Agency Culture and Supervisor Key to Tackling High Turnover

By Gilley, Kay | Policy & Practice, September 2006 | Go to article overview

Agency Culture and Supervisor Key to Tackling High Turnover


Gilley, Kay, Policy & Practice


Staff turnover is a costly and perpetual nemesis, especially for public human service organizations. Traditionally, agency officials have estimated the cost when an employee leaves to average the amount of that person's salary for one year. However, recent research reveals that costs are actually much higher.

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What can a public human service agency do to cut high turnover? Often, officials think poor pay and huge workload are the main cause, and there is little they can do about it as that's the nature of public human service work. However, many studies show that these are not the aspects of work that make people like or dislike their work. Much can be done to improve the job satisfaction of employees by concentrating on characteristics that we can change.

As you tackle turnover, do you know what your trouble spots are? Exit interviews of all departing employees often identify problems that need attention. Use data to frame your response rather than leaning on assumptions. Do you know what motivates each employee? While supervisors most often say they think money is the most important, employees often have different ideas. Are they able to exercise creativity? Are they able to grow and get increasing responsibility? Do employees have some say about how work is done as long as it meets legal and service parameters?

Research indicates that the No. 1 reason in a job decision among the most talented young employees is flexibility. Are you able to offer alternative work arrangements such as job sharing, telecommuting, or flextime? Flexibility may be attractive to baby boomers who might prefer phased retirements or part-time work to ceasing employment completely. Two boomers sharing a job give you two brains and lots of experience.

Even when pay is the issue, often it is the fairness of pay as much as the amount that may be the problem. Do employees understand how pay scales were developed? Do they feel that pay is fair and equitable? Are those who work harder and do a better job compensated more generously than those who don't pull their weight? Do they get promotions when they should be promoted?

The single most common reason that individuals give for leaving their jobs is their supervisor. Individuals who quit because of their supervisor identified poor, or lack of, communication as the issue pushing them out the door. Improving communication can improve the quality of work life for employees, but often leads to improved quality of service to clients as well. …

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