Again, odds are that if workers are quitting at a disturbingly high rate, examine job descriptions and whether they’re realistic. If it seems that you can’t squeeze “good” performers out of your pool of workers, then you either keep hiring the wrong people, or you’re simply demanding too much.

Recruitment practices are the first line of defense against voluntary separation. Obviously, certain employees simply aren’t a good fit, causing them to leave of their own volition (assuming they’re not fired first). If your organization has a chronic track record of hiring candidates who either perform poorly or don’t stick around, there may be an issue with the way your management or human resources department screens and interviews potential employees.

It’s no secret that behavioral based interviews are the go-to approach these days, but anyone can Google these questions and just tell managers what they want to hear. It can’t hurt to tweak your approach and throw in a few curveballs here and there.

The above categories are guidelines, but it’s likely that if voluntary turnover is high, then some or all of these areas are falling short. Once more, however, don’t rely strictly on percentages. Math doesn’t fix problems; action does.

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