By Joe Issid
In the opening monologue of Seinfeld’s “The Café”, Jerry Seinfeld jokes about “the one store location in your neighbourhood that is constantly changing hands…nobody can do business there”. With this joke, Seinfeld references an age old urban parable of the “cursed” location that cannot seem to house a successful business. Unless you believe in the supernatural, there are usually tangible reasons behind these failures: poor location, an unsound business model, lack of demand etc. Of course, however, there are actually complex reasons why so many businesses just cannot succeed in the same location.
In the business world, this pattern also exists from within. To wit, many businesses seem to have that one position that experiences higher turnover than the others and no amount of consideration seems to help: no matter who you hire, the position is simply not inhabitable for long. So, what do you do when you have a “cursed” role within your organisation that cannot be eliminated and it is so hard to fill?
Perform an audit
The first step to identifying a solution is to admit that you have a problem. It can be tempting to continually apply a band-aid to the solution by simply hiring replacement employees to fill the role when another one bites the dust. But it is in your best interest to wise up to the fact that you have a problem and take a closer look as to what about the position is leading to such high attrition rates. Is the role poorly defined? Does it pay too little? Is the work too demanding? Do your best to understand the true nature of the work and see if there is anything you can do to make the job more palatable.
At times, the results of an audit will reveal that the problem may actually revolve around recruitment practices and skill scarcity. For example, I used to work a radiology software company that used to experience high turnover within key areas. After some internal head scratching, it was apparent that the company was simply hiring resources out of desperation to fill a role rather than take the time to find the appropriate candidates with the right skill sets. As the company belonged to a very niche industry, finding the right candidates was very difficult so recruiters would often resort to “good enough” candidates. Over time, however, this proved not good enough for the business.
Once you have performed an audit and the role is properly defined and established, you need to stand behind the realities of the position. I’ve been in the workforce long enough to know that there are, unfortunately, certain jobs that are extremely demanding and, quite frankly, unpleasant. But the reality is that they need to be done. During the recruitment process, you need to be honest and unwavering about what makes the job particularly difficult and be sure that the candidate is aware of what challenges may lie ahead. And yes, it can be embarrassing to reveal how unpleasant a job may be to an eager candidate but it is preferable than having to explain the situation to a shell-shocked new employee.
Knowing is half the battle. If you are introducing a new candidate into a difficult position, ensure that he/she are aware of what support structures are in place to assist them. Nothing can be more alienating and damaging in a new job than not knowing where to go for help. If you know that there may be some tough times ahead, do your best to plan for them and to make yourself (or other colleagues) available to provide assistance. Do not isolate your employee as this is one of the fastest ways to ensure that they will be out the door sooner than later.
Of course, the quickest solution to appease someone in a difficult role is to offer them more money. But, unfortunately, most businesses aren’t so forthcoming with salary bumps. So, the next best alternative is to offer frequent incentives to keep motivation levels high. And such incentives do not need to be financial: extra time off or flexible working hours, for example, can be very alluring. And these incentives can certainly be leveraged to assist in the recruitment process as well.
Over time, you may find that a position often conforms to the person within it. If you are able to break the cycle of high turnover through a good incentives program, you may find that some form of permanence can go a long way to smoothing out some of the edges on even the toughest of jobs.