Author Archives: heathermorrell

Why do people leave, and what can we do about it?

Why do people leave, and what can we do about it?

We all know that high turnover can be a major issue – it is both expensive and time consuming for an organisation to be continually replacing staff and training new employees. In 2013 it was estimated that in New Zealand the average employee turnover rate sat between 11% and 20%, while in 2012 it was estimated to sit at 17.7%. So, how can organisations reduce turnover and the associated expense?  This is not by any means a simple question to answer, and generally leads to the bigger question of why people leave organisations.

The number of variables that go into why an individual chooses to leave their job and/or organisation is huge. They may have been unhappy with their pay, it may have been an issue with their manager, it could be an issue with the job itself, they may want better training opportunities, and the list goes on. Due to the variety of factors involved in turnover, it makes sense to ask staff why they’re leaving, and then use that information to implement changes that are directly targeted at why people move on. This is where the exit interview comes in.

There are some great examples out there of organisations who were spending millions of dollars on turnover per year, who have then implemented a strategic approach to utilising exit interview data and have managed to significantly reduce turnover and the associated costs. On the other hand, there are also many examples of organisations conducting exit interviews and seeing no benefits. So how can your organisation achieve reduced turnover with exit interviewing?

Not all exit interviews are going to give you useful data, and, you will only get useful data out of the exit interview process if you know how to use it. Firstly, exit interviews need to be designed well. Questions should cover the most common reasons that people leave, and provide clear, actionable data. Exit interviews should not be too long, and they should provide opportunity for free comments as well as quantitative ratings.

They should also be easy to complete and analyse.  Online exit interviews have been found to lead to significantly larger participation rates compared to paper and pencil, and also facilitate effective and efficient use of the data. In the click of a button exiting employees can be sent an online exit interview, which can then be filled in at their own convenience or alternatively in a phone call with HR or an outside consultant. The data can then be reported on at an individual, group, and organisational level at any frequency, providing useful information and trends about why people leave the organisation. Such an approach is also cost and time effective, while giving you clear direction on how to keep people for longer.

Why wouldn’t you want to take a strategic approach to exit interviews?

For information about OPRA’s exit interview offering please see

What is Ethical Behaviour?

In our work and personal lives most of us make hundreds of decisions every week, many of which involve some degree of deciding the ‘right’ thing to do. As such, we are often faced with complex situations in which we have to determine the most ethical way to proceed.  But what is ethical behaviour? I think most of us would agree that in the majority of situations there is not simply one ‘right’ and one ‘wrong’ way of doing things. In fact, most situations we face are very complex and involve multiple factors we need to consider in order to decide on a course of action that we see as ‘ethical’. So how do we make these complex decisions?

Often it is simpler than you might think. While there are many models of ethical decision-making which outline a step by step process of how to make an ethical decision, the reality is most of us would struggle in many situations to find the time and resources to engage in such a process. So, how do we make these decisions? The reality is that most of us are experts in what we do. We have worked 40+ hours in our jobs for a number of years, and have generally gained some form of expertise. As a result, when we are faced with these types of complex decisions, where there is often limited information and time with which to choose a course of action, we often use a degree of expert intuition, and may not seem to engage in a rational, step by step process as to deciding the best way to behave. So does this mean we are cutting corners? Not necessarily.

There is a time and a place for both a logical, step-by-step process of making ethical decisions, as well as a more intuitive, “what do I think is right”, process. Sometimes making ethical decisions will involve a step-by-step process, by which you consider each possible course of action and their potential consequences, weighing up the best way forward. These occasions tend to be when both time and resources are sufficient, when you need to justify your decision to someone of higher status such as a professional board, or when you are new to an area of work and have not yet developed expertise. On the other hand, when you are an expert, you do not have all of the information available, time is limited, and there are a number of factors to be considered, relying on our intuition is more likely to occur.

Whichever process you engage in, there are a range of factors that may impact on the course of action you choose. Are there things about yourself (e.g. age, gender, educational background) that might impact on what you define as ethical behaviour? Are there situational factors such as the organisation you work for that could play a part? All of us could view the same situation, engage in a rational decision-making process, and still come to a different conclusion about what is the most ethical way to behave. So, the key is knowing yourself, understanding your situation, and taking a moment to consider how these factors might impact on the course of action you take when deciding the ‘right’ thing to do. Why not take that moment now?

What is Engagement?

Engagement is one of those key words that is thrown around HR offices and boardrooms on a regular basis. We all want to have an engaged workforce, and many of us already undertake surveys to assess how engaged our staff are. But do we really understand what engagement is, and do these surveys provide us with clear direction about how to improve the engagement of our staff? Without a clear definition of the meaning of engagement and what drives it, it can be hard to know what to measure, and even harder to determine actions to improve levels of engagement within our organisation.

So, what do you think of when you hear the word engagement mentioned? For me, the words enthusiasm and passion come to mind, alongside a sense of purpose and connection with the work someone does. In fact, most researchers and practitioners would agree that the term engagement is complex and multi-faceted, with components that relate to a psychological state (e.g. feelings of passion), performance (e.g. discretionary effort) and traits (e.g. conscientiousness). Further, there are a number of workplace and environmental factors such as transformational leadership and role enjoyment that can drive engagement, but do not represent engagement itself.

So, what does this mean for measuring engagement in your organisation? Research by Genos International indicates that individuals who are engaged will undertake four key behaviours, including:

  1. praise the organisation to others
  2. perform above what is expected
  3. persist in the face of difficulties
  4. perfect what they do

Measuring the extent to which your staff act out these behaviours on a day to day basis provides a good indicator of employee engagement. However, simply measuring how engaged your staff are is in itself not going to help drive actions to make improvements. In order to facilitate action planning, the key is also measuring the particular drivers of engagement within your business, such as communication and executive leadership, and how important these are seen to be to the success of your organisation. This combination of measures will give you an understanding of what is driving engagement within your unique environment and therefore allow you to implement targeted strategies in order to improve your business and execute your strategy. Another key point is ensuring that leaders within your organisation have sufficient levels of emotional intelligence, as this has been shown to be a critical factor for lifting the engagement levels of staff.

Will Women Ever Make it to the Top?

Did you know that just 9% of CEO positions globally are held by women? And only 21% of Senior Management jobs? Given that almost half of civilian jobs in the OECD are held by women, and that the majority of senior HR executives have acknowledged gender diversity is a priority, then why are women still so under-represented in senior management roles?

A knee-jerk response to this question is that women take time out of the workforce to have children, which inevitably sets them back in their careers, making it less likely for them to get to the top. While this is certainly part of the issue that needs to be managed, it goes far wider than this. Recent research reveals that this gender diversity gap can be related to five key themes: a culture of requiring office presence; a lack of off- and on-ramping procedures for women who temporarily leave the workforce; male-oriented selection criteria; a lack of gender diversity awareness among managers and inadequate management of leadership pipelines.

So what can be done to ensure that women are making it to senior management roles given the breadth of the problem? With the majority of HR executives in organisations recognizing that gender diversity is a priority and 60% of organisations implementing initiatives to try to address it, it seems that whatever we are currently doing isn’t working.

It’s not all bad news though. The themes highlighted above can be addressed if a company is committed to improving gender diversity in senior leader roles. For example, this research highlights that it takes time for women to move from junior and middle management levels into executive positions, so interventions aiming to increase the pace at which this is happening—and the numbers of women involved is one idea. Another example is a “return to work” initiative that assists women to enter and exit the organisation after breaks such as maternity leave, while keeping them in the loop with the organisation through training, newsletters and so on.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution here, so the key is defining relevant and measurable actions for your company. The first step in this process is identifying what is causing the problem in your organisation, and then implementing initiatives that address the core issues.  Finding the cause of the problem means digging deep – getting quantitative data on the number of women hired, comparisons between the time taken for men and women to move from middle to senior management roles and so on. In addition, peoples’ perceptions are key so gathering qualitative information around the barriers women perceive will be vital.

Why not start this process today? Finding the right talent at the senior leadership level and ensuring that talent stays with your organisation is fundamental. So, surely it’s to everyone’s benefit if both the best skilled and highest performing men and women are moving into these ranks?

Dyrchs, S. & Strack, R. (2012). Shattering the Glass Ceiling, An Analytical Approach to Advancing Women into Leadership Roles. Boston Consulting Group.

Are you Sick of Change Yet?

In today’s work environment, and our country’s economic conditions, organisational change is inevitable. Organisations are constantly restructuring, downsizing, de-layering…. Whatever name you put to it, there is no doubt that changes impact on staff. Some of these effects are tangible – staff might lose their jobs through redundancies, or have their roles changed through job redesign. But what other impacts can change have?

A survey in an Australian Public Sector organisation measured employees’ views of recent workplace changes, as well as their levels of job satisfaction, and intentions to leave the organisation. The researchers found that the perceived frequency of change was related to higher levels of psychological uncertainty, leading to lower job satisfaction and higher turnover intentions. These findings suggest that if staff are exposed to frequent changes, they are more likely to lose enjoyment of their jobs, and look to leave the organisation. This isn’t surprising really – when change only happens occasionally, it is seen as a one-off event with a start and end point. On the other hand, when change is a common factor in our work lives, we become uncertain about when it might end, and we become tired and anxious about the perceived outcomes of the change. We start to wonder if our work life will ever be routine and settled.

It’s not all bleak though. These researchers also found that the perceived level of planning involved in the change related to reduced levels of uncertainty, which was related to higher levels of job satisfaction and lower levels of intentions to leave. Phew! So it’s not all bad, right?

These findings suggest that there are simple things organisations can do to keep staff engaged and loyal during times of change. Planning is essential; when change is planned in advance, there is more opportunity to provide staff with information about the change before if occurs, thus reducing anxiety and uncertainty around the process. Not only does planned change reduce the negative outcomes for staff, but it should also help to reduce the need for further change. If we get the opportunity to thoroughly plan before restructuring our organisations, we are more likely to implement changes that are beneficial in the long-term, thus reducing the need to engage in further change. Obviously we don’t operate in an ideal world, and sometimes we need to act quickly without thorough preparation. But, what’s that old saying? Short term sacrifice (time spent planning) equals long-term gain (staff engagement and retention). Do you think it could be worth it?

Rafferty, A.E. & Griffin, M.A. (2006). Perceptions of Organizational Change: A Stress and Coping Perspective. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(5), 1154-1162.

Unsupervised testing – an Incentive to Cheat?

With the ever-growing need for quick turn-around times on psychometric testing, online and unsupervised assessments are rapidly increasing in use. With the capacity to send assessments out to candidates at 4pm on Thursday, and have all of their results sitting waiting for you when you come in at 8am on Friday, the appeal of unsupervised testing is obvious, particularly when bulk numbers of candidates are involved. But speed isn’t everything. What could we be sacrificing by allowing candidates to complete their tests from home?

Unsupervised testing provides candidates with the opportunity to cheat. Whether this be at a smaller scale (e.g., using a calculator) or a greater scale (e.g., getting someone else to sit the assessment for them), the risk is there. People naturally want to put their best foot forward in a selection process, particularly if they really want the job. However, we also like to think that people have sufficient levels of integrity not to engage in cheating behaviour. But can we rely on this? If you were completing testing for a job and were able to do it from home, would you be tempted to engage in cheating of some form?

We need to accept that the risk is there. So, how do we maintain the advantages of unsupervised testing, without compromising on the validity of the results? There are a number of options for minimising the risk, including:

  1. Using adaptive testing – so that different test questions are administered to different candidates, thereby minimising the risk of questions being leaked or shared between individuals.
  2. Verifying test results – through either re-testing candidates in a supervised environment (where possible) and/or with information gathered from other parts of the selection process (e.g., referee checks).
  3. Engaging in some form of honesty contract with candidates.

 In terms of point one, adaptive testing is certainly feasible, and is becoming more accessible as test providers develop further assessments using adaptive technology. In terms of point two, while asking candidates to re-sit their assessment in a supervised environment will verify their results, in many ways it reduces the advantages of unsupervised testing in the first place. On the other hand, using interviews, referee checks, and information from a candidate’s CV (such as educational achievement) to verify the accuracy of test results is more easily achieved. Regardless of how assessments are administered, incorporating and verifying test results with information from the wider selection process should be a standard part of the process.  However, this method still doesn’t provide us with certainty that results are accurate and not the outcome of cheating or falsification. As for point three, asking candidates to be honest, or suggesting the possibility of a re-sit in a supervised environment, is in itself likely to be a strong de-motivator for engaging in cheating behaviour.  

 So, following these steps should allow us to enjoy the benefits of online and unsupervised testing, while minimising the risk of candidate’s falsifying their results. While these methods are likely to reduce the likelihood of cheating, the question of ruling the risk out all together remains unanswered.

New Year – New Resolutions

Like many of us, for me, 2012 started with new ideas and new goals. Many people I knew had nice simple goals – go to the gym more, eat less chocolate, drink more water. All things that people can keep an active eye on in order to ensure goal achievement. Sounds simple right? In reality, most peoples’ New Year’s resolutions are missing several key components. I’m sure many of you have heard of SMART goals; goals that should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound in order to increase goal achievement. So based on this formula, not only should we strive to eat less chocolate, but we should in fact strive to eat, say, only one chocolate bar per week for the rest of 2012. Great, so that’s certainly measurable, most likely achievable, potentially realistic depending on the quantity consumed in 2011, and timely. So, that’ll work, right….?

My guess would be no. Sure this goal ticks all the SMART goal boxes, but like many New Year’s resolutions, it lacks the why factor. What will eating less chocolate achieve? Is it actually something that you really want to do, or feel you should do? Research has shown that the extent to which a goal reflects one’s own personal interests and values (as opposed to something that you feel obligated to do) significantly impacts on the likelihood that you will successfully progress towards your goals and New Year’s resolutions. Further, planning when and how to perform behaviours can also increase the odds of achieving our goals (Koestner, Lekes, Powers and Chicoine, 2002, p 231).

New Year’s resolutions have the potential to lead to real behaviour change both in our personal lives, and in the workplace. However, to achieve this, we need to not only ensure that our goals adhere to the SMART goal model, but also that they reflect our own personal values and interests, rather than something we feel guilty about, or compelled to do. This time of the year provides us with many opportunities to reflect, refresh, and re-start the year with sound aspirations and goals in mind. So why not try to maximise this? Can you think of a goal that you would really like to achieve in 2012? Then go for it, there’s no time like the present!

Koestner, R., Lekes, N., Powers, T.A. & Chicoine, E. Attaining personal goals: self-concorance plus implementation intentions equals success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(1), 231-244.

The Online Job Market

It would be hard to deny that the internet has forever changed how we live our lives, how we do business, and not surprisingly how we look for jobs and recruit staff. A recent global report showed that 26% of job seekers found their latest job through online job sites*. Interestingly, another 22% of jobs were found based on word of mouth, 17% through recruitment agencies, 17% from a direct approach by an employer, 10% by other methods, and only 7% through print media. At the lowest level were social media sites, with a mere 1%. However, roughly a quarter of people across the globe reported using social networking sites to look for work, so surely the number of people finding their jobs through these sites is bound to increase.

The fact that almost a quarter of job seekers are still finding their positions through word of mouth indicates to me that online tools have by no means taken over the job market yet. In fact, with almost 40% of jobs being found through networking and direct approaches, the importance of networking and face to face contact is clearly apparent. However, surely the role that the internet plays in this networking will only continue to increase with time, and thus online job sites and social media will start to play a bigger role in recruitment. So, what does this mean for individuals and organisations?

Online job sites offer individuals the ability to passively keep an eye on the job market without committing to the selection process. It also allows them to keep an eye on companies or individuals they would like to work with in case vacancies do come up. For organisations, the internet must lead to a wider talent pool than would have traditionally been available. It also means that organisations can keep an eye on potential employees. So, are there any disadvantages to the use of online job sites and social media in the job market?

Honestly I’m struggling to think of any. I can certainly see that for individuals the internet probably makes it harder to pick and chose what potential employers can find out about you.  From an employer’s perspective, the ease of use of such sites could potentially lead to a significant increase in the number of poor or non-relevant job applications. Also, organisations will need to think about how they can respond to this shift, and whether they need to get their own processes up to date. But mostly I would say that the benefits would far outweigh the disadvantages. What are your thoughts?

*2011 Kelly Global Workforce Index

Measuring Candidates’ Perceptions of The Hiring Process

I’ve heard people say many times that ultimately you should run your selection process so that even those applicants who are unsuccessful still want to work for you. To me this makes complete sense – while among the unsuccessful applicants there are likely to be individuals you wouldn’t want to hire into the company at all, there are also likely to be a number of individuals who would be great employees in different roles, different teams or just at a different time. It is essential that these individuals go away with a positive impression of the company not only so that they will apply next time, but also because they will pass their impression of your company on to other potential applicants. Even for those individuals you won’t ever hire, their perceptions of your organisation are still important, as they will go on to discuss their experiences with others – thus marketing their own image of your company to possible clients. Studies have found that applicants who view the selection process in a positive light are also more likely to view the organisation positively.  In addition, they are more likely to want to accept job offers and recommend the employer to other individuals (Hausknecht, J.P., Day, D.V. & Thomas, S.C., 2004).

So, it’s not surprising that the majority of HR practitioners regularly state that candidates’ impressions of the recruitment process are important to them.  So why is it then that so few organisations actually measure candidates’ reactions to the selection process?

While it may be easy to assume that you know how candidates feel about your selection process, it is unlikely that any assumptions we make are realistic. Mostly, we gain candidates’ perceptions of the selection process through discussions with successful applicants. Needless to say, these individuals may not be completely honest about how they found the selection process, given the fact that you’ve just hired them. Furthermore they probably have a different view of the selection process from those who were unsuccessful, or those who opted out. So how can we accurately measure the full range of candidates’ perceptions?

I believe there are a number of potentially very simple solutions. The most obvious one would be to send a ‘short and sweet’ survey out to all applicants once the selection process is completed. It could include both quantitative and qualitative questions. Short enough so that some applicants will actually fill out it, and long enough to gather valuable information on how candidates view the process, and thus how your organisation is viewed by potential employees.  This information could be vital in informing how selection processes should be structured in order to improve favourable perceptions of your organisation, thereby increasing your chances of attracting good applicants and keeping good clients. Sounds easy right? Well, let’s get to it then!

Hausknecht, J.P., Day, D.V. & Thomas, S.C. (2004). Applicant Reactions to Selection Procedures: An Updated Model and Meta-Analysis. Personnel Psychology, 57(3), 639-683.

How To Choose The “Right” Career

I’ve had several conversations with people recently about the career choices we make throughout our lives.  While some of us actively choose a course of study because it ties in to getting our ‘ideal job’, most of us have no idea what our ideal job is, or how to find it.  So, generally university is the ‘logical’ next step post high school, and study ‘choices’ are made for a vast range of reasons such as: it sounds interesting, my friends are doing it, my parents did it, I should study that… Many graduates then end up in jobs that are again, the ‘logical’ next step – but they are not making a conscious choice to work in an area that they see as interesting or a good fit with who they are and what they want to do.  So, how would graduates even know how to go about finding a job that is a good ‘fit’ with who they are?

This ties in with my previous blog about the new career – people now need to be proactive about their careers, and actively manage their career paths, as organisations are much less able and willing to do this for them.  But when, where and how is this supposed to happen?  With a series of ‘logical next step’ choices being made, first at the end of high school (often even earlier than this) then at the end of university, and then throughout our careers as we shift from one job to another, one department to another, or even just by who we choose to network with – how do people take the step towards proactive career management that helps them to achieve a career that is a good fit for them?

One can certainly argue that there is not one ‘right’ career for any individual – but there are certainly careers that are a better fit for someone’s personality, values and motivation.  With the number of excellent motivation, career development and engagement tools out there, it seems crazy that these aren’t used more often at an earlier stage in peoples’ lives to help people narrow down their career choices to a career that will at least provide them with some satisfaction and happiness.  But how would this happen?  Does there need to be more guidance in schools?  Or universities?  Or does it come down to individuals needing to network and conduct information gathering themselves? If so, shouldn’t networking and pro-activeness be at least actively encouraged by educational institutions? Or do we, the practitioners with an understanding of the tools that people can use to direct their career paths, have a responsibility to inform others about the options that are out there for them?