Staff Turnover and Combating Attrition Rates

On Wednesday, I was intrigued to read on the Forbes website that JB Straubel would be stepping down from his post as Tesla’s CTO. The article suggested that Straubel would retain some input in the company he cofounded alongside Elon Musk et al., but that he would be ‘Transitioning to a senior advisor’[1] role – begging the inference that he will be prodigiously less active in Tesla’s executive circle. Though I’m sure Tesla will ‘Transition’[2] themselves with a future appointment of a suitable replacement, it did make me ponder on the impact that this will have on the electric automotive giant. Indeed, lots of companies may have similar worries over the loss of high level talent considering the high percentage of staff turnover in the gig economy: ‘Approximately 15% a year’[3] in the UK and ‘20.5%’[4] in New Zealand as a ‘9.2% increase’[5] from the previous year. With all of this in hand, one might wonder what tactics companies could employ to increase staff retention to avoid losing momentum down a replacement cost sinkhole.

The best start to increasing retention is as simple as monitoring your staff turnover. Gathering all of the necessary information about numbers of staff leaving with feedback on why those leaving are doing so provides an initial platform to understand the scale of the problem. One way in which you can assess the level of danger – as Human Resources, Institute of New Zealand suggests – is to compare turnover to your competitors. They posit that:

If…turnover is higher than your competitors, it is a fact your business will be less competitive. If it is better than your competitors, you must be doing something right so find out what it is and build on it[6].

One could extrapolate from this position that if you have a turnover rate lower than your competitors or perhaps less than your respective national average, happy days! because, although you may still have some work to do, you may only need to apply small changes to improve retention. On the other hand, if you are above these thresholds, you might have greater cause for concern and should start thinking about taking more drastic action to curb your loss in talent. What tactics might one apply in that situation then?

The answer that will most likely spring to people’s minds is offering greater remuneration packages to employees. If this idea appears obvious to some however, it may come as a shock that the New Zealand Herald suggests only ‘40 per cent’[7] of Kiwi companies engage in ‘Regular salary reviews’[8]. That’s not to say that haphazardly throwing money at the situation will do any good, but more that frequent examination into employee satisfaction with the terms of their work agreement can reduce discontentment going unchecked.

Furthermore, the New Zealand Herald also advocated that the ‘The most popular form of staff retention’[9] came not from offering extra financial gain, but from ‘Training and professional development programmes’[10] with ‘54 per cent [of] companies surveyed’[11] employing such strategies. This seems to make logical sense to me because programmes that provide education and further skills allow workers to more effectively perform in their working life. To this end, you improve employee satisfaction in executing everyday tasks rather than simply offering more money to suck it up and get on with their job.

Some might consider this next idea an extreme measure or an idea which is not logistically feasible, but one could consider increasing employee retention by introducing a four-day week. The benefit to employees from this is that the extra day encourages, as I have described in previous article Work Depression: Overcoming the Negative Spiral, ‘A healthy work and life balance’[12], allowing staff ‘Appropriate breaks’[13] to help them avoid burnout and discontentment with their work. This sounds wonderful for the workforce, but does this offer any benefit to the company? Would this not reduce overall productivity from lost time? According to Andrew Barnes, founder of New Zealand legal services trust Perpetual Guardian, the opposite is true. Indeed, Mr Barnes argues that, with the introduction of the four-day week for their company, ‘Productivity has gone up, our profits have gone up, our staff retention has improved, our stress levels have dropped’[14]. This idea may not be as viable in the case of the retail sector and the like, but it certainly asks the question of why we still maintain the traditional Monday to Friday in other areas – especially considering half-day Fridays and flexible working hours are already commonplace in a lot of industries.

None of these ideas are necessarily the One Ring to rule them all so I repeat my first point that it is best to start monitoring staff attrition rates first if you are worried that your retention level is too low. From there, it’s about finding where weak links in the staff retention chain are in order to create a bespoke plan to turn around company appeal and enforce incentives for staying in the current job. It would be lovely for everyone possible to immediately ditch the five-day working week, for example, in favour of four days, but you need to remember all change needs to be gradual and, ultimately, sustainable so as to best appeal to the interests of those involved. To this effect: if you want to find out how to retain those that might have a inkling that the grass is greener elsewhere, ask how you can help sow their seeds to keep them tilling your field together.


[1] Alan Ohnsman, Elon Alone: Longtime Tesla Tech Chief Straubel’s Exit Leaves Musk As Sole Remaining Cofounder,, (New York: Forbes Media, 2019). [2]Ibid. [3] No author, What is the Ideal Employee Turnover Rate?,, (New York: Monster Worldwide, Inc., 2019). [4] No author, New Zealand Staff Turnover Survey Report 2019, (Auckland: Lawson Williams, 2019), 4. [5]Ibid. [6] No author, Staff Turnover – The Forces at Play and Current New Zealand Trends,, (Wellington: Human Resources, Institute of New Zealand, 2018). [7] Tamsyn Parker, More than 340,000 Workers Expected to Quit Job this Year: Recruitment Study,, (Auckland: New Zealand Herald, 2018). [8]Ibid. [9]Ibid. [10]Ibid. [11]Ibid. [12]Steven Brown, Work Depression​: Overcoming the Negative Spiral, (Auckland: TheExecutiveAgency, 2019). [13]Ibid. [14]Sophie Bateman, Why New Zealand Companies Could Soon Introduce a Four-day Working Week,, (Auckland: MediaWorks, 2019).