Leaving so soon? When turnover is a good thing

Picture this: you wake up, walk from your beachside bungalow into the sea for an early morning surf. On your return, you eat breakfast, enjoying the ocean views before hopping into a nearby hammock and logging in to your laptop. This is no tropical holiday, it’s time to start work for the day.

This is the life of the digital nomad. It’s the made-for-Instagram existence that allows remote workers to travel the world while maintaining a full-time job. Some go it alone and make use of a co-living and working space, others jump aboard a digital nomad tour of the world with an operator like Remote Year.

Just five years ago it would have been hard to imagine that this life was possible. That full-time employees from companies like Accenture, Nielsen and Microsoft have travelled with Remote Year shows just how fast things are changing.

Today’s employees, especially (but not only) millennials, are open to new working paradigms. Working as a digital nomad is just one example. Another far more common example is the job-hopping trend. For millennials, this can mean changing jobs every one or two years. And while this may feel like an affront to the 40% of boomers who have worked for the same organisation for 20+ years, today it’s the norm.

As employees change their approach to the modern workplace, they expect employers to do the same. At Korn Ferry, we agree that employers need to think differently, but perhaps not in the way you think. The talent mantra has always been attract and retain. We think in the modern workplace, these two elements need to separate: attraction is one thing, retention another.

Many of today’s high performers want to come in to an organisation, work hard, make a difference and then quickly move on to the next challenge. The stronger economic environment means this talent can impose new demands that go beyond higher pay (which studies show matters less to many of them than, say, a company’s culture or purpose).

But this doesn’t mean they’ll stay. And we think, in some cases, organisations should be ok with that.

It’s understandable why companies would try to hold on to talent and limit turnover. Recruitment is expensive and constant turnover can feel disruptive. But instead of focusing on the negatives of turnover, looking to the positives can not only be liberating for organisations, it may also open up a whole new talent market.

Both the worker and the organisation have different expectations when both understand they’re entering into a short-term arrangement. This isn’t about developing your next CEO or even worrying about have a role for them in three years time. Those concerns can be shelved and the focus can instead be on maximising the individual’s impact in a transformational role. What’s more, some short-timers may even help find their replacement when they do inevitably leave, as they’re often strongly connected to their external peers.

We’re not suggesting that loyalty no longer matters or that this strategy will work for every organisation. But as organisations seek to become more agile and respond more quickly to the market, leaders need to think about new ways to manage talent to achieve these goals. And we believe that the organisations that adapt the quickest to this new paradigm will reap the talent rewards.

To learn more about the modern work cycle and the five essential principles for making it work in your organisation, read our perspective in The New Talent Game: Long Term Gains from Short Term Employees.