Retaining Contingent Talent in an Employee’s Market: A Three-Part Series


With unemployment testing historic lows, every workforce manager is acutely aware that it is an employee’s job market. The ratio of unemployed persons to available jobs which was 7:1 in 2009 is back to parity at 1:1 today. So, it is more important than ever to focus on employee retention. Doing this requires in-depth understanding of the drivers of turnover. This three-part blog series will begin with Parts I and II, detailing the Top 10 categories of reasons why employees leave. Part III will discuss the financial impact of turnover and offer suggestions on how to develop effective retention strategies.

The data supporting this series of posts comes by way of the Work Institute, which produces an annual report on workforce retention. The latest report was compiled from more than 234,000 exit interviews. It is the only report of its kind revealing the real reasons employees leave or intend to leave their jobs. The forty-page document is full of exceptional insights backed up by hard data. Although developed with full time workers in mind, much of it is applicable to contingent workforces as well.

The Work Institute concludes, employers could prevent three out of four employee departures despite the robust array of job opportunities on the market today. Nevertheless, it is projected that one in four workers will quit this year as the US economic boom spurs ongoing competition for workers and demand outstrips supply. So, what are the top 10 drivers behind a worker’s election to leave a job?

The Work Institute report reveals the top 10 reported reasons behind workers’ decision to bail out are:

  • Workers seek career development—opportunities for growth, achievement and security (21%)
  • They seek better work/life balance (13%)
  • Management behavior lacks a positive, productive attitude (11%)
  • For reasons of well-being such as physical, emotional or family-related issues (9%)
  • Because compensation and benefits are more attractive elsewhere (9%)
  • Due to relocation concerns such as moving away from proximity to the workplace (9%)
  • To find more attractive job characteristics/enjoyment of the nature of the tasks/work (8%)
  • Involuntary causes such as layoffs or terminations (7%)
  • Retirement (7%)
  • Work environment issues like physical and cultural surroundings (6%)

Of these 10, three are not preventable causes (e.g., retirement, termination/layoff and relocation).) However, the remaining seven causes can be mitigated via well-developed strategies for retention. Let’s examine the top three most common reasons for worker flight and how a good workforce management program can guard against them—the remaining four to be examined in Part II.

Reason # 1 | Pursuit of career development. The number one reason for departures at 21% of those polled would seem like an intractable problem for workforce managers tasked with boosting retention. Whether it is because a worker feels there is a lack of growth and development opportunities, no chance for promotion/advancement or even because they decide returning to school or training will afford them greater earning potential, the unifying theme is a negative perception of where their current position will lead. Although there isn’t often a direct pathway toward advancement for contingent resources, “employers must take steps to understand the needs, preferences and goals of their workers or miss out on opportunities to keep workers that they need” according to the report. For temp resources this could take the form of a temp-to-hire program. Or it could be mitigated by offering more thorough and robust job training so there is a tangible benefit to remaining in the role longer. Best practices for contingent workforce management include regular surveys and dialogue with non-employee assets, providing a powerful feeling of inclusion to a role which is, by design, transient. Contractors given a voice by the organization they serve are more likely to feel engaged and valued— leading to higher overall retention.

Reason # 2 | The allure of better work/life balance. Particularly among contractors who, as part of the gig economy are more attuned to employment with flexible hours and work arrangements, work/life balance is a high priority. With two of three respondents pointing to rigid scheduling as the biggest reason to seek a different job with better work/life balance, “employers must understand how they can offer more favorable schedules to attract and retain employees. In the service sector, where business demands require flexible workers, employers must design ways to improve other conditions within their organizations to make them preferred by workers” says the Institute report.

Reason #3 | The boss is a bully/jerk/incompetent. Employees leave bad managers. Whether it’s because of suggestive language, favoritism, lack of support, verbal abuse or simple incompetence, a contingent worker is just as likely to flee this type of treatment on the job. Poor management behavior may even be tolerated by leadership in greater measure among the non-employee workforce if the organizational ethos looks upon temp labor as a purely disposable resource. “Employers must ensure managers are well-trained in their relationships skills and conduct or continue to pay the price through employee turnover” according to the report. A good MSP or other workforce management consultant can help develop affirmative relationship building skills among workforce managers, but they can only do so if leadership champions this ethos.

Return for Part II of this three-part series for review of the four remaining, preventable drivers of employee turnover in the contract labor force.

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