The ‘Do-Nothing’ Approach to Mounting Turnover

More than 30% of professionals plan on quitting their jobs even without having another role lined up, according to a new Korn Ferry survey. But do companies have to respond?

During the hot job market over the past several months, companies have been trying nearly every tool to keep their existing employees from going somewhere else. Raises, spot bonuses, long-term bonuses, additional training, allocating more money to causes employees care about, and now, at least in one case, free college tuition. But some experts are offering a simple but head-turning idea: do nothing.

These experts are cautioning leaders that in today’s market, and as workers’ views change, no amount of additional perks or pay will stop a large number of employees from quitting. According to a new Korn Ferry survey, not only did 82% of professionals say they plan to quit their job over the next six months, but 31% of them say they’d quit even if they didn’t have another job lined up. “You probably are going to let people go and not fight to keep them,” says Andy De Marco, Korn Ferry’s vice president of human resources in the Americas.

The survey results echo a trend that’s already happening. In May, 2.5 million US employees quit their jobs. That was the second-highest number of people voluntarily leaving their jobs in any month since the federal government started tracking the statistic in 2000. The month with the most quits: a month earlier, April 2021.

The fact that there are more than 9 million open jobs in the US right now certainly has something to do with employees looking at other organizations. But the sheer number of open jobs isn’t the only factor. In the Korn Ferry survey, 36% of professionals said the number one reason they want to quit is that the pandemic allowed them to reevaluate what they really want out of work. Another 32% said they didn’t like their company’s culture. Only 25% said they wanted more salary or benefits.

In this environment, a growing number of experts are saying corporate leaders shouldn’t be focusing on trying to keep everybody, but instead target efforts on keeping the most critical of critical employees. If companies are grading employees on a bell curve, leaders need to figure out how far along that curve should they concentrate their efforts. Where that line is drawn will differ based on the industry and role.

Of course, that assumes companies have been effectively measuring the performance of employees. Prior to the pandemic, when there was nearly a decade of uninterrupted growth, some industries got “fat and happy” with the number of employees they had, says Bradford Frank, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Technology practice. These firms may have never had to be so diligent in measuring individual employee performance or, at the least, paying attention to the data they collected.

Another tactic to combat the so-called Turnover Tsunami: turning new hires into productive employees quicker. Focusing on shortening the “time to contribution” can help new recruits fill the gaps of departing employees, says Miriam Nelson, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Assessment and Succession practice. “It’s often such a huge miss,” she says of the onboarding and training process.

Finally, companies may want to reach out to former employees to see if they want to return to the organization. Traditionally, many organizations would never want to bring back employees who left, particularly the ones who went to competitors. Those days, however, may be over, especially when talent in many areas is scarce. Organizations should create alumni networks of former employees, keeping them abreast of what is going on with the company, says Juan Pablo Gonzalez, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and sector leader of the firm’s Professional Services practice.