Thursday, December 28, 2006

Handling attrition in SME

I have come across a few instances where a large number of employees from a division quit within a short time. Though I didn't face the problem myself as a boss, I was part of the group that quit once - just once. The reasons range from better job market to low morale. Here are some thoughts on what the management can do about it.

1. When a key person or more than one person from a team quits, stop; think if you are doing anything wrong. The person might be leaving for any reason - the management needs to take the employee's reason with a pinch of salt. Rarely employees tell you what is wrong with you. They tend to be nice and usually lie.
2. Some of the mistakes that management end up doing are - share the work done by the employee who left among the remaining ones, putting more pressure on these members to complete the work and pressurizing HR to recruit more.
  • Sharing work is fine as long as the time allotted for completion is extended appropriately.
  • Giving pressure would happen involuntarily as management would like the project to complete on time or sales maintains the pace. In instances where possible, extending the deadlines or relaxing the targets would be the right thing to do.
  • Pressurizing HR without ensuring that the team is adequately staffed and skilled will cause more unhappiness in the HR team. Soon you will be seeing an exodus from HR. The first thing to do is to help HR ramp up on the skills and resources or begin outsourcing some of the recruitment activities.
These mistakes help in worsening the situation.

3. In divisions where the attrition is high, find out if the working conditions are normal. Smaller organizations do not have a process to address employee grievances. In many small organizations, employees don't have a chance to complain about their bosses with a confidence that they will be listened to and addressed. In cases, where a single boss micro-manages everything and there is no hierarchy, no employee would tell the boss that the conditions aren't right. Especially in cases, where the top manager is involved in every employee's daily tasks, there is no chance for an impartial observation of the situation.

4. It is comforting to list all external factors like good job market as reasons for people leaving. It just ensures that your ego stays unhurt. So, just be aware of this tendency and be reasonable in including such factors.

5. If the problems point to poor working conditions like office space, facilities, timings or accessibility, be sincere in addressing them. Speak to the employees that the situations can be addressed. If possible, involve them in a solution - like help find a bigger place, suggest timings. If the problems point to a person, work on informing the person of his / her shortcomings and help in improving on those.

The most difficult part in handling the attrition is - seeing your shortcomings and addressing them. I'll try to locate a few who managed it and write about them in the next few months.

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