Getting Talent Retention Right: How to Figure Out What Causes Turnover?

Why are people leaving your organization?

Once you understand your data, then it's time to investigate what is causing turnover at your organization.

After you have determined your turnover rates, benchmarked your organization against others, and dug deeper into your data to better understand where problems are, it's time to investigate what causes turnover.

"Data is very good at finding patterns and uncovering things we may not otherwise be able to see," explains Ahu Yildirmaz, vice president and co-head of the ADP Research Institute. "But, finding patterns, trends and correlations in data often won't tell you what is causing the results. Data gives us valuable clues and helps us ask the right questions. Then, we usually need to do further investigation and testing to understand causation."

When you see turnover issues in your organization and you have identified where they are specifically, it would be great to have a data scientist to start creating models to test different factors, or a business anthropologist to help you ask better questions, or a behavioral economist to provide insights into why people are making the decision to leave. (Did you know ADP has all of these people helping develop and guide their products and services?) But most organizations have to figure it out on their own.

Here's where to start to determine what causes turnover in your organization:

1. Ask people why they left. What information is available through exit surveys? Have you sent out a follow up request for information a few months after someone leaves? Sometimes people's perspectives change after a transition and they have clearer insights into what was going on with themselves and the organization that caused them to leave.

2. Ask people why they came. We often focus on why people leave, but it's also essential to understand why new employees chose your organization. During onboarding, ask what made people decide to take the job. Survey key issues such as compensation, benefits, perks, opportunities for growth, and whether they were referred by someone who works there. Then ask open-ended questions like, "What are you most excited about?" and "What was the biggest factor in accepting the offer?"

3. Ask people why they stay. This will change over time and it will vary widely by person. So, you are not looking for data to track. You want clues about what is working and why. Also, pay attention to variations in the answers to why people come, go and stay.

4. Find out what people are saying externally about your organization. Check Glassdoor reviews, articles online and comments on social media. Unhappy people often complain. While it's important to take negative comments with a grain of salt, it's also good to ask: What if it's true? Then go find out by sending pulse surveys or doing interviews with the groups having turnover issues.

5. Find out what's going on with your competitors. When people leave, they usually go work somewhere else. Understand who is hiring your former employees and why they choose to go there. Glassdoor reviews and online information is helpful here, too. There is also competitive intelligence available in benchmarking data (such as ADP® DataCloud) to see how your competitors differ from you in compensation, time to promotion and even reasons for turnover.

When you have a clearer picture of what's really going on, assess the reliability of what you learned and whether it is something you want to or can do anything about.

Here are some useful questions to ask when assessing the possible causes of turnover that you discover:

1. What are the causes of the turnover we are seeing?

2. What information supports each potential cause?

3. What information contradicts each potential cause?

4. In considering the supporting and contradicting information, what is the most likely cause?

5. What more do we need to learn?

6. How can we find out?

7. Are these causes something we can control or are they outside of our control?

8. Who has the most influence to change this issue (employee, organization, or both)?

9. Is this something we can realistically improve?

10. Does addressing this issue work with our overall business strategy?

11. Can we get leadership buy-in and the resources we need to make the change?

For example, if you have information that turnover is related to a new leader coming into a division, look at past turnover rates in specific divisions when new leaders have come in. It's likely that they are higher for a short while, then settle back down as people use this as an opportunity to make a change or the leader brings in new people for her team. This is probably something you want to wait and see if it settles out before taking any further action.

If you learn that people are leaving because the organization is growing rapidly and there are too many changes to people, tools and processes for employees to adapt, then figure out where the biggest problems are and see what can be stabilized.

Each cause will usually require a custom solution. Some may be temporary or just not possible to fix. And turnover can also be a symptom of larger issues. So, watch your data, investigate, and then assess what you learn to guide you toward the right strategy.

Get the ADP report now: Getting Your Retention Strategy Right.

Read our Getting Talent Retention Right series:


Understanding Retention

Do You Have a Retention Problem?

Common Causes of Voluntary Turnover

What Can You Do to Improve Retention?

What Data to Track