Picture a romantic relationship. In one year, any number of events could transpire to alter your relationship priorities and cause you to reassess your partner.
Imagine if you didn’t keep an open line of communication with your significant other throughout these moments. Instead of providing proactive support and adjusting your relationship as needed, you wait until the year is over and send out a relationship survey to see how satisfied your partner is. You make changes only when the survey reports that they are dissatisfied.
Reactivity is no way to create a productive, long-lasting romantic relationship. Similarly, infrequent pulse checks shouldn’t be how we handle our employee relationships.
Traditional methods for combating employee turnover are reactive. Companies send yearly pulse surveys to employees and take action when satisfaction drops. This passive approach fails to recognize the constantly-changing relationship dynamics between an employer and employee. Sending out surveys more frequently doesn't make you more proactive— it only makes you more annoying.
Throughout an employee’s time in the workplace, there are critical junctures when workers reassess their priorities and job outlook and think about alternative options.
Sometimes, events occur that change an employee’s sense of what they value in the workplace. Other moments act as natural points of reflection where they take a step back and re-evaluate where they are now and where they want to be.
New labor turnover research advocates for a new, more proactive approach to employee relationships. By taking advantage of the obvious, predictable, and recurring moments that occur throughout an employee’s tenure, managers and leaders can provide proactive support to employees during these sensitive times.
We are constantly balancing the benefits of our current work and comparing them with our perception of alternative options.
We may tell ourselves,
I don’t think I’m being paid market value in my current role, but there are good growth opportunities, I like my teammates, and the hours allow me to pursue my other hobbies, so it makes sense for me to stay where I am.
Or we could say,
I don’t believe in my company’s mission, I’m being overworked, and my manager doesn’t value me. Even though the pay is great doesn’t make up for how miserable and exhausted I feel at the end of every week. I need to find something else.
We always have a narrative we tell ourselves—and others—about why we stay at our jobs or why we are looking to move on.
There are limitless factors that affect us. Every person puts together their own set of what matters most. A new parent might prioritize routine and consistency, while a young employee might focus on exploration, development, and growth opportunities.
While we maintain our list of pros and cons, we don’t re-evaluate them every time we come home from work. We have neither the time or mental capacity for constant evaluation of our situation. Instead, we reflect at certain significant moments—when our significant other takes a new job or when we hit our two-year mark in the workplace.
Trevor had worked at his startup in Omaha for 3 years. While he had been hired right out of college, he quickly proved his worth. Over his first few years, he became a critical player. The CEO openly acknowledged that the company could not have accomplished the growth it did without him.
Trevor liked the work he did, felt like he had opportunities to grow, and enjoyed his personal life in Omaha. He never really considered leaving for another job.
One day, his girlfriend accepted a grad school offer in Seattle. All of a sudden she was across the country and his current placement in Omaha became an obstacle to living the life he wanted at that point in time.*
Sometimes our established set priorities in the workplace change dramatically with a single event. These experiences that shift what we care about are moments of change.
Twenty-first century labor turnover research tells us moments of change are a better predictor of employees leaving jobs than general workplace dissatisfaction. (Labor turnover researchers call this the “unfolding theory of turnover”).
Trust, open communication, and willingness to adjust to the changing needs of an employee are the best way to deal with moments of change. Strong, open relationships and quick action create an environment where employees can share what’s going on and allow employers an opportunity to support an employee’s changing needs.
In Trevor’s case, his employer allowed him to work remotely, and he left Omaha for Seattle, but stayed on to continue to help the company grow.
When Sarah accepted a role at a new company, she took a pay cut. The role came with significant growth potential and it was in an industry that aligned with her interests. She expected that as she proved her worth at the company, her salary would increase to approach market value.
Reflecting after two years in the role, she was disappointed with what had transpired. Though she had proven herself, she had not experienced the growth potential she had expected. Despite the fact that she loved her work, she grew disappointed with her situation and started to think about other options.*
In our day-to-day working lives, we are too busy dealing with short term tasks to think about our long-term outlooks constantly. Moments of reflection are natural times throughout the year when we take a step back and consider our professional and personal needs.
Studies show that there are a variety of natural, recurring points when employees start to think about leaving their current role. Job search activity rises significantly around birthdays (+12%), workplace anniversaries (+6%), role anniversaries (+9%), and friend/classmate reunions (+17%). Those numbers are even higher for major landmarks, like five-year anniversaries or 40th birthdays.
Many reflective moments are predictable. Employers have information about birthdays and work anniversaries and know when their people are taking a significant vacation. Around natural reflection events, managers and leaders should make sure they take the time to highlight the positives and quell the concerns of the contemplating employee.
In Sarah’s case, her employer knew she took a pay cut when she took the job, but no one proactively reached out to address a growth plan for her at any point in her first two years. Her two-year mark came and went. She reflected on her situation and ultimately left her job.
Good managers and company leaders can use the moments of change and moments of reflection frameworks to create proactive employee support and combat turnover.
Company leaders should never be surprised by employee departures. To reduce voluntary turnover, it’s critical that managers and others recognize the importance of critical moments and do their best to support employees and their needs during these times.
P.S. At Gather, we’re helping People Operations teams make managers and leaders more proactive around important moments for employees.
* Some details of these true events (names, locations, etc) have been altered to protect the anonymity of the people in them