The Reality of Staff Turnover
One of the biggest regrets of my life was turning my passion into my work.
Not writing. Dancing.
My initiation into ballroom dancing began at aged five when I first saw ‘Strictly Ballroom’. The first time I took to the dance floor, taking my first Cha Cha steps, I felt the passion swallow me. I would do anything for dance.
Before my sixteenth birthday, I became a teacher’s aid, helping younger students. By age twenty-two, I was working full time teaching adults how to dance. I thought nothing could eclipse this professional milestone. That was until the poaching.
I started at one of Melbourne’s most popular dance schools. They saw me dancing in one of their classes and asked me to teach full time. Of course, I said yes; it was my dream job. It was a marriage, and I was ready to commit for life.
That was until I survived my first day.
I shook the hand of Sandra, one of my new colleagues. “Oh, so you’re the new girl. Which one is that now?”
I looked at her, puzzled. “What one now?”
“Do you know how many people have come and gone from here in the last year? The school has stopped putting our photos on the website because it’s too hard to update.” Her exasperated expression told an obvious story. “I give you six months, tops.”
At the end of a meeting, some weeks later, I asked my boss what happened to all the staff before me. Mrs Dance Perfect, I called her that mockingly, because she hadn’t taught a dance class in her life.
“Well, this one became pregnant. And they poached this one. Oh, and that other guy left because she had a fight with one of my team.” Soon I hear the excuse for every departure.
“How many staff have actually left?”
Mrs Dance Perfect couldn’t tell me. She couldn’t produce a number. For the next six months, I watched as four staff left, and one ‘retired’ from dancing.
I witnessed my transformation into bitter Sandra. I felt the sting of wanting to quit every day. I desperately wanted out from this toxic workplace.
I knew it would not get any better. How did I know this?
Because this wasn’t the first, or last, workplace I’d worked for that churned through staff like toilet paper. Nor was the first delusional business owner I devoted my efforts to.
Mrs Dance Perfect would scratch her head and wonder why her staff were ungrateful. Why they left her ‘perfect’ workplace. But if she asked her staff, we would have told her the following:
Staff won’t don’t trust the people they work for will quit. Yet, trust is a fickle thing. It requires earning between employer and employee, and it fluctuates with circumstance. However, the staff put a lot of trust in you that they will be able to:
- Speak their mind without consequence
- Make suggestions without ridicule
- Come to work in a physically safe environment
- Come to work in a mentally safe environment
- Ask for things (anywhere from time off to a new stapler) and have the request considered
We put a lot of measures in place to make sure we can trust our staff. Cameras, security checks, time clocks. I remember the day she implemented hour by hour timesheets, to account for every class. To account for every toilet break. If I needed to clean my dance shoes, I had to scribe it and justify it to her.
Staff have no way of controlling or measuring trust with their bosses. So when they don’t feel like the trust is there, an immeasurable feeling, they leave.
Respect and trust often go hand in hand. Staff will rarely tell you that they don’t feel respected. But they will show you with their actions.
They will stop listening to your directives. They will stop coming to you for advice. They won’t say anything about you, positive or negative.
Unrespected and trustless staff shut down.
Increased sick days are one of your biggest warning signs of unhappy staff. Unless they have a medical condition, regular, unexplainable sick days are indicators the staff don’t want to be there. The more they take, the more you should worry, both for the individual and as a collective of staff.
For all the staff who’ve left a job for a ‘better opportunity’, or an ‘offer they couldn’t refuse’, the issue comes down to your workplace. You aren’t offering them the opportunities they’re tempted with elsewhere.
Opportunity comes in many forms outside of the classic promotion. Opportunities within a business could be:
- Chance to learn new skills
- Chance to advance their formal education — diplomas, degrees, etc.
- Chance to be a part of change and development within the business
- Chance to experience valued facets of business life — business trips, conferences, launches
- Chance to meet and expand their network in the industry
These opportunities are especially important if you don’t have a hierarchy they can move through. Smaller businesses must be more creative with their opportunities.
Promotions in a small dance school didn’t exist. Given more classes to teach wasn’t a reward, but a chore. Each week training was scheduled yet rarely completed. I didn’t come away with better dance skills after I eventually quit. There were students who knew more than me.
Breaking promises with opportunities can be as worse as not offering them at all. The promise of weekly training I salivated over. When something better came along, when training fell by the waist side, my disappointment grew.
If we pretend people work for the love of the job, we’re delusional. We all need to pay our bills, feed our children, and earn enough to create a future.
Businesses who lose staff rarely know how to value their staff with a fair pay structure. How people are paid varies so much, so it’s essential if you want to keep your staff, it’s best to:
- Pay according to industry standards
- Offer worthwhile incentives or commission to motivate staff
- Pay on time — never leave your staff without pay
- Offer reliable pay increases or structures to earn pay increases
- Offer reliable and worthwhile insurance and superannuation benefits
- Be willing to negotiate pay
Money becomes a sensitive issue for a lot of staff. Some don’t want to address pay issues and will suffer in silence. Some will quit and never tell you how badly they thought they were getting paid.
The school became short of teachers for a few months, and every day someone asked me to complete over-time. I asked if there would be any extra pay. Mrs Dance Perfect scolded me, told me I was being selfish for asking. Apparently, I should do over-time “for the love of dance”.
Also, the right pay structure can be tricky to formulate. You need to balance profit and loss, along with industry standards. Remember that your pay structure is fluid and your staff measure their worth to it. If you underpay them, they feel undervalued. And if you want them to work more than contractually obligated, pay them.
Staff and management not getting along isn’t a new thing. But why they don’t get along is often a combination of trust issues, respect, lacking opportunity and pay. What these factors don’t address is leadership.
Your staff wants your leadership. They want you to set tasks; they want to follow your guidance; they want to learn from you. But they will leave a job if they feel rudderless. If they feel the person flying the plane doesn’t know how to pilot.
Mrs Dance Perfect was a holiday fanatic. Every three months she would take a month off and go on holiday. She wouldn’t answer emails, nor would she outline what the team focus was whilst she was away.
Staff want to be proud about where they work, and if their leaders let them down, they’re out. Regardless of how good you are at the mechanics of the business, you need to learn leadership. For example, you could be the best accountant in the world, yet it doesn’t mean you can lead a team of accountants.
What It Is Rarely
It’s easy to blame many external factors for why your staff leave. Yet, so many of these factors are not the reason your staff leave. They are the excuses you tell yourself to feel better about them leaving.
Rarely staff leave because of personal issues with other colleagues. Or the customers they have to deal with. Nor do they leave because they have a poor work ethic and the job is too hard for them. They leave because the job isn’t worth staying for.
The most alarming staff turnover stories are the ones where staff leave without another job lined up. They are more willing to starve and lose the roof over their head than work for you. Sandra left without her next job ready to go. I left a month after her.
Staff Turnover Is One Of The Greatest Indicators Of Success
Profit, sales, revenue, growth are all concepts we understand. These are measurable numbers. Yet, staff turnover is too, so why don’t we measure it in the same way? Why aren’t we valuing why our staff leave?
Because to evaluate this aspect of the business would be to reflect on elements of our business that we can’t easily measure. These elements are morale, respect, enthusiasm, and passion. But, despite not being able to measure them doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable qualities to improve.
On behalf of all current and disgruntled staff, please stop ignoring your staff turnover.
Staff don’t quit amazing jobs. They only quit jobs worth leaving.
Your staff are the bones of your business. Keep them happy and they won’t quit.
If a staff member quits, it’s your fault. And as the business owner, you’re accountable for every loss.
I’m Ellen McRae, writer by trade and passionate storyteller by nature. I write about figuring about love, relationships, and personal future. Self-confessed learner of things the hard way!