I’ve been interested in retention: why employees stay with or leave an organization. There’s been a recent focus on Silicon Valley misogyny, with Susan Fowler’s poignant blog post leading to shakeups at Uber. A cynic might suggest that the people being fired are a public relation’s sacrifice and that the company has an inherent problem going all the way to the top.
An interesting follow-up to this was a Wired article making the argument that it’s pointless to try to increase recruitment of women at tech companies because they’re lousy at retaining them.
The problem goes beyond gender politics – many companies have all sorts of problems retaining all sorts of employees and have for a long time.
A quote I read years ago, which really resonated with me, was “people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers”. This has been my experience – I’ve quit A LOT of jobs over the years, and pretty well without exception it’s been because of my bosses.
The organizational structure of the modern company supposedly was modeled on the military, in order to accommodate returning GIs from WW2. Having a group of employees who all report to one person who in turn is part of a group reporting to another person all the way up to the person in charge has been useful for decades. I wonder if we’re getting close to the point where we see the limits to this structure and start considering alternatives.
It follows from this model that bosses are given a large amount of latitude in how they deal with their subordinates. For managers who are bad at this, or are simply a bad match with a particular employee, having the employee leave for another position is the path of least resistance for everyone involved and is what is most likely to happen.
I’ve heard it many times (most recently my wife brought it up when we were driving yesterday), but it’s worth repeating: “Human Resources exists to protect the company, not you as an employee”. Somehow people have bought into the fantasy that HR can help them with workplace issues. As Susan Fowler details in the above-linked blog post, this is rarely the case. The idea that “employees who have a problem should just talk to HR instead of quitting” is laughable. Anyone with any work experience knows that HR won’t solve any of their problems – they’re just trying to avoid a lawsuit or undermine your case if you ever do sue the company.
A friend of mine works at Google and part of the evaluation for managers there is how many of their subordinates get promotions. In order for the manager to get a promotion, they need to get many promotions for the people in their group. I believe this is articulated as “developing their team”.
Along these same lines, any time anyone leaves a group, this should be recorded as part of that manager’s “retention metric”. When it comes time for evaluations, the number of subordinates they lost, normalized to the size of their group, would be a strong, early indication of a manager who is driving away employees. An organization with any sense at all would address the situation before it gets into the press or they lose people who are difficult to replace.
I’m not taking the position that workers are perfect angels and that managers are evil. There will be times when a hire is just a bad fit and having them move on is the best thing for everyone. However, hiring is VERY expensive, and when you lose a good worker that money is wasted. Losing an employee due to mismanagement is wasteful for everyone involved.