Unturning Turnover | Don't lose your next employee.

What it’s often called on site is being a ‘team player.’ And many thank-you’s are vocalized at the end of shifts. Text messages: ‘Thank you, u rock!’ or ‘Thanks for being a champ.’

Unturning Turnover | Don't lose your next employee.
A delicious and flaky treat. A serious HR issue. Photo by Jojo Yuen (sharemyfoodd) on Unsplash.

Hazy morning today. It reminds me of the weeks that would go on in LA of ‘June gloom,’ though it wasn’t necessarily June. The color of a gathering rain that you know won’t come. That’s how it is in Virginia today.

On a day like this an unfulfilled employee is surely considering the expectations from their manager as they they confirm which one of their work shirts is clean and start getting ready for the day. It’s 7:15. A text message already came in: “Good morning, could you try to make it in a little early today? Joe won’t be coming in.”

With the mindset of a champion, that employee may be playing their favorite motivational playlist, which reminds them to strive and treasure every challenge like an opportunity to build, grow, and evolve into their highest self. Let’s hope.

Another text comes in. “And please bring a lunch or something to eat.” This message means to be prepared: the mandatory break today will be at the most convenient time for the location, you won’t be hungry when you get it, and when you do need a break, you won’t be able to leave.

Ok.That happens.

But when it happens every week, it has become a cycle to get out of. When it happens all week more often than it doesn’t, it has become a nightmare situation.

And losing the employee will create a scenario that cannot welcome a new one any better. They’d get compressed training and they’d be placed in higher-stakes moments immediately.

It’s called a lot of things. Attrition, fatigue, burnout, overwork. And then that expensive trend that is nowhere near as delectable as the pastry of the same name. Turnover.

What it’s often called on site is being a ‘team player.’ And many thank-you’s are vocalized at the end of shifts. Text messages: ‘Thank you, u rock!’ or ‘Thanks for being a champ.’

This is one of the remaining staff members from the last seven months. After this Holiday season and the new year they’d be close to their year anniversary - one foot on the playing field of being a real-life piece of the growth of the operation.

Retaining that associate would not only save the cost of a month-long replacement and training period, it would avoid the shaky scenario that their replacement would come into an un-ideal situation, thrown into the fire, squarely behind the eight ball, where all that replacement effort may be for naught.

Knowing that circumstances are not what was discussed on all the interviews and welcome videos, and that operations have spun into reactionary land, there are few motivations that may prevent this rockin’ employee from leaving at this point. Compensation: A decent raise may be good. Culture: Maybe there’s an enticing interpersonal environment at this location that feeds the associate’s social needs, giving value they wouldn’t want to miss. Choice limitations: The desperation of limited alternatives for the employee..

The Raise: This could be great. But in doing so, let’s be honest. Some raises doled out in response can be so paltry they do more harm than good. If we’re talking $.50/hour, it is a nice sentiment, sure, and can cover Netflix’s higher fee. But in execution, a diminutive bump often brings with it the understanding that it was magic to ‘push through,’ and if we can sense that there can’t be another raise considered in the quantifiable future, its a gesture that could imply a confined situation as much as it does progress. So execute that wisely and with much optimism for the future.

Culture: Are the dynamics of this location such that employees get along with each other and management? Sometimes this is a double-edged sword. If this staff has been bonded together by the process of weathering storms they never signed up for, there can develop an accepted culture in which normal procedures are bypassed or neglected. Since the break times have already been compromised, and the division of duties as designed is simply not possible because there are six members instead of the ten the procedures were created for, an Apocalypse Now sort of new society can arise, which scrutinizes tasks, training, and standards as being only applicable in the fantasy utopia that exists in the pages of the manual, but not in this real-life setting.

Image of a bald Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now.
Is Colonel Kurtz telling your new hire how to process an order correctly? Photo: United Artists

Its hard to assess if this is going on, but it may happen, and sometimes turnover can be lower due to this, but with a detrimental effect to repeat business, and customer reviews that gradually paint a picture that this location operates by its own set of rules, good or bad. So we can be thankful for this staff surviving the tempest, but at what cost to the intended design of the business?

Choices: This doesn’t take much brain power. On both sides of a new hire, there is a honeymoon stage to begin: “I’m so happy to be here, I’ll do anything!” and “We’re so happy to have you, we’ll make this so great for you!” But the more exciting that initial phase was can indicate the lack of options there were in both hiring and in the candidate who accepted the job. An awakening to reality later sets off a dynamic where neither side can deliver what was promised, and in efforts to not screw it up, corners can be cut, with undesirable performance each party accepts which they normally wouldn’t. And furthermore, the moment another option does show up (Another text ‘Yo, you still looking? My company is hiring, HMU’)..our employee would have no qualms leaving for a fresh start elsewhere.

This is all to highlight staffing woes.

So lets think about wins and possibilities. Can changes to be made to the training period to make it more clearly defined and un-screw-upable? How can rules be made unbendable so that a new hire isn’t given monumental pressure before they are ready? When I was hired at a computer parts store, I was tasked with receiving and stocking a category-5 flood of new chips, video cards, and ‘motherboards’ without knowing any rhyme or reason how it is done, pretty much the day following learning how to clock in. There was no room for parts, they all had the same OEM packages, and it quickly turned into a Lucille Ball conveyor belt, inventory clusterfvck which somehow brought the operation to its knees, especially when I was asked to ‘open the store’ a couple days later, without knowing how to accept credit card payments and nothing seemed to be where it should.

If the job is truly easy enough that someone can be paid $14/hour, we should be able to prepare that employee to do it without high stakes pressure. That’s for the manager (after manager training of course!).

If turnover has gotten nightmarish, then massive, outside-the-box actions might be needed to improve morale and reduce pressure. And increasingly with the new generation, as explained perfectly in this talk by Carla Silletto, our process should maintain an utmost sense of the value of our new hires. Wages aside, they should know that they are significant, and that making them truly ready is something the organization values deeply.

Should operating hours be changed briefly, with a sign for the door and on maps that says closing earlier this week for training? Instead of the exasperated manager relying on new-guy to close as soon as their W-4 is filed, should you adopt a policy detailing the soonest a new hire will be left alone? Can the manager be incentivized for keeping an employee for six months, a year?

There’s often a new hire checklist that proves the employee has been shown the tasks needed. Can a training-completion bonus in the $100-$500 range be affixed to a checklist that demonstrates successful practice of each duty?

Perk List: What perks are there now, and what is possible? If staff is in an unideal situation, assess what regularly-occurring, redeeming advantages they have as talking points? This is where you may want to begin keeping a perk list of each office or location. An employee’s thoughts of their workplace should have something, even mundane, that brings good news. Something to talk about that doesn’t suck. If mom calls and says ‘how is the new job going?’ are there any small wins that can be included? ‘I actually got a $25 Target card last week, that’s how I got this shirt!’

‘Perk’ usually sounds like an off-the-books term, but if put into practice, $200 per month of good news in the office may have as much influence on overall morale as $1/hour in raises (which for a staff of six translates to $960). It may be decided that each office should be sure to have at least three perks. Gift cards, a better type of coffee at the office, car-wash membership, bowling night. Get creative. Canvass for good ideas that don’t get impulsively quantified into dollars like Visa gift cards, rather look for nice-to-haves like Disney+, a Chipotle card, a day at the zoo.

Some hiring managers are already taking these measures and more to correct the turnover problem. It would be a rewarding problem to address when you know that you literally can influence satisfaction levels between staff members and their work, which usually leads to better business across the board. So keep trying, and comment with thoughts.


ethan sharrett (@ethansharrettofficial) • Instagram photos and videos