The Push-me Pull-you of Turnover

In our Ebook, “Preventing Regrettable Turnover,” Dr. Scott Brooks explained how an employee’s choice to resign has three contributing factors: The “push” of dissatisfaction that makes an employee want to leave, the “friction” or stickiness factors that cause someone to stay, and the “pull” from a new organization that is offering something better. The mythical “Push-me Pull-you” of Dr. Dolittle fame is emblematic of the competing directions and motivations that drive the stay or go decision. This past August, more people than ever quit their jobs in a month, especially in the hospitality and food service industries. “The Great Resignation,” as it’s being called in the media, is a real concern and threat to businesses. Yet fully understanding the three factors surrounding resignation decisions can better prepare organizations to respond well.

First, there is the push away from an organization.

This tends to center around general unhappiness with one’s future and current working conditions, the effectiveness by which the organization operates, or the treatment received from either customers or leadership within the organization. Less often, but still a factor, there may be issues around coworkers or equity of pay and benefits. The pandemic may have exacerbated these issues; for example, pay that felt appropriate before 2020 might now feel meager given the additional workloads or stresses people face, especially by those deemed essential workers. Our data indicates that stress is at an all-time high for workers. Some argued that the worker shortage that some industries are experiencing would go away once additional federal unemployment benefits ceased. In general, that has not been the case; this suggests a lack of understanding around the motivating push out as well as what pulls are required to attract workers.

Next, there’s the friction.

Several sources of friction that typically prevent workers from easily changing jobs have been reduced or eliminated in the last few years. During the quarantine, many people relocated out of cities or switched to remote working environments and realized they don’t need to be tied to a particular location for a job. The uncertainty of finding another job is also reduced in a hot job market. Many people both started and quit jobs during the pandemic without ever stepping foot in an office and meeting people in person.

Lastly, there’s the pull.

After almost two years of hardship, many are looking to metaphorically and literally “turn-the-page” by starting somewhere and perhaps something new. Often, people want a position that is seemingly aligned with personal values, and that allows them to cope with the ongoing current challenges in their life. For some occupations that experienced greater-than-normal toxicity such as food service, hospitality, nursing or health aids, and more, they are looking for a job that gets them away from the abuse and stress that they are experiencing.

Organizations need to take note of these changes.

As we described in a recent blog, there has been a dramatic social shift as a result of the pandemic that will cause lasting change. Creating an environment that is positive and productive for employees matters, and there are some concrete steps organizations can take to address each of the three components that drive turnover:

  1. To diminish the push, organizations must re-evaluate pay levels and consider other benefits that meet the current needs of a stressed workforce such as leaves of absence, temporary 4-day workweeks, flex schedules, and work-from-anywhere policies. Organizations can and should fire customers that abuse staff, making sure employees know you are doing so and by recognizing that the mantra “the customer is always right,” no longer applies in some situations. Create a safety zone in the workplace, with practices and procedures that help keep staff healthy and safe; this might wind up being a huge reason for people to stay. Note that amenities like onsite dry cleaning, food service and other concierge service are not drivers of satisfaction. Provide options within the workplace that create peace of mind. For instance, if someone has a vulnerable person in their household, provide needed accommodations. Have someone check-in with all staff regularly, whether it is through phone calls by a counselor, a supervisor, or a mental health expert. Use your employee survey as a means of both taking the pulse on how your employees are managing while also showing people that you care by staying in touch and listening. Make sure surveys prompt action and two-way conversations.
  2. Friction sounds like a bad thing, but it’s not. Done right, the friction will hopefully outweigh any push the employee is feeling. Some organizations use vesting schedules on 401ks, stock options, or an accruing amount of vacation to keep employees from wanting to leave. Think of other options, appropriate to your environment, that make it difficult to walk-away. Training opportunities, special assignments, visibility to senior staff, mentoring, tuition reimbursement, or the ability to be engaged in solving work place issues are all ways to entice people to stay. When people feel invested in a company’s success, they want to see things through. Plus, people have a strong tendency towards loss-aversion; many find it difficult to walk away from something if it makes them feel like they are giving something up by doing so.
  3. And lastly, recognize the pull to other organizations. It can always be tricky to compete against an imagined, “grass-is-always-greener” hypothetical new position, but it’s not impossible. Sell your organization to your current staff. Treat them as though you are recruiting them, because in this moment, you are constantly recruiting them to stay. Create a sense of forward momentum, which is just as important, if not more important, than absolute level of performance. To do this, it’s critical that you actually achieve great things, otherwise cynicism and a lack of trust in management will develop and your turnover issues will be worse than before. You can’t simply play-act your way to greatness; you must actually take actions that make you and your organization great.

Not sure how you are measuring up against the Push, Friction, and Pull?

An employee survey that taps into issues of retention can help, especially in conjunction with lifecycle surveys linked to census or pulse surveys. OrgVitality’s integrated survey platforms can help. Contact us to find out how.


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