Retain Employees. Manage Turnover. Which Is It?
Okay…while not a pure play contrarian, I’m finding myself reacting less than enthusiastically to all the talk on employee retention that has been hitting the airwaves lately—apparently the hot topic in the staffing world. For me, the mandate that companies do what is necessary to retain their high value talent is HR 101. So when I read all the hoopla on the value of retention, I want to make sure our readers also hear the other side of the story—that for some jobs, the goal can’t always be about reducing turnover/improving retention, but needs to be more about better managing the turnover they have—smartly, proactively!
MANAGED TURNOVER is a different sort of staffing strategy that I believe has a legitimate place in any hiring manager’s arsenal of staffing options.
Most (but not all) of the MANAGED TURNOVER staffing models we put together for our clients are developed in response to scenarios involving what we call High Impact/Low Appeal (HI/LA) jobs! You know those jobs—ranging from that pesky front office job that was crafted from all the work no one wants to do, to the folks in your warehouse doing that boring, repetitive assembly type work that no one could pay you enough to do. No matter how great the manager’s motivational skills or generous the company’s pay programs, the nature of HI/LA work lends itself to workforce issues—increases in absenteeism, accident rates, and other workplace mischief that makes HR shutter. Sooner or later most HI/LA jobs suffer from high levels of voluntary or involuntary turnover, directly impacting team or company performance.
When asked to find employees for HI/LA jobs, one of the first things we explore is the option of ending the uphill battle for retention, and replacing it with a staffing model involving a strategically rotating group of temporary workers. Here’s why:
- New temporary workers can come to HI/LA jobs fresh, ready to perform at high levels when their motivation to meet a new challenge is at its highest.
- Temporary workers are easily rotated out of HI/LA jobs when the work is no longer new; the employee is no longer fresh.
- Turnover (for the client) goes away, replaced by assignment starts and ends,
- …as does the costs and hassle of recruiting and vetting new employees. That work is shifted to a third party staffing agency.
MANAGED TURNOVER programs are built around statistically measured cycles of performance that exist for all jobs, all employees. While specific timelines and measurement units (ex. productivity, attendance, etc.) vary, each employee’s performance in an HI/LA job usually comes out in some version of a bell shaped curve. When the employee is new, they are motivated to learn and fit in with the team. Productivity increases until the newness wears off and the signs of boredom or discontent start to surface in the form of issues with attendance, carelessness, and other forms of worker misconduct.
The goal of a MANAGED TURNOVER staffing model is to optimize the number of workers in the earliest, most productive, stages of the performance cycle, while systematically cycling out employees just before they start into the downward cycle. When done proactively, the employee’s temporary assignment begins and ends at predetermined times, most correlated with optimized worker performance.
One of the important benefits of a MANAGED TURNOVER staffing model is that it side steps all the negativity embedded in a core employee staffing model applied to HI/LA jobs. Employers no longer spend time outlining their defense of a decision to terminate a core employee. Employees no longer struggle with a job that is no longer challenging. Assignments begin and end in accordance with a custom designed staffing plan based on the performance cycle typical of that particular job or workforce. Minimal hassle, minimal complication. The heavy lifting of replacing departing employees is assigned to a third party staffing agency, reducing if not eliminating internal recruiting costs.
Another side benefit of a MANAGED TURNOVER staffing model is that your temporary workforce becomes an always-available pool of candidates for hire. As all hiring managers know, when it’s time to hire the ramp up time, costs to find, screen and hire a new employee can be significant. And there is no guarantee that who your hire will work out. Having a large number of auditioning workers continuously available for hire allows employers to hire in a timely way, selecting only the very best to become a part of their core team, reducing the costs and disruption of hiring errors.
Not to worry, a MANAGED TURNOVER model doesn’t mean your entire workforce becomes “temps.” Depending on the work to be performed, there are identifiable ratios of core and non-core workers that optimize overall performance. Too many temps and stability suffers. Too many core workers and your operational costs will eat away at your bottom line during your less busy periods. Ratios of temp to core workers can range anywhere from 10-15% to a high of 85-90%, depending on your business cycles and the nature of the work.
Here are two examples where one of our PSN partnership teams implemented “managed turnover” staffing models that improved worker outputs, dramatically reduced recruiting costs, and/or improved overall team performance and morale:
Some of our earliest converts to a managed turnover staffing model were call center clients who were hiring large numbers of entry level employees for service roles. One particular call center was facing a serious issue with first year turnover which was both increasing their internal recruiting costs, while also impacting service levels.
1. In partnership with our client’s HR team, our call center recruiters augmented the client’s recruiting team, reducing our client’s internal recruiting costs. We worked in partnership to implement a uniform staffing process where all employees, sourced either by the client or our own recruiting teams, were screened and onboarded in the same way. All new call center reps were employed by PACE during the first 90-days of their employment.
This “audition period” allowed employees who were unable to meet the client’s expectations to be systematically removed from their assignment so that at the end of the audition period, the client offered employment only to those employees who were able to meet the full scope of their expectations. Those not measuring up were either given an extended “audition” period or their assignment was ended. Using this “managed turnover” staffing model in effect transferring most of the first 180-days of turnover to PACE, the client’s first year turnover rates were cut in half. Employees whose assignments were ended during the audition period became available to be placed on other PACE assignments, better suited to their personality or skill sets.
2. A second example is provided by one of our large healthcare clients who were experiencing turnover, attendance and workplace injury issues in their laundry area. After viewing the work, it was easy to see the classic HI/LA profile—physically demanding, repetitive, and ultimately boring work.
While the client initially asked us to help them improve their hiring outcomes (i.e. reduce turnover), our recommendation was that they focus instead on better managing the turnover we suspected was there to stay.
With the client’s guidance, we implemented a MANAGED TURNOVER staffing model. As each core employee left we replaced them with a temporary employee, whose assignment varied in length depending on our client’s anticipated needs. The employer’s workforce was soon “mostly temps” who were hired for specific work performed for a specified time period—and were oriented and managed accordingly.
The PSN partnership team set up a performance management system which, with our client’s help, was used to manage the employee’s performance. When an employee started to fall below defined standards, PACE, not the client, invested its recruiting resources to find a replacement candidate.
For this client, the MANAGED TURNOVER staffing model delivered a level of orderliness and predictability to their staffing process they hadn’t experienced in the past. It eliminated the negative impact of unexpected turnover, as well as taking away the pressure on their internal recruiting teams to staff a high turnover workforce. For our temporary employees, it provided them with assurance that when their assignment ended, their performance would earn them the opportunity to be placed elsewhere.
Workplace injuries were reduced by cycling temps in and out of the performance cycle, avoiding the burnout that had been a contributing factor to both attendance and workplace accidents.
Obviously this MANAGED TURNOVER staffing model can’t be applied to all jobs and all work environments. And even if you determine that one of the HI/LA jobs you manage would lend itself to a MANAGED TURNOVER staffing model, there are some basics that need to be in place:
The Right Staffing Partner. A staffing agency who only knows how to recruit people is not the partner you need to implement a MANAGED TURNOVER staffing model. Look for an agency who knows how to address productivity issues, has tools and systems in place to help you manage employees, and can bring you ideas about how to implement a managed turnover staffing plan. Look for a staffing partner as interested in solving your operating challenge as you are.
The Right Financial Model. You will need to keep your CFO aware of what you are doing and why as you will be purposefully expanding your budget for temporary staffing while decreasing the monies you spend on high cost core staff.
While the per hour costs of temps and core employees is almost identical (by the time you factor in all the regulatory and benefit costs of core employees), depending on how your company organizes its budgets and expense allocations, the costs of these two different types of employees can end up in different places on your financial reports and may trigger questions from “up the chain.” You will likely need at least one senior manager on your team who understands the shift you are making in how you are doing “staffing,” and why.
The Right Mindset. Most of the MANAGED TURNOVER staffing models we implement with clients tend to migrate into very objective, data driven, staffing processes. Even though you are no longer managing core employees, the need for clear performance standards, transparent metrics, and fair administration does not go away!
This article was written by Jeanne Knutzen, the founder and CEO of the PACE Staffing Network. The PSN partnership teams are well versed in a variety of flexible staffing strategies, including MANAGED TURNOVER programs. For a complimentary consultation on what flexible workforce recruiting and staff strategies might work in your organization, contact us via our InfoDesk at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 425-637-3312.