Beating Turnover

Published April 29, 2022. 

Key Insights: 

  • Faculty and staff find career growth to be very important for retention and engagement.
  • Approach career conversations with a genuine interest and curiosity about the employee’s goals and motivations.
Feature Insight

The world is a bit “topsy-turvy” these days—high inflation, low unemployment, and still people are leaving their jobs in record numbers. News headlines report the worst worker shortage in history, and organizations, including the University of Minnesota, are feeling it. CUPA-HR, the association for HR professionals in higher education, reports that full-time staff turnover is up to 14%—far above the 10% or less rate that is considered healthy—and tenure-track and non-tenure faculty turnover is about 5.5%.

As reported in the 2021 Employee Engagement Survey, 21% of staff and 19% of faculty say they plan to leave the University in the next two years. Some of the biggest concerns among faculty and staff who say they plan to leave the University in less than a year include: opportunities to achieve career objectives.

Supervisors have the ability to address their faculty or staff’s future at the University and support them in achieving their career goals.

Career Conversations

Career conversations are an important tool that supervisors can use to connect with their employees about their career aspirations and support their career development.   

The goals of these conversations are to:

  • Learn about employee career aspirations 
  • Identify strengths and opportunities for development
  • Understand how to align supervisor feedback and coaching with the employee’s goals and desired career path
  • Explore where employees can use their talents to make the most impact

Being interested in and supporting faculty and staff career goals and development is effective in employee engagement, development, and retention.

Think ahead

To help prepare for a meaningful and productive meeting, take a moment to reflect on these questions:

  • How is the work we do changing? Given the work in the next year, which roles, if any, will need to change in our department or unit?
  • What knowledge, skills, and abilities will be most relevant in the future? 
  • What opportunities for growth might be possible?
  • What experiences might be needed for career progression?

Thinking about these things can help align the employee’s career goals with future work in your department, discipline, and industry. 

Talk about it

Approach the conversation with a genuine interest and curiosity about the employee’s goals and motivations. Also, it’s best to hold these conversations outside of a performance review discussion since these conversations focus on future goals, not past performance.

Begin the conversation by asking about the employee’s current work.

  • When you are most engaged in your work, what are you doing? What makes the work so engaging in those moments?
  • Which tasks and projects do you like the most? Least?
  • What would you describe as your biggest strength? 
  • What’s one skill you would like to develop or improve in your current role?

Then ask questions to learn about their career aspirations.

  • What do you see as the next step in your career?
  • Is there a task or project type you'd like to do more frequently in your future role? If so, what?
  • What is one task/project type you’d like to do less frequently?
  • What types of work do you not currently do but would like to try?
  • What other jobs, other than your own, sound the most interesting to you?

Before the conversation ends, find out what support they need.

  • How can I support you in your current role?
  • How can I help you achieve your career goals?
  • Who are other people I can introduce you to to help progress in your career goals?

Be a good listener, and remember that it’s OK for an employee to want to pursue a career outside of your college/department, discipline, or industry. Genuine care for another means supporting them even if that means they grow outside of your team..

Follow up

Follow through on the ways the employees asked for help and continue to hold these conversations periodically. Continue to reflect on the conversation and work to connect feedback, coaching, and assignments or projects with the employee’s career goals. 

Depending on the context, consider other sources of support such as: 

  • People or networks that offer different perspectives or experiences.
  • Outside mentoring or coaching opportunities
  • Online advice/information