Can You Really Reduce Turnover? With This Strategy, Yes.

By Steve Graham on September 18, 2018

Conversations around reducing employee turnover, also known as talent retention, have been around since work began. But even though the topic is not new, the challenges facing employers and their approaches to reducing turnover is.

A Shift in Tenure

Generational attitudes about how long a person remains at one job have dramatically shifted. For decades, people identified a career or found a job and they stayed with one employer until retirement. Today, that's not always the case.

According to an article from The Balance, people change jobs on average of 12 times during their career. A report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics referenced in the article notes that the average tenure was just 4.2 years in January 2016. The thought of tenure has certainly shifted.

One reason for this shift in tenure is how the modern career path is navigated. Many of the foundational thoughts on "career" do not apply in today's workplace.

In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, psychology researcher Tania Luna and international executive Jordan Cohen said "modern employees are suffering from their belief in the 'career myth,' what they describe as 'a delusional belief in the outdated idea of linear career progression.'"

They continued to explain that, "people today can no longer rely on an outdated system of career advancement—one that presumes employees will be given incremental chances for career advancement along with raises and title changes."

This outdated system assumes that employees will move up their organizational ladder. But, this isn't always the case.

Addressing Turnover with Talent Retention

These shifts in career management and view of careers have created new challenges for the modern workplace in reducing turnover. Some may argue about the importance of emphasis on talent retention, as a result of these changing attitudes about work and career.

Having a talent retention plan as part of an effective human resources strategy is well advised. Experts argue over the key driving factors that cause turnover, and likewise, there are a lot of opinions on what helps reduce turnover. However, it is important to make sure that your strategy addresses this new thinking about careers in the modern workplace.

Reducing Turnover with Job Satisfaction and Engagement

Woman handing over file folder to another individual across the table

We know turnover happens. And it will continue to happen—people will leave no matter how well developed your talent retention strategy is, your benefits, perks, work-life-balance, etc.

The goal of preventing turnover is not a reality. Reducing turnover should be the focus. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) provides benchmarking data on turnover. They have found that regardless of industry type or bias, employee job satisfaction and engagement factors are key ingredients of successful employee retention programs.

In a recent SHRM study, Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement: The Doors of Opportunity are Open research report, employees identified these five factors as the leading contributors to job satisfaction:

  1. Respectful treatment of all employees at all levels of the organization.
  2. Compensation and benefits.
  3. Trust between employees and senior management.
  4. Job security.
  5. Opportunities to use their skills and abilities at work.

When these factors are addressed and boosted, employees feel more satisfied in their work, which could encourage them to stick around and help combat the effects of the "career myth." Here are three simple strategies to elevate these factors that contribute to job satisfaction:

1. Cultivate Purpose at Work

Like the number five factor that contributes to job satisfaction, "opportunities to use their skills and abilities," employees being able to find purpose in their work is essential in creating an environment that promotes talent retention.

People who approach work with a purpose are more likely to be engaged and receive value in what they do, therefore, helping to reduce turnover. Provide a work environment that allows people to find purpose and contribute at their highest levels.

One way to do this is for managers to get to know their people at a deeper level. Investing time in learning what inspires and interest your team members can help them find purpose in their role. Letting people know the "why" of what they are doing also helps connect the tasks to the meaning behind them. Offering people a chance to have a "voice" or ownership in their contribution can cultivate purpose.

Think about your own life. Are you more willing to engage in a task, assignment or project if you believe in the purpose and value of it? Same goes for employee engagement. And that company culture of purpose starts with leadership.

2. Lead as a Servant

Having leaders with a servant approach can help cultivate purpose-friendly workplaces. Leaders set the example for others to follow. And when leaders within an organization lead as a servant—putting others first and having an attitude of service—it can greatly contribute to a purpose-friendly workplace.

Zoe Mackey, of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, in her article titled Why Servant Leadership Reduces Employee Turnover Rates said, "Adopting servant leadership can be an important part of the solution. After all, servant leadership is based on the foundational idea that learning to serve those around you helps them achieve their greatest potential. Who wouldn't want to work for a boss like that?"

By creating a sense of community and strong foundation of trust, reducing turnover using a servant leadership approach works.

3. Give Room to Grow

Two adults shaking hands across a work table with laptop computers

People will not find purpose unless they are allowed to grow. That is why a focus on career development helps reduce turnover. Providing opportunities for employees to better themselves, such as through tuition reimbursement programs, show the employees that they matter.

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) has extensive information on career development's influence in reducing turnover. A recent article from ATD stated, "career development also can help with retention because employees can develop a sense of loyalty for employers who are willing to invest in them. Likewise, when it is time to hire new employees, career development programs can be attractive to job-seekers."

The sense of value to the employee is a driver in loyalty. When you feel a sense of loyalty, you'll want to stick around and be a part of the organization that invests in you and makes you a better employee. This is an important piece in talent retention.

Shift Your Strategy to Address Turnover

Turnover is never fun, but it is a reality. Shifting your strategy to better align with the needs and attitudes of the modern career path is the first step.

To combat the outdated model of assuming growth in your career simply happens, make it hard for people to leave your organization by offering them outstanding value and return on their investment in working for you.


As an employee, you too can contribute to a positive work environment, particularly if you are given room to grow and enhance your career. Check out this free ebook to discover steps you can take to climb your organization's ladder.


Categories: Leadership, Vocation