Reframing the “Turnover Triage” Response

Reframing the “Turnover Triage” Response: From Human Capital Management to Humanist Empowerment  

A Contribution from Humanitarian Work Psychology

By Kirsten Montanari


Dozens of articles and research papers are published each year that aim to unearth the gnarled root systems that feed voluntary employee turnover. Armed with recipes for retention and techniques to mitigate the weight of recruiting, costs of selecting and training replacements, and cultural ramifications of central employee departures, HR researchers and practitioners are treating turnover like triage.

Identifying the goal as retention and not authentic employee support may result in rewarding A (organizational commitment) while hoping for B (exceptional work) when trends show that this may not be the case. This article includes an exploration of the state of the labor market in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, current research on perceived authentic support, and a language to reframe the way we think about voluntary turnover. This reframe can increase individual performance, accelerate employee development, and fully capitalize on the workplace as a platform to benefit society at large.

“How do we keep exceptional employees here for the long-run?” Is an outdated question

A basic search of employee turnover in research journals over the past 10 years yields over 7,000 articles on the subject. In the form of increased compensation, holistic benefits, a greater breadth of opportunities for advancement, and job and work flexibility, employers seek to halt star performers from leaving. Many studies demonstrate that meeting these employee needs reduces voluntary turnover, which, in the short-run, is valuable. However, a closer look at trends illuminates the feasibility of long-term retention across industries. For example, the Bureau Labor of Statistics 2018 Report marks the median tenure in the U.S. at 4.2 years, and it is 2.8 years for emerging talent ages of 25-34 (Employee Tenure Summary, 2018). Turnover rates are consistently around 18% to 19%, and 42 million U.S. employees each year (one in four) will leave their current employers to accept another job offer. (Human Capital Benchmarking Report, 2017). For the first time in history, the Labor Department announced that jobs outnumber job seekers (Tarallo, 2018).

Translation: staggering turnover costs of between 90% to 200% of each position’s annual salary (Reina, Rogers, Peterson, Bryon, & Hom, 2018). Despite the weight of this financial burden, the fact of the matter is this: the era of long-term organizational commitment is over. In its place is a cultural shift of emerging talent that values personal growth more than organizational commitment. Failing to adapt to this shift by adjusting cost projections, allocating resources appropriately, and communicating with employees about commitment differently will likely result in frustration that would benefit from a change in strategy.

Asking the deeper question: “How do we inspire our employees to flourish while they’re here?”

Leaders have the power to change the conversation. Where there is a culture of secrecy in career planning, managers can instead invite transparency about job crafting, progression, and development opportunities, some of which may mean planning for turnover.

In a recent SHRM article, “13 Signs That Someone is About to Quit,” the authors highlight what soon-to-leave employees look like: decreased productivity, negative attitude, loss of enthusiasm, acting as less of a team player, etc. (Gardner, & Hom, 2018). What is the cost of maintaining employees that fit this description to colleagues and customers, the health of organizational cultures, and team performance? For employees that are truly ready to leave, the effects of retaining these behaviors outweigh the benefits.


What if we asked the question, “How do we inspire our employees to flourish while they’re here?,” and held employees accountable to exceptional work? Meaningful conversations about career planning also allows managers to plan for turnover, reducing some of the strain of adapting to personnel change. From this perspective, an opportunity arises to invite open dialogue that marks the end of, “two weeks’ notice.”

This is the framework that supports a deep bench of talented professionals that are able to rise to the challenge of filling in gaps when turnover is inevitable. Naming the goal as authentic support and not retention has positive implications on not only performance, but the happiness of employees and citizens.


Research on Outcomes of Authentic Support

Authenticity matters.

One study found that managers who pressured employees to stay had the opposite effect on retention, whereas authentic inspirational appeals resulted in less turnover for employees that were emotionally engaged with their work (Reina et al, 2018).  Employees who perceived their managers were supportive with no expectation to receive in return retained top performers (Mignonac, & Richebé, 2013).

Individual performance and well-being stems from this authentic support.  

Several studies contribute to the mechanisms beneath why authentic leadership leads to higher performance. “Followers who show their true selves in the workplace are more likely to feel that their work-related behavior resonates with who they are, [and] leaders who are less likely to engage in ego-defensive behaviors and instead put their true self into play are more likely to satisfy follower basic needs.” Employees enacted higher autonomous work motivation, which led to greater role performance (Peus, Wesche, Streicher, Braun, & Frey, 2012; Wong, & Laschinger, 2013).

One study examined the effects of employee psychological capital (a positive disposition that includes self-efficacy, resilience, optimism, and hope) and perceived authentic leadership (those with a deep self-awareness of beliefs, capability of adjusting their behavior in leadership, and defined personal identity). Results showed that this combination fueled employee creative work behavior (Zubair, & Kamal, 2017).

When these authentically-supported individuals work together, teams benefit.

Another study found that subordinates of authentic leaders reported higher work satisfaction, commitment, and a greater incidence of extra effort applied to team projects (Peus et al, 2012).

This process is what leads to reduced turnover in the short-term.

The employability paradox states that fostering employee development means endorsing turnover. However, one study found that training, promotion, and skill utilization were positively linked to perceived internal mobility, but had no effect on turnover (Nelissen, Forrier, & Verbruggen, 2017).  

What effect does this shift in language truly have?

plantilla-acta-de-reunion-para-trabajo-social.pngShifting focus to empowering employees, individuals are encouraged to show up to their jobs as their authentic selves. Only through this freedom can we expect our workforce to fully expand their creativity, challenge unproductive norms, accelerate team leadership, and develop others to create a culture of exceptional performance that maintains quality in the face of voluntary turnover. The question, “How do we keep exceptional employees here for the long-run?,” stems from a desire to control the near future as much as possible. The second; “How do we inspire our employees to flourish while they’re here?,” is a question about personal, professional, organizational, and social sustainability. This may appear to be a subtle shift in language, but the reframe has powerful implications for the way we view not only labor costs, but how we treat those that drive company strategy to benefit individuals, teams, companies, and society as a whole.

Author Bio

kirsten_2.jpgKirsten is a second-year IOHRM and MBA student at ASU. Before entering the program, she grew her skillset in developing positive workplace dynamics through five years in behavioral mental health and youth programming in the US and abroad. I/O Psychology has given her the ability to effectively identify, measure and track the effectiveness of organizational processes and change initiatives on sustainable labor practices. For her own work-life balance, she is grateful to be just minutes away from the Blue Ridge Mountain trail systems, and she identifies as a chronic crafter, seeking out any opportunity for creative projects.


Employee Tenure Summary. (2018, September 20). Retrieved from

Gardner, T. M., & Hom, P. W. (2018, April 11). 13 Signs That Someone Is About to Quit, According to Research. Retrieved from

Human Capital Benchmarking Report. (2017, December). Retrieved from

Mignonac, K., & Richebé, N. (2013). “No strings attached?”: How attribution of disinterested support affects employee retention. Human Resource Management Journal, 23(1), 72–90.

Nelissen, J., Forrier, A., & Verbruggen, M. (2017). Employee development and voluntary turnover: testing the employability paradox. Human Resource Management Journal, 27(1), 152–168.

Claudia Peus, Jenny Sarah Wesche, Bernhard Streicher, Susanne Braun, & Dieter Frey. (2012). Authentic Leadership: An Empirical Test of Its Antecedents, Consequences, and Mediating Mechanisms. Journal of Business Ethics, (3), 331. Retrieved from

Reina, C. S., Rogers, K. M., Peterson, S. J., Byron, K., & Hom, P. W. (2018). Quitting the boss? The role of manager influence tactics and employee emotional engagement in voluntary turnover. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 25(1), 5–18.

Tarallo, M. (2018, September 19). How to Reduce Employee Turnover Through Robust Retention Strategies. Retrieved from

Wong, C. A., & Laschinger, H. K. S. (2013). Authentic leadership, performance, and job satisfaction: The mediating role of empowerment. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 69(4), 947–959.

Zubair, A., & Kamal, A. (2017). Perceived Authentic Leadership, Psychological Capital, and Creative Work Behavior in Bank Employees. Pakistan Journal of Psychological Research, 32(1), 35–53. Retrieved from


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the IOHRM program, Departments of Psychology and Management, Colleges of Arts and Sciences and Business, and Appalachian State University.