Beth Carvin: Attention on Retention

By Raluca Manolache

Beth Carvin, the CEO of Mentor Scout and of Nobscot Corporation is an HR professional with over twenty years of experience in business management, strategy, human resources, staffing, sales and marketing. She is a nationally recognized expert on employee retention and exit interviews, and has assisted with exit interviewing strategy for large, multi-national companies, in every industry, and in over 20 countries.

Carvin was previously an HR professional and business development officer with BancWest Corporation and the managing partner of Excel Employment. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. She is a member of the Society For Human Resource.

As a nationally recognized expert on employee retention and exit interviews, what have been the recent trends with regards to voluntary turnover and young talent?
Young talent definitely poses a retention challenge.  It’s not so much because they are young, but because of the employment environment that they have grown up in.  The challenge began when the Gen X-ers decide that “job hopping” was no longer a dirty word. The job market was strong for much of the X-ers early careers. If a job was not interesting or a boss was difficult they didn’t have to stick it out.  When the X-ers became hiring authorities, they didn’t penalize job applicants for being job hoppers. Thus the concept that you should stay at your job for a reasonable length of time even if you don’t like it evaporated. A generation later, young people today don’t realize that leaving jobs after a short time used to have serious consequences.

This situation poses a real threat to organizations. Currently, with voluntary turnover at 15% – 25%, the average employee voluntary leaves every four to six years.  If this evolves to all employees leaving every one or two years that means employee turnover rates would be 50% – 100%.  The cost of turnover at these rates would be unsustainable for companies.

From your past research and expertise, what would you identify as the main factors that drive the desire for young talent to seek the path of job hopping? Alternatively, what makes today’s young workforce stay with the same employer longer?
I don’t think there are any factors other than lack of (negative) consequences for doing so.  Why would someone of any generation stay where they are unhappy if they don’t feel that they *should* stay? In my generation, we were taught that staying and being loyal, even if not particularly happy, was the responsible, ethical thing to do. If you were a person of good character, you stayed for a responsible length of time.  This was reinforced by companies only hiring people with strong work histories. 

So the challenge comes with the second part of your question. What will entice younger workers to stay if not a sense of responsibility and consequences?  The answer involves identifying and removing (or minimizing) what we call “irritations.”  Irritations are the things that bother employees enough so that when they build up (or when an employee’s tolerance is low) they cause employees to give up and seek employment elsewhere.

The tricky aspect is that you can’t just list the irritations in a news article.  Every company has their own unique irritations. In some companies it might be a complete lack of communication from management to employees, in another it might be nonsense procedures that must be followed or irritating bosses that don’t manage fairly.  To add to the challenge, not only do irritations vary from company to company, they also vary from department to department inside each company.  They vary for other groups of employees such as women and minorities, job types and so.  The key is to begin to unlock the various irritations and minimize them as best you can.  That is the single most effective way to reduce turnover.  Adding perks doesn’t work if the irritations stay.

Is there a potential connection in between retention of the younger workforce and mentoring and/or training?
One of the surprising things we have seen in exit interviews in the last five years is the request for mentoring.  In the past, employees (Baby Boomers) were not brave enough or empowered enough to even suggest that they really wanted to be mentored.  Gen X-ers were generally considered too independent to want mentoring.  Today’s younger talent get along well with their elders and are very comfortable (and desirous of) mentoring relationships.

When analyzing the effects of mentoring on mentees and mentors, one of the many positive outcomes is an increased commitment to the organization. This translates into improved employee retention.

In a very competitive global landscape, faced with financial restraints, is there true potential for future reduced voluntary turnover of young talent?
I look at it this way: employees are very excited when they accept a new position. They don’t plan on getting irritated and leaving. Most employees, young and old, would love to have a job that they continue to love throughout the years.  The problem is that managers have to deal with is the tolerance for irritations is very low.  Therefore we need to either come up with ways to increase the tolerance (bring back perks that require longevity, add consequences for job hopping) or reduce the irritations. We no longer can get away with having poor managers, difficult work shifts, lack of development, unethical behavior at the top and so on.

What kind of tools should employers in Canada adopt in order to retain a happier and more productive young workforce?
There needs to be some kind of feedback mechanism in order to identify irritations on an ongoing basis.  Unfortunately, doing a quick survey and responding to the results and then never thinking about it again only helps in the short term.  We like exit interviews because they provide a running look at exactly what drives turnover.  Current employees can provide some information on irritations but they can only guess at what will actually push them out the door.  

In terms of tools, smaller companies can use email, forms and spreadsheets to track exit interview results.  Companies with 750+ employees will benefit from using online exit interview management technology.  With this technology, employees can complete their exit interviews online and all the data is automatically available in real time.  Data is tracked and compared by various demographics so irritations can be easily identified.

Do you have any advice for today’s young workforce?
For today’s younger workforce, I would suggest that you can really make yourself a superstar by increasing your tolerance.  Senior leaders recognize employees that make the effort and commitment and care about the company as much as they do.  Every job is going to have some rough patches but generally if you work hard and do your best, the rough patches will begin to disappear as you start to make a name for yourself in the organization.  Brian Tracy, a noted sales trainer, used to say, “Work hard and you will succeed. Not work hard and you might succeed. Work hard and you will succeed.”   

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