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  1. Losing the Losers – Is Employee Turnover Always a Bad Thing?

    September 2, 2014 by Jenna

    Typically, the term ‘employee turnover’ has negative connotations, usually related to cost: the cost to re-hire and the cost to re-train.

    However, is an organisation with low or no turnover really a good thing? Perhaps it is due to one of the following reasons:

    • Lack of employment opportunities within an organisation.
    • Financial constraints preventing employees from moving.
    • Bad company image that keeps recruiters away.
    • A high concentration of older workers reluctant to change jobs later in their career.

    Dr John Sullivan, the internationally known HR thought-leader, writing on, classifies employee departures into desirable, neutral and undesirable outcomes. Below are some of his key points for consideration:

    Desirable Turnover
    Studies show that at least 25% of turnover is desirable. Situations where this may occur include:
    • A low-level performer leaves on their own accord (therefore avoiding the need to terminate them).
    • An average or lower level performer gets replaced by someone that becomes a superior performer (referred to as a talent swap).
    • An employee with key skills working in a non-critical job/business unit transfers to a strategic job/business unit.
    • A lower-level employee is replaced by promoting someone inside that needed more challenge or growth to develop (thus improving the organisation, increasing internal movement).
    • The exiting employee is a retiree who led a fulfilling career and has agreed to consider ‘fill-in’ work during retirement.

    Neutral or OK Turnover
    Such situations include:
    • Turnover of an employee or contractor who was hired to provide short-term coverage.
    • Turnover by an employee who provided sufficient notice, enabling an exceptional replacement to be sourced, hired and trained prior to the employees exit.
    • Turnover by an employee leaving a more generic role with a short learning curve.
    • Turnover of a top performing employee who has a high probability of returning in the future.
    • Turnover of an employee who left as a result of major illness or something that could not be predicted or prevented.

    Critical or Highly Undesirable Turnover
    This is the key area upon which focus retention efforts on. Situations falling under this category include:
    • Turnover of a top performer with little or no advance notice.
    • Turnover of a critical team leader or manager.
    • Turnover of an employee that possesses the only knowledge or experience in a critical field in the organisation.
    • Turnover of an employee in a revenue generating or revenue impact job.
    • Turnover of a top performer or a key individual that goes to a direct competitor.
    • Turnover of a high-potential individual who left due to a lack of development opportunities.
    • Turnover of an employee who subsequently files a credible government or legal complaint against the organisation.

    Labelling turnover ‘good’ or ‘bad’ depends primarily on the business impact caused by the departure of the employee. If employee turnover means losing an individual who is a ‘bad actor’, the impact can be beneficial to your company. For the remaining staff members, the departure of an employee with a negative attitude can seem like a breath of fresh air. For the business owner, it means no longer having to deal with the problems that employee caused. Employee turnover can also have a positive impact if it means replacing a long-term employee who is simply going through the motions or biding their time until retirement.

    By regarding turnover as an opportunity, employers can rest easy knowing that new staff will ultimately bring new life to their businesses, nurturing its growth and development.

  2. How do you handle a boss from HELL?

    June 15, 2011 by Jenna

    First, the results from last week’s online poll:

    – Discuss your concerns with your boss – 26%

    – Talk to HR / your boss’s boss – 17%

    – Discuss coping strategies with your peers – 22%

    – Put up with it and do nothing – 4%

    – Leave – 30%

    Further to this final response, one of my Challenge Consulting colleagues added “but not before hiding some prawns in his/her office”.

    I must, however, stress that we are not condoning this behaviour!

    As always, the Challenge Consulting team had their say on this week’s topic and came back with a range of responses, some amusing, some serious, but all intriguing and insightful.

    First, from one who knows how not to be a boss from hell (yes, I am angling for a payrise), our Managing Director, Elizabeth Varley, provided this handy guide:

    The Seven Deadly Sinners – how do you spot the boss from hell?

    The Devil Wears Prada: Outrageous demands and expectations no matter how unreasonable are this boss’s trade mark. This Devil will expect that you drop everything NOW otherwise you will see their horns appear and their eyes turn red and your life will turn to crap in a split second. The worst thing about TDWP is that even if you pull a miracle out of your hat they are likely to ignore it as yesterday’s news and you are nothing but something smelly on the bottom of their shoe.

    The Prima Donna: Unexplained emotional outbursts are the signature of the PD. They can flounce around the office, slam doors, shout, cry and even worse lie on the floor and have a tantrum like a five year old. Don’t get in the way as you might end up with a few bruises. Just quietly shut the door and disappear until the coast is clear.

    The Office Bully: Ferrets out victims no matter who they are and will never let up until they are a quivering mess in the toilet.  Like any school yard bully, you can never get this person off your case until you stand up for yourself and fight for your rights. Look them in the eye and say NO!

    The Phantom: Like a good magic trick – now you see them and now you don’t. This boss is notable by their absences, unexplained or otherwise. You are often left to carry the can and make excuses for their absence no matter how embarrassing.

    The Peacock: Look at “moi” – This boss takes the credit for everyone else’s hard work, struts around the office looking for compliments, talking loudly and slapping people’s back. Most people can get conned by this affable individual but at essence, they contribute very little and make the most noise.

    The Ostrich: When the going gets tough they have their heads firmly planted in the sand. These bosses avoid dealing with any type of conflict even if it means losing a major deal, or handling a difficult customer/colleague who is out of line. Don’t look for support from the ostrich as all you will see, is their backside sticking out of the sand.

    The Village Idiot: “Incompetence” is this person’s middle name. No matter what this person does, it will turn to custard in the end and you are left to pick up the pieces or wear the egg on your face. You scratch you head and wonder “how do they get to keep their job”? Well, in every organisation there are plenty of examples of the Peter Principle which states that “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”.

    So, at this point, we know who we’re dealing with. But what do we do about it? That is the question. Is it nobler to suffer the slings and arrows, or oppose and end them?

    One Challenge teamster offered the following advice:

    “You have to first endeavour to determine the issue. For example, is the hellish boss actually reacting badly to being out of his/her depth? Is he/she, in fact, just a mean person? Ultimately you need to lay you cards on the table and speak to him/her. Ask questions: ‘Am I meeting your expectations; if not why not?’  ‘Are you aware that your behaviour is unacceptable?’ and the state the reasons. ‘Are you aware you act in a very hurtful/unprofessional way’ etc.

    Plus, there’s always the ‘strength in numbers’ approach – whilst you don’t want to ambush the boss, it’s helpful to have back up so they realise it is about him/her and not you or other individual staff members. Provide actual examples of the poor behaviours and ask ‘how would you like to be treated in this fashion?’.”

    Another Challenge team member spoke, unfortunately, from personal experience: “I worked with a boss from hell just after I left school. He was a very large man with an even larger voice. He often screamed at employees and used excessive and even abusive language. Nothing was ever done correctly in his eyes and his outbursts of anger were completely unfounded. The way most employees handled him (including me I suppose) was to wait for his fit of anger to blow over, saying nothing during the shouting session, and proceed as per normal when all is over. Unsurprisingly, I don’t think he “upped” any standards of work via his management style. Even worse, though, was the complaining behind his back. This wasted more company time than he could ever have imagined. Additionally, turnover was rather high in the company (which was fairly small) and mostly due to this specific individual.

    How should we have dealt with him? Probably more professionally by, say, escalating the issue to his senior, however, it was a very industrial environment with top management situated off site, in fact, in another state, which added more difficulty to the possibility of taking action.”

    Of course there is bad management and then there is psychopathic behaviour. Thank you to my colleague Narelle Hess, our Organisational Psychologist, for providing the following resources!

    In his fascinating article “In the Jaws of Work Psychos”*, David Wilson writes: “Psychopaths act out their anti-social impulses at all levels of the workforce and typically seek authority positions to give them power over other employees. Thus the attraction of becoming executives and gaining control of staff. With executive power, the psychopath can hide behind a mask of legitimacy to hollow-out selected fellow employees.”

    In his article, he cites the work of University of Sydney psychotherapist John Clarke**, who “has made a life-long study of psychopaths in the workforce and is the author of two books on the subject – Working with Monsters and The Pocket Psycho. He says workplace psychopaths commonly intimidate fellow workers, sometimes behave impulsively, always lack remorse and often are glib and superficially charming.

    ‘About half the people in any workplace won’t be affected. If anything, they will think they are good guys because psychopaths go out of their way to cultivate people who they can use,” Dr Clarke says. ‘It’s from the other half of the workforce the psychopath selects victims to wage war on. The weapons of war include bullying, putting down, humiliating in front of others, stealing credit for work done by others and spreading false rumours about other people. They will tear people apart to get where they want to be,’ he says.

    ‘These people are usually in positions where they can actually head off or successfully counter any attempts to get rid of them. They hang on like grim death and leave their positions when they want to.”  Dr Clarke says it is immensely difficult weeding out executive psychopaths. He says management and staff have to be educated about the psychopath’s behaviour and develop a united stand so people are less likely to become victims. Psychopaths find it difficult to operate against this sort of united stand, he says. ‘Then the employer has to form a corporate strategy to modify this behaviour or get rid of them.’”

    * “In the Jaws of Work Psychos” by David Wison, The Age February 29, 2009 [link]

    ** Dr John Clarke, official website:

  3. Staff Retention: How will YOU keep your top talent in 2011?

    April 19, 2011 by Jenna

    During a lively discussion forum last Wednesday morning, Challenge Consulting explored trends in employee retention with a group of clients.  

    Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines retention as “1. the act of keeping someone or something, 2. the ability to keep something”. In the context of business when we talk about retention, we talk about ‘keeping’ employees as the direct opposite to ‘losing’ employees or employee turnover.

    Employee turnover is one of the most largely measured and reported statistics in business. But given that we know that on average 20% of the Australian Labour Market will change jobs each year[i], how significant are these turnover statistics, really?

    During our discussion forum we explored this question and more, including:

    • What is retention?
    • What are the motivational drivers that keep our participants with their employer?
    • How do we or how should we measure retention drivers?
    • What retention strategies are smart organisations implementing in an attempt to keep their top talent?

    Consistent with organisational research and theory on retention[ii], we identified common themes in what ‘retained’ our participants with their employers, including: job satisfaction (i.e. interesting and challenging work), job embededness (i.e. a feeling of belonging to a team or social network in the organisation), employee voice (i.e. feeling that their opinions are heard), and role clarity (i.e. understanding role and responsibilities and how it directly relates to the organisational purpose). What we also found were a range of individual motivators that were influencing retention of the ‘top talent’ in the room, including: flexible work arrangements, career development, training and mentoring, and a range of company values.

    It was clear that a one-size-fits-all strategy for retention would be impossible to retain each of our discussion forum participants, so how can retention drivers be measured at the larger organisational level? According to industry research[iii], 95% of Australian companies conduct Exit Interviews, an emerging trend is that 45% of Australian companies are now conducting Stay Interviews (periodic in-depth interviews with existing employees to measure key retention drivers, starting right from the first 3 months), not to forget the common practice of Organisational Surveying.

    During the discussion forum we debated how well organisations were utilising these and other sources of retention data, i.e. was the right information being captured to measure retention drivers and then once the data was collected was the data being used strategically to manage retention initiatives? Google’s Project Oxygen[iv] provided us with an example of an organisation analysing all available employee data to identify common retention drivers and more specifically develop their Google Rules for managers.

    By the end of our discussion forum, there was agreement from participants that not all turnover is negative and not all retention is positive. In fact, some turnover can be a positive and some retention can be a negative! But as Australia already shows the signs of another deepening skills shortage, there is no doubt that when their key motivators are not met, talented employees can find other employers that will meet these drivers. Does your organisation need help identifying the key retention drivers for your most talented people? Challenge Consulting can help you measure retention drivers through our Organisational Effectiveness Profiling and Exit Interview Consulting services, help you develop managers with a focus on retention with our Effective Supervision Workshop and help you build a strategic approach to managing retention in your organisation.

    What do you think smart organisations should be doing to keep their most talented people and what motivates you to stay with your current employer?

    [i] Sweet, R. (2011). The mobile worker: concepts, issues, implications. NCVER Occasional Paper, Adelaide.

    [ii] Mardanov, I., Heischmidt., & Henson, A. (2008). Leader-member exchange and job satisfaction bond and predicted employee turnover. Journal of Leaderhship and Organizational Studies, 15, 159-175.

    Ramesh, A., Gelfand, M. J. (2010). Will they stay or will they go? The role of job embeddedness in predicting turnover in individualistic and collectivistic cultures. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95, 807-823.

    Siebert, S. & Zubanov, N. (2009). Searching for the optimal level of employee turnover: A study of a large UK retail organisation. Academy of Management Journal, 52, 294-313.

    Swider, B.W., Boswell, W.R., & Zimmerman, R.D. (2011). Examining the job search-turnover relationship: The role of embeddedness, job satisfaction, and available alternatives, Journal of Applied Psychology. 96, 432-441.

    [iii] Lambert, L. (2010). All aboard: Identifying flight risks in probationary staff can help retain promising talent. Recruitment Extra, Nov 2010, 26-27.

    [iv] Bryant, A. (2011). Google’s quest to build a better boss, New York Times. 

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