Maru Inplacement

The ‘forgotten’ superpower you need to stop employee attrition

03 August 2021

Story by
Sarah Rice


Are you one of the many HRDs starting – or continuing – to panic about staff turnover?

If so, you’re not alone. As was recently reported by the BBC the ‘Great Resignation’ has started – and employers are getting the blame.

A recent Microsoft survey of more than 30K people globally showed that four in 10 workers are considering quitting or changing professions and a study in the UK by HR software Personio claims that a similar number (38%) were planning on quitting in the next six-12 months.

And in April four million people quit their jobs in the US according to a government report.

So, the stats are in. Attrition is on the rise – but why and what can you do about it?

Factors in play

Too many organisations may have been complacent throughout COVID. During this period they may have even ‘enjoyed’ lower than usual levels of turnover.

Other factors driving this right now include:

1)     people have stayed put for fear of being last-in-first-out’ during COVID
2)     employees seeking more from their employer – whether that’s a stronger sense of purpose, belonging, better managers, flexibility and career pathways
3)     companies reaping what they sowed if they failed in key moments of truth in the psychological contract
4)     big jumps in money in a candidate driven market
5)     people simply reconsidering what they want their work life to look and feel like!

And, as every HR in the country will know, this list could be several times longer – but is the profession overlooking the engagement survey in supporting retention? Could this ‘forgotten superpower’ actually save the day?

Information is gold dust

In our experience, some HRs feel the engagement survey is old hat. Instead, they prefer a new shiny ‘always on’ tool or even to do nothing at all.

But, used effectively, the survey will give you information gold dust regarding the employment experience you offer – direct from the very people you’re seeking to retain.

Perhaps one of the reasons HR neglects to ‘get round’ to the survey is that is requires careful planning and the construction of the right suite of questions.

Compassionate enquiry

Your starting point needs to be why people leave – and not from a place of blame or defensiveness.

It is well documented the relationship with the immediate line manager is the biggest driver of employee engagement, so these are your life blood.

Make sure your questions based on this cohort are punchy and insightful and based around:

–        Approachability
–        recognition
–        are part of a regular dialogue around performance, in-team communication

You need to be able break your survey response down by department and team to know what’s really happening on the ground – but we always recommend compassionate enquiry.

This is not a stick to beat people with, it’s an essential additional support they may not have had before. And, if needed to win people over, you can dazzle them with the abundant levels of evidence out there.

For example, according to Gallup disengaged employees can result in 37% higher absenteeism, 18% lower productivity and 15% lower profitability within the workplace.

Their research found that organisations scoring higher on employee engagement nearly double their odds of success compared with those in the bottom half – meaning that when managers engage they will do much better for themselves too.

Passionate, meaningful engagement is key

We need to be clear. Our approach is that surveys are a means to an end – not an end in themselves.

It is of course crucial HR gets the information and ROI they need, but really nothing can beat a passionate belief in the right for employees to be heard. This usually means there is a willingness to actually hear what they say, even if you do not like the answer.

Asking questions where action will happen as a result is a great lens to view this through – and ensuring the survey is the right length is the most pragmatic and effective way of analysing and reporting the data.

Again, the evidence speaks for itself. Our own successes with clients have seen us support reduction in sickness by 40% and put £250,000 on the bottom line from staff ideas on improvement for one client alone.

For another we reduced early attrition to 8% from 36% – the list goes on.

The power of now

It is also true that not many HR professionals will need convincing about the importance of employee engagement. But, as busy professionals at a time of heightened activity, it is easy to get lost in the daily grind and forget to put your periscope up.

Our top tips on the road success are simple, effective and, while they do require a bit of planning, they will take you on a bigger, deeper and more meaningful journey:

1.     Do it now
2.     Ask the right questions
3.     Ensure an effective comms plan before, during and after the survey
4.     Act on the response and show you’re acting
5.     Across all teams and departments 

And finally, remember the engagement survey is not just for Christmas. Relationships are built on trust and trust is engenderer by engaging and listening not just as a one-off but ongoing.

So, don’t panic. Let’s talk.

John Tarrant is Managing Partner at We Are DNA.



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