How to Survive High Team Turnover
Supporting Your Team in Uncertain Times
You can't believe it. Another one of your team has handed in his notice. This will make the fifth person to leave in six months!
All of this change is beginning to have a negative impact on your people's morale. They're tired of saying goodbye to their colleagues and training new starters, not to mention all of the additional work that they've had to pick up. You're dreading telling them that yet another person will be leaving, and you are uncertain how you can help them through this tough time.
Staff turnover is a fact of life and, of course, there will always be times when organizations lose people. However, it can still be hard when you lose people that you've come to rely on, not just for you as a manager but for the rest of your team as well.
This article will explore the underlying issues of high team turnover, and will look at strategies that you can use to survive it.
Understanding Team Turnover
Team turnover is the rate at which people leave your organization. Research shows that some industries, such as hospitality and finance, have a higher staff "churn" rate than others – insurance and utilities, for instance.
However, the growth of the "gig economy" and the prevalence of short-term contracts – coupled with increased instability and uncertainty following the 2008 financial crash – has meant that high team turnover is now relatively common.
Statistics compiled by LinkedIn™ reveal that deliberate "job hopping" – frequently moving from one job to another – is on the rise, too, particularly among people working in the media, professional services, government, education, and the non-profit sector.
Younger workers are also more likely to job hop, with a recent survey showing that nearly half (45 percent) of the employers who took part expected new graduates to stay with them for no more than two years.
A key driver of the rise in job hopping among younger people is that they are generally more keen than previous generations to explore the job market, and they aren't afraid to start over again to find the right career. People of all ages have also become less likely to stick with a job purely because of money, and they are more willing to move jobs to find a career that is more in sync with what really matters to them.
Other reasons that could influence people's decision to leave their job include:
- Poor management.
- Bad cultural fit.
- Lack of challenge.
- Poor work-life balance.
- Too few development opportunities.
- Low pay.
- Lack of recognition.
Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that high turnover can be disruptive for you, your team and your customers. When someone quits, you lose both expertise and capacity. This will likely put additional pressure on your remaining team members, and it can cause quality standards and continuity to drop for your customers.
But high turnover can have positive results if the remaining team members receive the right support. It can provide them with the opportunity to take on new and different responsibilities or roles, learn new skills and develop their knowledge.
Six Tips for Surviving High Team Turnover
The following six tips can help you to support and manage your team effectively in times of high turnover.
1. Keep Team Spirits Up
People can easily lose their sense of belonging when teams begin to change, whether that's colleagues leaving or joining. It can be especially hard for a team if a particularly popular or able member goes. Friendships and professional networks can break down, and this can make people feel isolated.
Remedy this by building rapport and using team-building exercises to unite your people. Be open and honest with them, help them to find common ground with one another, and solidify these relationships by organizing team activities or after-work get-togethers.
If you don't already sit with your team, make an effort to connect with it by practicing Management by Wandering Around (MBWA). Team spirit will naturally develop if you show a genuine interest in your people, so make the effort to do this every day.
And remember, as a manager, you are also a role model, so lead by example. Try to stay positive, even during challenging times, and show your commitment to your organization by demonstrating loyalty and good humor.
2. Keep an "Open Door" Policy
When there's uncertainty within your team, it's important to make sure that you check in with everyone regularly. Have candid one-on-ones with them, and let them know that they are free to ask questions, to "blow off steam," and to voice any concerns during those meetings.
Listen with empathy to these concerns, and respond to problems and suggestions in a timely manner. Even if you can't accommodate every request, showing that you are willing to resolve these issues will help to demonstrate that you value your team members and build up their trust in you.
These meetings could also give you the opportunity to ask people why they think others have decided to leave the team. It could be that the upheaval is being caused by issues that you are unaware of, such as negative behavior or too much bureaucracy. Use Herzberg's Motivation-Hygiene Theory to get to the root of any such issues.
Your own poor management skills might be partly why people are leaving your organization. If this is the case, your one-on-ones should be handled by HR or an impartial third party, to ensure that team members can speak honestly and in confidence.
You may find what you hear upsetting, but it's important that you get this information so that you can learn from it and change. Don't be a self-sabotaging manager!
3. Help People to Adapt
If a team is in constant flux, its day-to-day work can be disrupted. Once someone's left, there may be questions about who is responsible for what. This lack of direction will likely be unsettling, so help people to adapt by reassigning tasks and roles quickly and clearly.
Set out a vision of the future for your team, and clarify people's roles in it by using tools such as Management by Objectives, OKRs and KPIs. A strong and clear direction will help your people to stay focused and motivated.
Someone leaving the team will likely create a backlog of work. As a result, some people may become overloaded – while others might appear to thrive on the pressure. Make sure that you strike the right balance between pressure and performance, by using the Inverted-U Model to get a better idea of how each member of your team is coping with the new dynamic.
If you think that someone is struggling, you may need to step in to help to prevent burnout. Help her to prioritize her tasks effectively, and review her workload to see if you can rationalize any of her tasks or responsibilities. Don't forget to reward your team occasionally as well, to keep morale up and stress levels down.
4. Practice Damage Control
Prevent any further departures from your team by providing incentives that will encourage people to stay.
Ask them what they would like to get out of their careers, and think about how you might help them to achieve their aspirations. Work with them to identify their strengths, and, if possible, redefine their roles so that they align more closely with their career objectives.
If someone wants to take on more responsibility, you could give him tasks from the workloads of people that have now left. See if there are any relevant projects or training courses that he might be interested in and that will help to accelerate his development.
If people's roles have changed, make sure that they are equipped with the skills and resources to confidently manage their new workload. Schedule handover meetings so that knowledge is passed on when people leave, and invest in training and development to cover any skills gaps.
Carry out a Training Needs Assessment to scrutinize your team's training needs carefully. If roles do need to change, use a tailored approach to make sure that people's new workloads fit with their strengths and personal objectives.
5. Maintain Quality
A rapid turnover of employees can disrupt the quality of your team's work, especially if there are no handover procedures in place when someone leaves and a new person starts.
You may find that your service levels drop or valuable leads and important contacts are lost while a new team member "finds his feet," especially if this information isn't properly recorded. Customers may become frustrated at this lack of consistency, and your reputation could suffer as a result.
Resolve these issues by focusing on maintaining quality. Get outgoing employees to record important information, such as detailed handover notes, contact information and logins, before they leave. It might be also be useful to get them to write down learning points from previous projects, too, so that important knowledge isn't lost. (You should prepare for any further departures by cross-training members of your team appropriately.)
6. Recognize Achievements
Team members often take on extra work when turnover is high, whether to train new starters or to pick up half-finished projects. Remember to acknowledge their efforts and give praise when it's due, as they are more likely to "go the extra mile" when they feel appreciated and respected.
Recognize their initiative and celebrate their successes when an important goal has been achieved or a deadline met. Use team meetings to highlight examples of great work and their impact on the business. People will more likely feel engaged and committed if they know that their contribution is making a difference.
And remember, sometimes a simple "thank you" is all that's needed to boost team morale, so encourage people to show their appreciation of one another. This will help to encourage positivity and strengthen team bonds.
High team turnover can be challenging for you, your team, and your customers. However, there are several ways that you can survive and even thrive during these difficult periods of change.
Help to maintain a positive team spirit by organizing group events, and lead by example by demonstrating positive leadership. Keep the lines of communication between you and your team open, with regular one-on-ones and team meetings.
If you give people new roles, help them to adapt by setting goals, bridging skills gaps, and scheduling handover meetings. Lastly, encourage a long-term outlook by identifying opportunities for growth, and recognize achievements to keep people engaged, committed and motivated.
Apply This to Your Life:
It's easy to forget your own needs when you're trying to support others, but it's important to look after yourself as well.
Confide in a colleague who you trust, or find a mentor who you feel comfortable talking to about the changes that are happening in your team. Alternatively, write down your thoughts and emotions in a journal. This could help you to organize your thoughts and make better sense of the situation.
High turnover rates in management can mean that you're given responsibility for more team members. If this happens to you, look at our Span of Control article for ideas to help you to cope. On the other hand, you might become isolated in a Team of One.
In either case, try to stay calm, even when you feel under pressure. Use relaxation and stress management techniques, and do your best to get a good night's sleep.
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