The Hidden Cost of Employee Turnover

Our modern corporate and industrial system is powerful precisely because of its modularity. The foundation of our philosophy of production is the idea that important projects can be broken into smaller tasks, and those tasks can be distributed to be carried out appropriately as part of the larger design.

This is a good and reliable system that has led to unprecedented productivity across the world.  However, it is not a perfect system.  It is perhaps the best way to handle things in this complicated world, but at the end of the day, it is insufficient.  Individual efforts from single human beings are still how things get done, and the carefully fractured and fractionated system of modular employment can lead to profoundly negative outcomes when the system is left without the essential quantum of guidance of a single human.

Every project, no matter how large or how small, no matter how many tasks it is broken up into and how many people are carrying out, still requires one person to focus their individual attention upon it to succeed.

This is the true cost of turnover in the business context.  Every employee, from the janitorial staff to the CEO’s secretary, oversees a vast web of interconnected demands that have been carefully fashioned, through a combination of their efforts. The efforts of their coworkers, the input of their supervisors, and the day-to-day realities of the system in which they are employed, in order to suit their exact position and the exact tasks they carry out.

No one worker can ever know with total certainty what another worker does for the company, though every effort is always made to investigate and systematize their responsibilities so that they can be adequately assisted and produce efficiently.  Those efforts of investigation are, by the nature of life and human nature, insufficient.  It is impossible in this world to know completely or communicate perfectly, and therefore every individual employee remains the best judge of what their responsibilities actually entail, the procedure needed to carry them out, and the priority with which to address their tasks.

When an employee leaves a position, whether for good or bad, they take with them a certain knowledge of how that position is best filled.  The invisible relationships between coworker, supervisor, supplier, customer, regulator, and everyone else are severed, and the employee takes with them ever the knowledge of what was lost.  Less is possible with more employee turnover.

The true profitability that arrives with efficiency and consistency are set back and will need to recover.  Everything that employee has learned, developed, and systematized is lost.  Even the most amicable departure and most thorough retraining process can never transmit everything to the next employee, and unfortunately, few examples of turnover match our most charitable ideas about amity and retraining.

The nature of employment made up of employees, all of whom are discrete human beings with tremendous individuation, demands that turnover is avoided to every extent possible.  Like a garden, people left to grow in their positions will usually produce more, and more consistently, and with less effort, if they can be retained and nurtured.  True profitability comes from consistent employee application to a profitable task, and employee retention protects fully half of that equation.

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