HR clinic: Ask your staff why they are leaving

Although we believe we're paying good salaries, our staff turnover is far higher than we'd like. What can be done about this?

How do you know that the salaries are good? Have you compared them with those of your main competitors, or with market data (publications such as Croner's Charity Rewards are particularly helpful)?

When you advertise for posts, do you receive a good number of applications?

Have your staff been pressing for pay rises or other extra rewards?

Let's assume that you're paying at least the median for comparable posts elsewhere, and that it's therefore fair to say that money isn't what's causing your problem. What other considerations should you take into account?

Few opportunities for promotion

The next question I'd ask you is this: what level of turnover do you expect? In the voluntary sector, unless you're lucky enough to work for one of the few really big charities, the chances of internal promotion are pretty slim.

So people naturally tend to move between organisations rather than up through the ranks, and that creates a natural level of turnover. I think you have reason to worry only if your level of staff turnover is much higher than 25 per cent, because most people tend to stay in a job for three to four years on average.

If you really have got a problem, ask your staff what's causing it. Organise exit interviews for everyone who leaves your organisation: they're more likely to be honest with you at that point, when they've nothing to lose.

Make staff feel valued

But don't rely for information exclusively on those who are going; your remaining staff are precious to you and need to know that you care about them. So ask for their opinions, too. They may be reluctant to come forward at first, but if you can gain their confidence through effective consultation mechanisms, they may well start to volunteer information.

Any number of problems might come to light: poor and inconsistent management, poor working conditions, inadequate communications, staff not feeling valued and so on. Don't argue when you hear things, even if you disagree: it's what people really feel.

These are all things that you can do something about, and act you must (within reason) or the problems will continue. In that case, your trustees may well come to think that the next example of turnover could be your post.

• Send your HR questions to personnelsolutions@btopenworld.com.

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