Understanding leavers - an analytic app HR really needs

Brian Sommer Profile picture for user brianssommer September 22, 2016
Is it possible to properly understand why outstanding talent is walking away? With the help of HBR, Brian Sommer thinks so.

Organizations do a really poor job of managing employee departures. They might treat the soon-to-be-departed like a leper. They may terminate a person immediately upon hearing of their decision. But, the most unfortunate thing they do may be to miss the learning opportunity in front of them.

Exit interviews aren’t great learning experiences. In many situations, people simply won’t tell why they are actually leaving. Why should they?

The bad boss they are running away from may still be a source for a future reference. The employee can’t risk burning that bridge.  Or, they just want to get as far as possible from this firm/boss. Remember, people often leave their boss, not the company. They’ll say anything to get out of there.  The data that employees voluntarily and explicitly proffer during an exit interview is of dubious, if any, value.


(Source: Harvard Business Review, October 2016, pg. 24)

In the October 2016 Harvard Business Review, there’s a short article that shows HOW a person gives notice is really quite telling.  It’s so obvious.

If a person really hates the company, co-workers, workspace or boss, they may be more inclined to leave without giving any real notice. Someone who is leaving for non-employer or non-boss related reasons; for example they and their spouse are relocating to a new city, is likely to give lots of advance notice and help another person transition into their role.

This quote from the article is telling:

For companies, resignation styles can provide useful intelligence: If lots of workers are using the more negative ones, it probably signals dissatisfaction with their treatment – and may indicate managerial problems that should be addressed.

If HR leaders want to identify who is or isn’t a great manager/leader/executive, then look at the ways people separate from that superior. Why isn’t this an HR analytic? How hard could this be to build into an HR system?

All you need to do is track when a person provides notice and when they completed their last day of work? That delta could be a real eye-opener and a great discussion item between the boss and his/her boss (or between the boss and HR).

I’d also suggest that HR software firms triangulate this score/data point with the engagement scores of the people who work for this manager. If scores of folks are bolting without notice and there is a serious lack of engagement within that manager’s group, then the manager is either wrong for the job or needs some serious training.

I’ve been hearing about HR analytics at the annual HR Technology Conference for almost a decade. And, I’m sure I’ll hear sure some more next month. But, will any of these vendors address the number one engagement issue: bad bosses? I keep hoping. I hope this year is different.


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