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Training, Development & Retention

How to reduce employee turnover

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The clichés about how to reduce employee turnover are many. Even the Wall Street Journal likes to spout so-called tried and true methods for reducing turnover. These include interviewing candidates carefully to make sure they have the right skills, getting creative with benefits and flexible work structures, and giving recognition to promote a happy, productive workforce.

But let’s be honest. Employees work for two main reasons, good pay and gratifying work. You might throw insurance in there too.

If someone who works for you isn’t making enough money to suit their goals or needs, they’re going to look around. And if an employee is unfulfilled in their work, or the culture at your company has gotten stale or bitter, the grass always looks greener somewhere else.

Learning from the movie Office Space

If you’ve ever seen the movie Office Space, in which lead character Peter Gibbons is bored to distraction by his job and horrified by the annoying behavior of his boss, Bill Lumbergh, then you know about the paradigm of a bored employee who is ready—desperate, even—to leave the company.

Peter’s departure from work and his re-entry as a man liberated from the stifling processes and useless paperwork that define his job are examples of what every employee would like to do, but dares not.  

The key point in the movie that to employee turnover is when Peter is asked to sit down with a pair of consultants who have been hired to weed out the “dead wood” at Initech, the fictional company Peter works for. That is when employee morale is truly revealed.

The Two Bobs

The consultants (two men named Bob) are so impressed with Peter’s fresh take and insight on the problems at Initech that they actually promote him.

It may well be that the reasons for employee turnover at your company are built into the structures, practices, and people who run the place. No amount of clichéd employee retention methods is going to stop employee turnover if your organization has an environment that stifles initiative through bosses who behave like Bill Lumbergh.


To prevent employee turnover, you need to conduct an honest, internal audit of company policies and administrative burdens to discern what business practices might be driving people away. If you can’t manage to conduct such an audit and be honest with yourself, you won’t likely be able to keep good people long-term. So the choice is yours.

The perils of forcing flair on your employees

Another disgruntled and disenchanted character in the movie Office Space is Joanna, a waitress at a chain restaurant called Chotchkie’s. Joanna becomes Peter’s girlfriend when they meet at Chotchkie’s over lunch and recognize their mutual disillusionment with their jobs.

Joanna receives frequent lectures from her boss about her lack of enthusiasm for placing “flair” (kitschy buttons) on her vest for work. The lectures do nothing to make her more pleased with her job. Instead, she is demotivated to the point of quitting. This is a classic case of an organization forcing its ideologies on an employee in a way that is offensive. That’s the best way of all to make people want to leave the organization.


With no real hope of advancement, Joanna has no reason to want to display “flair” on her work clothes. That means there is disconnect between the corporate philosophy and implementation at the employee level.

To cure such problems and cut the resultant employee turnover, you need a mission check, which means closing the gap between the company's “rah-rah” messaging and how employees really feel about working for your organization.

Look for the positives. Sometimes there is one division that has its act together while another languishes. Find out why one has success and the other is making employees frustrated. Sometimes it’s that simple. Get those managers to work together and share their tools for success, and the problem may be solved.

Psychology of the Workplace

The psychology of the workplace is one of the principal factors in employee retention and employee turnover. If you don’t understand your company’s culture and how it affects your employees and whether they want to stay, it will be difficult to manage employee turnover.

Take a lesson from Office Space and don’t trust the Two Bobs to do it all for you. Employees can sniff that approach a mile away. It takes commitment, self-knowledge, and a bit of progressive humility to create the kind of workplace where employees actually want to stay. Then employee turnover can be a thing of the past.


Erica L. Fener, Ph.D., is Vice President, Business Development Strategy and Analysis at Progressus Therapy, a leader in connecting their candidates with school-based physical therapy jobsand early intervention service jobs.


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Growth in women's share of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations declined to 27% in 2011from a high of 34% in 1990. While women make up nearly half of the workforce, they were 26% of the STEM workforce in 2011.

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