Are Your People Worth Fighting to Keep?

Oct 24, 2012, 12:00 ET from The Conference Board

NEW YORK, Oct. 24, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- As the economy hiccups toward recovery, organizations are panicking about losing workers. But there may be another worry—that companies won't lose employees. In The Conference Board Review® Fall 2012 cover story, "Let Your People Go," senior editor Vadim Liberman explores the potential upside to voluntary turnover. He wonders whether businesses shouldn't just tolerate more departures but actively encourage them.

Retention efforts may "tether people to your firm, but low turnover may cloak various corporate cancers," writes Liberman. "Worse, it may exacerbate them." Indeed, a turnover rate is nothing more than a number that fails to enlighten corporations about why people stay or leave. "Low turnover for the sake of low turnover is nonsensical at best and damaging at worst," says Liberman, because it ignores many other associated expenses.

Granted, Liberman doesn't suggest ignoring corporate costs related to turnover; rather, he recommends that organizations consider turnover's advantages. For instance, he writes that "we highlight the importance of retaining workers to preserve knowledge and skills but fail to acknowledge turnover's role in attracting fresh ideas, expertise, and competitive intelligence." As such, Liberman explains that targeting low turnover isn't just aiming at the wrong problem; it's not targeting a problem at all.

Yes, businesses should encourage their best people to stay, but even a top performer can outgrow her position. "When a job and a worker no longer fit together well, the best way to encourage the worker is to discourage her from staying," Liberman suggests. Then, too, companies should keep in mind that not every high performer would cause an equal loss to an organization.

In the end, Liberman advocates not setting turnover (or retention) goals, for they are arbitrary standards that ultimately prove useless to companies. Instead, corporations are better off concentrating on the drivers of turnover—engagement, training, recruiting, benefits— rather than turnover itself. "Turnover should be a non-issue," says Liberman. "Stop making it one."

"Let Your People Go"
The Conference Board Review®
Fall 2012  
About The Conference Board Review®
For more than 35 years, TCB Review has been the thought-leader magazine of The Conference Board. Founded in 1976 as Across the Board, TCB Review is a journal of ideas and opinions with a clear mission: to raise questions you hadn't necessarily thought to ask—about how to run a business in a time of uncertainty and relentless change, about a corporation's proper place in a world transformed by new attitudes and awareness, and about how corporate leaders can best serve both stockholders and stakeholders...especially when the planet itself is a stakeholder.

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