The HR company Workday is using data collected from companies to work out when staff decide to leave and what makes them go – then warns managers before they lose the stars on their team.
Workday analyses staff turnover rates to track employees’ career progression and figures out how they stay in the job at each different stage. It then sends reminders to managers when employees start approaching the danger limits, so that they can make sure they are taking steps to retain their most talented staff.
Leading the company’s data science efforts is Mohammad Sabah, who previously developed Netflix’s film recommendation algorithm. His approach is multi-layered: Workday combines analysis of the 300 million job postings online to see what kind of workers are most in demand and then cross-references this with employees’ job descriptions, how long they’ve been at the company and when they were last promoted.
For example, if employees at a certain level tend to stick around for two years before they look somewhere else for a better offer, Workday will give managers a nudge when their employees near this point to remind them not to get complacent and to make suggestions for ways to prevent the person from leaving – such as offering a promotion. The aim is to get the timing right, so that managers have a chance to retain great staff before they even start looking for another job.
The nine-year-old company, which also helps companies keep track of employee sales performance, map out its structure and manage payroll, intends to take its algorithm-based services even further in the future by developing a system that predicts the future productivity of individual employees.
At present, the employee retention system only really works for companies with thousands of employees, as data sets in companies with few employees would be too small to work out meaningful results. That said, many of its results throw up surprising trends which can be equally useful to SMEs and start-ups.
First, there is the general message that managers cannot afford to get complacent. If they want to keep their best people, they need to be looking at the situation from the employee’s perspective, questioning whether they would be satisfied with the rate of progression or the amount of responsibility on offer. If they answer is no, they will have to look at ways to maintain engagement or risk losing that employee.
Second, there is the more surprising discovery that high-performing employees can sometimes choose to leave based on the type of work they are responsible for, regardless of how often they are promoted or how much they are paid. In some situations, Workday found, it is not that a person is dissatisfied with the company or the way they are treated per se, but that there is a time limit on how long they want to be stuck in a certain line of work. In these cases, offering a switch to a different department or role was enough to reignite their enthusiasm and keep them at the company.
For managers and directors, this is a stark reminder that taking time to listen to your employees and what they want out of their careers, and trying hard to accommodate their goals, is a more effective way to persuade them to stay than simply offering more pay.