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Want to Reduce Turnover? Engage New Hires

New hires account for more than half of talent turnover. Retaining this group means letting go of assumptions and using the engaging power of learning and development.
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If there’s anyone leaving an organization, there’s a decent chance they’re a new hire. Learning leaders can play a key role in helping to extinguish some assumptions about this employee group and boost its retention rate in the process.

Last year, of all the employees who left their jobs, more than 50 percent of them did so within their first year at the organization, Equifax reported. Maybe these new hires get some introductory onboarding their first week, are shown around the office, get introduced to their colleagues and receive some basic training, but engagement greatly diminishes after that, said Elissa Tucker, research program manager at the nonprofit human resources research organization APQC.

“Then the daily demands of work kick in,” she said. She said it’s not that talent managers are intentionally leaving newbies to fend for themselves, it’s just retention efforts are more often focused on long-tenure employees — proven high performers who have an established understanding of the organization. That makes sense, but this innocent oversight can produce unnecessary rehiring expenses and be a drain on the engagement and productivity of the employees left behind.

Tucker attributes the lack of strategy around engaging and retaining new hires to several misconceptions about the employee group that she said a targeted learning and development strategy can help address.

  1. New hires aren’t so much engaged as they are excited to get to work. Citing an observation by Don MacPherson, president and co-founder of Modern Survey, about employee engagement, Tucker said new hires don’t arrive at organizations as engaged employees; they join as enthusiastic employees. This assumption can cause a misstep leading an organization’s talent management to believe they have a grace period before they ramp up retention efforts for this group. This is problematic, considering the importance of a hire’s first year with a company. “It lays the foundation for that employee to be retained,” she said. “If you can’t engage them in the first year, it’s going to be really hard to go back and correct that.”
  1. New hires are likely job hoppers. It’s easy for employers to be skeptical about rolling out a retention strategy for new hires if the assumption is that they’re going to be leave sooner rather than later anyway. However, not every employee is like that, Tucker said. If employees are leaving, they’re often interested in staying employable, which suggests they’re not getting the growth and development experiences they need from their current employer. Even if organizations do have some job hoppers on their hands, it still benefits the organization to make sure new hires have a positive experience. They may talk about those experiences to the external marketplace.
  1. Retention is about compensation. Compensation issues are a key reason employees leave, but after that, Tucker said a need to seek learning and growth opportunities ranks high.
  1. It’s easy — inexpensive — to replace new hires. Rehiring is costly, especially to replace more experienced employees, which is an incentive to make sure they’re engaged. But new hires? They haven’t built the relationships or established the same legacy of learning in the organization that their more tenured colleagues have built.But “unless you have a true mishire, then it really is cheaper to work and retain them and lay that foundation in the first year,” Tucker said. Companies need only consider the administrative costs associated with a separating employee, of recruiting and hiring someone, training that new employee and the loss of productivity because of under staffing and the shifting of the old employee’s work to their colleagues.
  1. New hire development means employee time away from the work they were hired to do. Tucker said it’s tempting for organizations to dismiss new hire training as a luxury the company can’t afford. But manager support can help with on-the-job training, continuous feedback and access to knowledge portals, for example. Employees can make contributions to the organization right away, and development can be structured in ways that don’t take them away from their job.“The cost of rehiring is really expensive, and the cost of retaining employees by investing in learning and development during that first year doesn’t have to be overly expensive,” Tucker said.

Learning leaders are in a perfect position to play a key role in engagement strategies for new hires. They can support these employees, their managers and coworkers with the learning and development experiences needed that first year that are crucial to retention later. Further, learning leaders can educate others in the organization about learning’s value to engage and retain new hires.

Tucker said learning leaders can identify training, learning and career development goals for first-year employees; examine how to make accomplishing these goals easy; and design a process so that new employees can go through learning interventions efficiently and effectively.

After that, she said, the learning leader can continue educating managers, new hires and co-workers on their role in the process, driving home how important engagement is to retention. True, onboarding extends past a weeklong initiative; it can’t rest with talent management and create a significant effect. “HR can design a great system, but everyone plays a role in making the system effective.”

To promote a culture that supports this kind of strategy, learning leaders can empower managers to take a more strategic role in employee engagement by teaching them how to provide on-the-job training, or guide managers on how to teach new employees to use online networking systems or the company’s knowledge portal. Learning leaders also can coach managers and hold them accountable for having key conversations throughout their employee’s first year about development and performance, plans for improvement as needed and plans for the future.

Tucker said overlooking new employee engagement is costly if left unaddressed. Getting past increased rehiring expenses, what’s probably more detrimental is the toll a lack of a new hire engagement strategy will have on the existing workforce. Work quality will go down. Employee engagement will go down. Productivity can, and will, be lost.

“Those are really serious consequences,” Tucker said. “That becomes a much bigger problem to address and change and much more expensive and much more time consuming than if you invest up front in helping your new employees.”

Bravetta Hassell is a Chief Learning Officer associate editor. Comment below, or email editor@clomedia.com.

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