Playing Out The Costs of Professional Turnover

Playing Out The Costs of Professional Turnover

The Setting

Jenny has given her notice.  She has been part of the practice for about 15 years.  She joined as a “high-potential” from a competitor in what seems like just a few years ago and didn’t disappoint.  She continually exceeded expectations and was given recognition… and there was still more room to run.  She surely would have been a big part of the future.

Act 1 – The Shock.

Scene 1 – The Supervisor.

You gotta be kidding!  This doesn’t make sense.  What can we do to make her stay?  She’s responsible for too much.  I can’t take on more… and I can’t even shift the work to others – they are overstretched too.  This is not good.  We need to bring some other partners and exec’s together and decide what to do – we’ll all be impacted.  We need to convince her to stay.

Scene 2 – The Peers.

Did you hear?  I think Jenny may be leaving… although, it really doesn’t surprise me; she has not been herself for a while now.  Actually, yes, I know.  We have talked.  It’s mostly a work-thing.  It’s not the same as it used to be… and its only gotten more demanding with no end in sight.  I know.  The bonuses are nice, but I have no time for anything other than work.  I’m also missing out more and more on things outside of the office… I’m losing touch friends and even my spouse… and my kids are only getting older.  I don’t want to have regrets.  Besides, I don’t even know what the future holds here.  Changes are coming and I’m not sure how I fit in or who’s going to take over.  I hear you.  Maybe it is a good time to move and try something new?  Maybe Jenny is onto something.

Scene 3 – The Co-workers.

Something is up.  There are more whispers and closed-door meetings than usual.  Senior people have also come to the office and have been talking to Jenny.  I bet she gave her notice and they are trying to get her to stay.  Oh wow… that’s going to hurt.  She is such a hard worker and people really like her.  I wonder what they will have to offer or promise?


Flash forward… Jenny followed through and left the practice about a month ago.

Act 2 – The Fallout.

Scene 1 – The Client.

Greg promised me he would make this a smooth transition.  I haven’t heard from him for 5 weeks and I still don’t have the deliverable.  I really like the firm and the people, but now I feel as though I am a lower priority.  I know I won’t feel like this with a new firm.

Scene 2 – The Competitors.

Did you hear that Jenny left ABC Partners?  That’ a surprise… she was one of the key faces of the firm!  I wonder what went down?  I’m not sure, but without her, our path just got a little easier.  I think we should reach out to each of her clients.  I agree.  Let’s also reach out to others at the firm and see if we can learn more… and offer them an opportunity.

Scene 3 – The Recruiter.

I know some good people have left… and hear that it is not all rosey.  You may want to be cautious.  I recommend you keep your options open and look at what will be the best long-term fit.  I will keep my eyes and ears open but you should do some research too – there’s a lot you can learn on-line these days and through your network.


Flash forward… another month has passed and pressure mounts to fill Jenny’s position.

Act 3 – The Replacement.

Scene 1 – The Desperation.

It’s been over two months now and I’m still trying to do my own work plus all the new stuff that landed on my plate!  I thought they were interviewing to replace Jenny?  I can’t keep up… and everything seems to be suffering now.  I can’t tell you the last time I had a normal day… and my vacation is going to start with exhaustion and end with the stress of what I will be coming back to.   There’s also no way I can get out those additional invoices, layout the work for junior staff, correct the budget problems, and project workloads for the next quarter… let alone, write that new proposal – something’s gotta give!

Scene 2 – Playing the Cards Dealt.

I’m too busy for this.  Don’t we have any good candidate resumes from our website… or that social media post?  What about the recruiters?  What do you mean there are no fits?  Don’t we pay a retainer?  What about all those other recruiters that call us?  Errr…  Well, maybe our standards too high?  The market is the market, right?  Let’s bring in the best three of what we got.  Nobody is ever a perfect fit, right?  That second one seems to really want to be here.  They can also step in immediately and help Andy with the project he needed to staff over a month ago.  Ok, let’s do it.  Phew, we did it… and we didn’t need to pay up that much.  It will all work out in the end… and, the good news is, we are moving forward.

Scene 3 – The Erosion.

Jenny’s replacement is no Jenny.  I know!… and it’s smashing my budgets too.  Less is getting done in more time and for more cost.  Plus, I need to continually step in and redo the work a senior person should already know how to do.  I’ve also had to go to more client meetings that I ought to, and even had to do some damage control.  There is no way I should be responsible for all this!  I also heard they offered Jenny much more to stay.  Why didn’t they offer that before she gave here notice?  Why don’t they offer that to us now?  Don’t they realize all we do here?  Our culture is really starting to take a hit.  It feels so much different than it used to.


Flash forward to us today.  This does not need to be the reality that continues to play out.  We can write a new script and take control of our future.

Act 4 – The Future.

Wouldn’t you want to be in a position to retain your top talent and grow them into their full potential for the long haul… plus, continually attract other top talent to your organization to fuel your growth?

Take a moment to think of the possibilities…

Now, take a moment to recognize and relish the immediate and long term benefits of avoiding losses to the following:

1. Direct Costs

Hiring a new employee comes with a number of tangible expenses for advertising, screening, interviewing, travel, training, and other internal coordination and administrative costs.  Researchers at The Center for American Progress estimated that replacing employees earning up to $75,000 costs about 20% of annual salary.  For highly trained employees in virtually all professional fields and for senior management, replacement costs can skyrocket to over 200% of the base salary.  This often includes pricey recruiter retainers or one-off recruiter fees of at least 20% of the new hire’s starting annual salary and sign-on bonus.  Certainly, it is not at all inexpensive time- or money-wise to find and bring on new talent.


2. Institutional Knowledge and Expertise

Discovering new talent to bring into your organization is one thing, but when established in-house talent leaves, organizations often scramble to hire a replacement to keep the workflow intact. Replacing top employees, particularly those with a long organizational history, is a challenging task, and replicating their historical knowledge of procedures, policies, and decisions is nearly impossible. New employees will eventually craft their own way of contributing, but ideally, organizations seek to better understand their employees and craft ways to better align with their goals and interests before they decide that exiting is their best option.


3. Productivity and Morale

It’s tempting to think that anyone is replaceable, and once the proverbial bandage associated with losing key personnel is ripped off, the remaining team will fall in line and adjust to the changes. Not only does the former employee’s workload suffer during the actual vacancy, but the existing team must, first, help out to fill the gap… and then find time in already over-extended schedules to help train and ensure quality, accuracy, and client satisfaction until he or she becomes successfully acclimated to the new environment. Furthermore, when employees witness an exodus of respected peers and co-workers, rumors, mistrust of management, and the presumption of discord at the highest levels is likely to follow. Since the impact on productivity can last for years, this “just find another” or “next” mindset is short-sighted and risks increasing professional burnout and disengagement among employees who would otherwise provide value to the organization.


4. Contacts and Influence

When valuable team members leave, the future value of their professional contacts and influence goes with them. Organizations must go to great lengths to protect their business interests from the fallout of employee attrition, but in reality, clients are drawn to familiar faces and names and can easily be persuaded (or actively seek out) preferred representatives… and, if not them, possibly one of your competitors will become more attractive. In good times and in bad, your employees are your brand, but the equity they build is intrinsically attached to their personal profile, and, with social media and on-line networking, the lines are now truly blurred.


5. Organizational Reputation

Notwithstanding the high costs of having employees leave, our most talented employees are often the most mobile. It is also getting harder for less-than-great organizations to attract top talent to either replace lost talent or grow to meet expanding workloads. Today, the news of the departure of employees spreads immediately through many channels. There are also many websites on which employees can post their reviews of your organization. It is more important than ever that organizations become attractive workplaces and workplace destinations in order thrive or, in some cases, even to survive. By doing so, you will be able to create more brand ambassadors to help control your narrative… and help control your future.

There is a major return on investment to better engage our talent in ways that grow and retain them and attract others.  As leaders, we need to become more aware and more available.  We need to know what’s really going on in our organizations, and we need to design strategies to ensure that we will all be “positively” impacted every day that our top talent chooses to stay.

To your winning,

PS – I invite you to schedule a free, no-obligation 30-minute conversation HERE.  We will walk through the I.M.P.A.C.T. process for organizations and I guarantee you will leave the call with a few new ideas and a clearer vision.

PSS – Click HERE to receive a free download of the “Winning the Talent War Worksheet” to see opportunities to immediately assess your position.

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Pete Atherton

About the Author

Peter C. Atherton, P.E. is an AEC industry insider with over 30 years of experience, having spent more than 24 as a successful professional civil engineer, principal, major owner, and member of the board of directors for high-achieving firms.  Pete is now the President and Founder of ActionsProve, LLC, author of “Reversing Burnout. How to Immediately Engage Top Talent and Grow! A Blueprint for Professionals and Business Owners”, and the creator of the I.M.P.A.C.T. process.  

Pete is also the host of The AEC Leadership Today Podcast and leads The AEC Leadership Mastermind

Pete works with AEC firms to grow and advance their success through modern and new era focused strategic planning, executive coaching, leadership and management team development, performance-based employee engagement, and corporate impact design. Connect with him through the contact link below.

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Playing Out The Costs of Professional Turnover
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