Skip to content

After 33 years observing, reading, and writing about workplaces, I am rarely surprised by the many self-defeating things executives, leaders and hiring managers do to fundamentally undermine the retention of valuable employees.

The eye-popping cost of one company’s staggering turnover problem was laid bare less than two months ago when the contents of an internal Amazon document detailing staff retention issues was published.

“[Worldwide] Consumer Field Operations is experiencing high levels of attrition (regretted and unregretted) across all levels, totaling an estimated $8 billion annually for Amazon and its shareholders,” one of the documents, authored earlier this year, states. For a sense of scale, the company’s net profit for its 2021 fiscal year was $33.36 billion.

 An investigation from the New York Times found that, among hourly employees, Amazon’s turnover was approximately 150 percent annually, while work from the Wall Street Journal and National Employment Law Project have both found turnover to be around 100 percent in warehouses — double the industry average. It also notes that “only one out of three new hires in 2021″ stay with the company for 90 or more days.”

It seems extraordinarily common that hiring workers is a far higher priority for many employers than preventing these same hires from leaving after a few months (or weeks) as an employee.

Here are six things that employers might give some thought to changing.

  1. Sexually harassing employees: The Australian Human Rights Commission surveyed 10,000 workers and found overall that one in three (33%) had experienced some form of sexual harassment at work. Media, information and telecommunications workers (64%) are most likely to have experienced sexual harassment, followed by workers in the arts and recreation industry (44%). The recently passed Respect at Work Bill changes the game because it includes a positive duty for employers to prevent workplace sex discrimination, harassment and victimisation. A culture that does not take sexual harassment seriously, either through preventative measures or investigative and disciplinary measures is not a culture with a long-term future.
  2. Not walking the talk about values: A recent study in the United States reported that only 20% of respondents said that their company always hires people who fit well with their company values and only 33% of people believe that their direct manager holds people accountable to the company values. Despite the many decades of research, consultants’ reports and employee feedback about the importance of organisational values it seems a large majority of employers care little for walking the talk when it comes to their organisational values.
  1. Not promoting enough women: The 2022 Women in the Workplace report from and McKinsey & Company, is the eighth annual iteration of the largest study on the state of women in corporate America. Its report did not provide an encouraging read. For every 100 men promoted from entry-level positions to management, just 87 women (and only 82 women of colour) are promoted. Only one in four C-suite leaders is a woman, and only one in 20 is a woman of colour. The highest-ever level of women leaders are leaving their employer and it’s a 17% higher ‘quit rate’ than men. I would be surprised if equivalent Australian data produced significantly different results to those reported above.
  1. A discriminatory promotion culture: The aforementioned leaked internal Amazon documents noted “….the company “intentionally limited upward mobility for hourly workers,” according to David Niekerk, a former Amazon HR Vice President. Entry-level workers who are able to beat the odds and get ahead are still pitted against the company’s preference for fresh college grads. Of leaders hired in 2021, 39 percent “are university graduates with little to no work nor people leadership experience,” while only four percent of warehouse process assistants, a low-level leadership role, were promoted to area managers. “The primary reason exempt leaders are resigning is due to career development and promotions,” one of the papers states, while also indicating those same issues represent the second-highest reason for quitting among the non-exempt workforce.” You can guarantee that competent and ambitious employees won’t stay long in a culture they experience as actively stacked against their likelihood of upward career mobility.   
  1. Wage theft: The Fair Work Ombudsman recovered more than $532 million for 384,805 underpaid Australian workers in 2021-22, a record sum of back-paid wages and entitlements for a record number of employees. The recoveries are three times higher than the previous record recoveries in 2020-21, and more than quadruple that reached in 2019-20.More than half of the year’s recoveries came from large corporate employers, who back-paid nearly $279 million to more than 267,000 employees. This was six times the amount returned from large corporates in the previous financial year. I have zero tolerance for employers who complain about staff shortages yet are guilty of wage theft.
  1. A lack of feedback: Earlier this year a survey published in HRD magazine noting that “more than half of workers said they want a review on their work performance” and “….63% of workers seek a more “in the moment” feedback when it comes to their work, with younger workers (74%) wanting for this more than older staff (57%).” This was brought home to me this week when my eldest son was telling me about the first few weeks at his new job. Like any person starting a new job he wants to impress the boss with his attitude and skills. Having not received any feedback about his performance since he started, Guy asked his boss for some feedback. As Guy recounted it, she seemed somewhat surprised by his request and after some thought responded, “We don’t really give individual feedback here; it’s more team feedback,” and that was the end of the conversation.

In the competition for labour that’s as tough as it’s ever been (and with little change in sight) it would be a good idea for employers to reflect over the summer holidays on how they might change their workplace behaviour to reduce involuntary staff turnover.

Related blogs

Innovative employer proves labour shortage is a myth

Musings from the 2022 RCSA Conference: The age of the individualist is here – are you ready?

The competitive labour market is working for Erling Haaland but not so much for SME employers

Counter-offer reality: Show me the money!


0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
Scroll To Top