Focus: People Management - Coaching session with Stephen Bubb

Q: Our staff turnover seems to be very high. Should I be worried about this?

That depends. Did you know that turnover in the London economy is running at 20 per cent? There is a real danger that people quote turnover statistics and draw quite unfounded conclusions from them. After all, what is 'high'?

In my view, turnover at nil per cent is a sign of an organisation with sclerotic arteries. Turnover is good. Staff should move on in their careers.

We are not in the public sector, where some people still seem to think a 'jobs-for-life' culture is right.

All organisations need good development policies that encourage staff to think seriously about their careers. There is no hard and fast rule on this. In private industry, apparently, people either move on or move up to a promoted post about once every three years. I think this is probably too short a period, particularly for more senior posts.

Again, you need to distinguish 'good' turnover from 'bad' turnover. I am sure we've all experienced situations in which we've been secretly pleased when someone has announced they are moving on. You think "thank goodness; that saves me having to sack them". And if people are leaving after an appropriate period of time to develop their careers, this is good. You hardly want people hanging around for 10 years or so.

You need to be more worried if good, talented staff are staying only for short periods of time. Unfortunately, they might not actually tell you the real reasons they're leaving, but it's worth thinking about what could be making them go.

First, terms and conditions: are your pay rates comparable to those of competitors? If you can't pay high salaries, are your conditions reasonable?

Second, working conditions: are staff generally happy in the organisation?

Is there a good atmosphere at work? Is the office pleasant and well-sited for transport links?

Third, management systems: is there a problem with a manager? Sometimes people are happy in a job but simply don't get on with their manager.

Fourth, recruitment methods: appointing the right person is crucial.

If you make a bad recruitment decision you will live to regret it and the person concerned may not stay long. Don't let prospective employees think everything is rosy if there are problems. Be honest from the start.

Fifth, career development: have your people got room to grow? Do you support their professional development?

Do you have exit interviews with staff who leave? In some cases this might not be appropriate, but it can be worth using the opportunity to discuss the general impressions of those who are going.

So my general view is that staff turnover is good for organisations, but you don't want it turning into a flood.

- Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo).

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