Staff Turnover

Dear Management Doctor: 

Thank you for your management ideas and training that you provide to our profession. I have a situation that I hope that you can help with. 

I work for a mid-sized community/county of 75,000 people located mid-point between four metropolitan areas of 700,000 people each. We have a staff of five positions in the department. Due to the community needs and our staff size, our personnel receive excellent experience working on a variety of planning areas. The issue that we face is that the average staff member typically leaves after two years for a similar position in one of the larger neighboring communities making more money. Exit interviews and conversations with these individuals show a similar response – they left employment with our county because of the disparity between salary levels. The individuals enjoyed their jobs, enjoyed their responsibilities and love their community, even to the point of continuing to live in our community and commute an hour or more one way. When asked if they were to make a similar amount of money in their old position, their response is that they would come back to work with us immediately. 

I have discussed this matter with our administrator and personnel director and have shown them our department's personnel history from the last ten years. The facts are glaring – we train individuals, provide them with terrific experience, they build their resume and then they leave for a higher salary. Our administration then delays the hiring process for up to six months in order to save money which causes delays in workload and places extra workload on the remaining few staff members. Our last employee left true to form and I had another “here we are again” meeting with the administrator and personnel director. In that meeting the administrator said that our county needed to accept the fact that we are a training ground for planners and I should feel honored with my role as a planning educator. I don’t believe that that is our department’s role or my sole role. I believe that our community deserves the best personnel that can provide the best service to our citizens. If that means we pay an extra $10,000 to retain an employee that we have invested time and money into, we save money in the long run by not training three other people in the short term. 

The question that I have is, how do I change this perception? Do I accept our administrator’s viewpoint or do I continue to bang the drum for salary reevaluation for our existing and future staff? How do I make our leadership understand that we can accomplish more, provide better service, improve morale, and save money by retaining our best and brightest staff members? This issue has made me question my 15 year loyalty to my employer and consider employment with another agency.

Any thoughts from you and your readership would be greatly appreciated!  

Thank you!
Steve the Planning Director

Dear Steve,

Great questions. I have a number of thoughts and suggestions.

  1. Turnover Data - Make certain you have the turnover statistics well documented over many years and presented in a clear and succinct. As a rule of thumb, I suggest turnover should be no more than 10% per year or less. It may be useful to get the same data for other city departments and some of your competitor cities. If your turnover rate is substantially higher than the other city departments, it will suggest that a salary survey is needed.
  2. Training/Turnover Costs - While the administrator and personnel director may think they are saving the community money, national studies shown that the turnover/training costs can be very high. I don’t have a study readily on hand but think you can find lots of data on this on the Internet.
  3. Department As A Trainer - In general, turnover rates are higher than they used to be and organizations need to recognize these rates. To some extent you will always be a trainer for others. To help in this area consider additional automation, workflow documentation, etc.
  4. Benefits Beyond Salary - Anything you can do re fringe benefits, job assignments, etc., should be used. This will not likely solve the problem but could buy you another half year or so per employee.
  5. Keeping Positions Vacant – Delayed Hiring - In an ideal situation there is an overlap with the staff leaving and the new staff. This can help in the training. However, there are almost no governments that accomplish this. It sounds to me that either the City is short of money or thinks planning is not important enough to give it adequate support. Either you are overstaffed or performance goes down during the vacancies. So, work to build a constituency that says you need more planning.
  6. Consultants - Consider shifting some of the functions to consultants. Then you can deal with overall costs rather than salaries. In many cases consultants can do the job at less cost because they only staff to the level (i.e. amount of work) needed, staff to the right level (if a Jr. Planner can do the job they don’t use a Senior Planner), and finally don’t keep bad performers.  This of course varies a lot by region and may or may not work in your situation.
  7. Perception - See if you can find other people in the community to beat this drum for you. Could be an elected official, planning commissioner, community activist, chamber of commerce or?
  8. Administrator and Personnel Director - Your description of them doesn’t give me a lot of hope. Both of them should know better. I used to say that many of the elected officials I worked for were SOBs, but they were my SOBs so I had to learn to work with them. If you get too frustrated, you can likely get one of those higher paying jobs also.

Let me know if any of this helps and I hope a few of our emailers can add to my points.

The Management Doctor

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