Why do good employees leave?

A new company launched recently hopes to help HR departments better understand why employees leave.

Thinking of quitting your current job? Greg Weiss wants to know why.

Replacing you, after all, could cost your employer up to three times your current salary -- which makes it unsurprising that Weiss' market research found that 80 percent of CEOs see employee retention as a strategic priority. That fact alone, believes long-time HR consultant Weiss, should spell big things for Keep Retention Scorecard, a Web-based interface to a steadily growing database of detail about what Weiss euphemistically calls EIS (employee initiated separation) -- cases where employees walk out the door of their own volition.

In extensive interviews with HR directors at 30 companies -- ranging from James Hardie and Unilever to Ernst & Young, Minter Ellison, St George Bank and Australian National Credit Union -- Weiss found that most companies have little real understanding of why employees leave.

High EIS rates often indicate endemic problems with retention policies, but HR directors have traditionally lacked the detailed information necessary to develop strategies for fighting brain drain -- or even to understand how their experience ranks within their industry.

Some industries publicise overall turnover rates, but they're not much help if a company is trying to benchmark a specific part of its business. For example, Company A might have lower-than-normal turnover in its sales division but high attrition in its call centre operation, while Company B could have the opposite situation in place. Using broad industry-based measures, both companies might seem to be right on target with their peers, masking their individual areas of weakness.

KEEP's scorecard standardises the combined knowledge gleaned from exit interviews, with the ten most common reasons for EISes paired with demographic information such as leavers' age, gender, and length of service. The system, powered by HR metrics engine InfoHRM, lets subscribers contribute anonymised information about their EISes; in return, they can run queries against regularly updated data, which can be sliced and diced to better understand who is leaving the company and why.

This information, Weiss believes, can help companies better focus efforts to stem the loss of skilled people. "In the past, companies haven't been comparing apples with apples," he explains. "Turnover might be 30 percent, but they couldn't compare that with companies that don't have the same types of internal operations. Instead of lumping organisations into meaningless generalisations, we wanted to help companies dive deep into the statistics to benchmark themselves in more meaningful ways."

The scorecard lets companies find out which demographic groups most frequently leave certain kinds of jobs, for example, or whether a disproportionately high rate of female EISes suggests, for example, a lack of family-friendly employment options.

Data is classified by job function and industry, so subscribers can run queries on specific parts of the market. The names of the companies providing queried data are available, but individual elements of the pooled data are not tied to any specific company. This approach lets subscribers choose with whom they are compared, without compromising potentially sensitive HR information.

As a combined online/offline service, KEEP offers a range of consulting services and employee retention programs such as outsourced exit interviews, 'storytelling' techniques for corporate message communication, and alumni management (fully 80 percent of HR managers, Weiss says, see value in outsourcing exit interviews because they feel employees may be more honest with a third party).

Alumni management, a customer relationship management service, reflects what Weiss says is a growing trend for companies to keep in touch with ex-employees throughout their new careers -- potentially reducing the cost of attracting new talent down the road. Combined with the "credible data" offered by the Keep Retention Scorecard, Weiss hopes to convince HR managers that sharing their employees' pain is the best way to minimise it.

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