This article was updated on August 27, 2018.

The ability to access and evaluate data that can signal employee flight risk is a critical component to an organization's success. Until the past several years, however, the notion of attempting to predict which employees were considering leaving seemed far-fetched. The most organizations could do was to conduct exit interviews and try to learn from departing employees' responses.

Today, that's changing. Organizations are using software and big data to identify employees most at risk of leaving, and then using that information to develop strategies to hold onto their top performers. As a result, they're able to cut turnover and help decrease costs to both their bottom lines and to employee morale.

Retention Is as Vital as Ever

Few employers can ignore the costs associated with employee flight risk. Indeed, 40 percent of the human resource professionals responding to the Society for Human Resource Management/Globoforce 2015 Employee Recognition Survey listed employee retention and turnover as their top organizational challenge; employee engagement was a close second.

Organizations that do not use data and analytics to improve their talent management and human resource capabilities risk falling behind their peers. The Society for Human Resource Management/Economist Intelligence Unit indicates that the overwhelming majority of organizations will either begin using or increase their use of big data in HR in the coming years.

Data Signals

Currently, software can aggregate and analyze a range of data to help determine which employees may be considering other employment opportunities. This can include information about the overall organization, such as employee engagement and exit surveys, but it also includes information specific to each employee, such as their position, tenure, salary level and performance reviews. It can even go as far as looking at the employee's use of learning tools or messaging applications on the corporate network, or how highly rated their manager is.

This software may also factor in demographic and industry data, such as employment rates for different positions. Employees in high-demand roles may, not surprisingly, be more likely to leave. The software examines all this data to check for patterns that could indicate that an employee is less engaged and motivated, and therefore, at risk of leaving. Employees who make greater use of online learning tools may be more committed to the organization and more connected to their departments or teams, for example.

Forecasting Flight Risk

The results can be compelling. Deloitte used predictive analytics to help a pharmaceutical organization retain more high-performers within its China market sales force. The model considered such factors as each employee's position, span of control, salary and other distinct regional factors. It then assigned each employee a retention score. Management was able to create retention strategies for those at risk of leaving. Deloitte says the group had a 98 percent retention rate one year later.

As the Deloitte case study highlights, predictive tools are just one part of a larger overall effort to retain employees. Management also should incorporate strategies designed to entice employees to stay with the organization. That might mean providing talented employees with more advancement opportunities or projects that align with their professional goals, or using data to identify other unique perks such as day care or flexible scheduling that will truly resonate with employees.

Of course, any analysis of data relating to employees must be done with consideration of employees' rights to privacy and non-discrimination laws. Not only is this the right thing to do, but failing to respect employees' privacy could result in legal action as well as bad publicity.

Executed with the proper consideration for privacy, employers can leverage big data to determine which employees are most at risk of leaving. Armed with that intelligence, they can then act to retain their most valuable talent, improve the performance of their organization and offer employees benefits that will enhance their professional lives and satisfaction.

Tags: People Management and Growth HCM Technology Turnover and Retention Large Business Research & Insights Articles HR