How to Deal With High Team Turnover
Supporting Your Team in Uncertain Times
You can't believe it. Another member of your team has handed in their notice. This will be the fifth person to leave in six months!
All this change is starting to have a negative impact on your people's morale. You're dreading telling them that yet another person is leaving, and you’re uncertain about how best to help them in the tricky period ahead.
But staff turnover is a fact of life. And COVID-19 has created a new layer of uncertainty and change.
In this article we’ll explore the causes and effects of high team turnover. We’ll also explain the best ways to support your people – and yourself – through challenging times of change.
See the transcript for this video here.
Understanding Team Turnover
Team turnover is the rate at which people leave your team.
The growth of the "gig economy," and the prevalence of short-term contracts – combined with increased instability and uncertainty – means that high team turnover is now common in many sectors and organizations. 
While some people are forced to find new jobs, particularly in the wake of the pandemic, an increasing number of us are “job hopping.” That means choosing to change job after only a short time – often defined as two years or less.  Research done in 2021 estimates that one in four workers in the U.S. is planning to switch jobs as soon as they can. And this number rises to one in three among younger members of the workforce. 
For many, a new job represents a chance to explore new opportunities, win pay raises and promotions, and secure a role that better suits their values and needs.
However, some people may decide to leave for more negative reasons: concerns about management, for example, personality clashes, or poor cultural fit.
So, it’s important to monitor team turnover closely. This will help you to head off any staffing gaps. Just as importantly, if turnover is concerningly high, it will allow you to explore and address the reasons why people are choosing to leave.
The Impact of Team Turnover
Whatever the reason, there’s no doubt that high turnover can be disruptive for you, your team and your customers. When someone quits, you’re down on both capacity and expertise. This will likely put additional pressure on your remaining team members, and it can cause quality and continuity standards to drop.
Repeatedly recruiting for the same positions can be expensive. It can also make your organization look like an unappealing place to be – which can damage your reputation with customers and prospective hires alike.
However, high turnover also has the potential to bring positive results. It can give people the opportunity to take on new responsibilities or roles, develop their knowledge, and learn new skills. In this way, high turnover can contribute to a culture of open mindedness and innovation.
But those benefits will only be possible if managers are aware of everyone’s feelings, respond appropriately, and provide their people with the support that they need.
Seven Tips for Surviving High Team Turnover
The following seven tips can help you to support your team effectively in times of high turnover.
1. Keep Team Spirits Up
People can easily lose their sense of belonging when teams change – whether that’s due to colleagues leaving or joining. It can be especially hard if a particularly popular or able team member goes. Friendships and professional networks can break down, and people can feel isolated.
You can remedy this by 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 events or get-togethers – in person or online.
If you don't already sit with your team, make an effort to connect more by practicing Management by Wandering Around (MBWA). If you’re working remotely, find new opportunities to link up online. Team spirit will develop naturally if you show a genuine interest in your people.
As a manager, you’re also a role model, so lead by example. Try to stay positive, even during challenging times, and show your commitment and loyalty to your organization.
2. Keep an "Open Door" Policy
Let people ask questions, voice concerns, and "blow off steam." Holding candid one-on-ones will help with this.
Listen with empathy, and respond to problems and suggestions promptly. By doing your best to resolve any issues, you’ll show that you value your team members, and build up their trust in you.
These meetings also allow you to ask people why they think others have decided to leave. There may be issues that you’re unaware of, such as negative behavior or too much bureaucracy. Use Herzberg's Motivation-Hygiene Theory to get to the root of any such problems.
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 some of the feedback 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. When someone leaves, there may be questions about who’s responsible for all the things they used to do. So help people to adapt by reassigning responsibilities quickly and clearly.
Set out a vision of the future for your team, and clarify people's roles 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.
A team member’s departure will likely create a backlog of work. Some people may become overloaded – while others might appear to thrive on the pressure. Strike the right balance between pressure and performance by using the Inverted-U Model. This will give you a better idea of how each member of your team is coping with the new dynamic.
4. Practice Damage Control
Minimize the risk of further departures from your team by providing incentives that will encourage people to stay.
Ask them what they’re hoping to get out of their careers. Work with them to identify their strengths, and, if possible, redefine your team members’ roles to align more closely with their career objectives.
If someone wants to take on more responsibility, you could give them tasks from the workloads of people who’ve left. In addition, see if there are any relevant projects or training courses that they might be interested in, to accelerate their development.
If people's roles have changed, make sure that they’re equipped with the skills and resources needed to tackle their new responsibilities.
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 match 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.
You may find that your service levels drop, or valuable leads and important contacts are lost while a new team member "finds their feet." 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. Ask outgoing employees to record important information, such as detailed handover notes, contact information and logins, before they leave. And get them to write down learning points from previous projects, so that this valuable knowledge is preserved too.
6. Recognize Achievements
Team members often take on extra work when turnover is high – training new people, for example, or picking up half-finished projects. Recognize their initiative and celebrate their success when an important goal is achieved or a deadline is met.
Use team meetings to highlight examples of great work and their impact on the business. People will feel more engaged and committed if they know that their contribution is making a difference.
Sometimes a simple "thank you" is all that's needed to boost team morale. So, encourage people to show their appreciation of one another, as this will help to encourage positivity and strengthen team bonds.
7. Look After Yourself
Finally, make sure that your own needs are met.
Confide in a trusted colleague, or find a mentor who can help you to understand the changes that are happening in your team. Alternatively, write down your thoughts and emotions in a journal. This could help you to make better sense of the situation yourself.
High turnover rates in management may lead to you being given responsibility for more team members. If this happens, see our article on Span of Control for the best ways to cope.
On the other hand, you might become isolated as a “team of one.”
In either case, try to stay calm, even when you feel under pressure. Use relaxation and stress management techniques. And put extra effort into protecting the core aspects of your mental and physical health.
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 – in person or online – and be a role model by demonstrating positive leadership and open communication.
If you give people new roles, help them to adapt by setting goals, bridging skill gaps, and scheduling handover meetings. Encourage a long-term outlook by identifying opportunities for growth, and recognize achievements to keep people engaged, committed and motivated.
By managing your own feelings, and getting the support you need, you’ll be able to keep doing the best for yourself and your team.
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