via NBC, 'The Office'
via NBC, The Office

Unexpected undesired voluntary turnover is debilitating. Most of us know the huge costs that come with it. There are also hidden costs, including knowledge gaps and a huge burden on employees to get more done with key roles unfilled.

First year turnover leaves an even bigger dent. Some recent studies have shown that as high as 40% of newly hired employees alarmingly leave almost right after they start, and an additional 10% to 20% leave within the first year.

Better opportunities, culture challenges, money, job shifts, and supervisor relationships have all been cited as drivers. These are actually all symptoms of the bigger but simple reason why people rapidly jump ship from a new company that they seemingly were excited about:

Life inside the company was vastly different than what they expected it was going to be.

When you talk with people off the “exit interview” record (where the common reasons for leaving are often cited), you usually hear much more emotionally visceral things like:

“These people are crazy! I can’t work in a place that operates like that.”

“This is absolutely NOT what I signed up for! This isn’t the job they said it was.”

This is the stuff that causes people to flee fast. Solve this expectations alignment problem, and you can hit the issue at its core. Here are three things you can do to prevent this common problem:

1. Recruit for “fit” as much as technical skills

Determining if someone has the technical skills to do the job on paper is an obvious need. If you stop there, though, you have missed an important part of the equation:

Can someone do the job the way it is done here?

I have two clients who couldn’t be more different in terms of how they work. One is a hard driving, data driven, financially focused company and the other is a “people-first culture of caring” not for profit organization. The type of person who will be successful in the exact same job on paper is totally different.

Because of this, many companies screen for fit as their primary criteria operating under the often true premise that they can teach the rest to people.

2. Be open with candidates about the reality of life in the company

The recruiting process is a courtship. Candidates are selling the company on themselves. The company is selling the candidate on why this is the company they should choose.

Within that courtship process, though, companies often don’t let candidates in on the realities of what life is like on the inside. They only let candidates know what life is like on the company’s best day or what the company aspires to be like but without necessarily framing it that way.

It is understandable. The company is trying to get the candidate to want to come work there. If life on the inside is drastically different than what the candidate thought it was going to be, though, shock hits. Fight or flight kicks in. Fight usually isn’t an option, so flight takes over.

It’s not about showing all of the company warts but instead creating an honest picture of what it is like on the inside.

As an example, one of my clients recently went through a substantial restructure while simultaneously grooming new leadership and entering a period where their pipeline of work wasn’t particularly stable. They were also courting an important management position.

They chose to be open with the candidate during the recruiting process about what was transpiring. The candidate accepted but wasn’t shell-shocked on Day 1.

It’s not just about big events, either. Sometimes, it is simply about “how we work around here.” In my last leadership role before starting my consulting business, I vividly remember a conversation I had with my supervisor about my approach and style, to which she bluntly replied:

“We’re going to frustrate the hell out of you.”

They did. I found a way out within one year for the first time in my career.

3. Don’t mistake new employee orientation as sufficient on-boarding

Orientation is an important part of the early on-boarding process but shouldn’t be the only thing if you want to prevent first year turnover.

Companies that do on-boarding really well focus on culture, role and work clarity, goal setting, formal ways to get the newly hired employee integrated with his or her new team and other teams, building the supervisor-employee relationship, and even creating mentor systems to give new employees outlets to turn to when they get lost.

Some even extend the on-boarding process up to a year with formal checkpoints along the way so that they can assess how things are going and ensure that the new employee has the necessary support beyond his or her first few days.

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