Do You Have A Frontline Employee Turnover Problem?

Mel Kleiman

I know you think you have an hourly employee turnover problem, and hiring research appears to agree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 50 percent of all new hourly employees quit or are terminated within six months of being hired.

Frontline turnover has been monitored and analyzed to death, yet few firms appear to have figured out how to control or even manage it. The more than 60 percent of employees who are paid by the hour are the very people most important to almost any company’s success because they have the most frequent contact with customers. Is it any wonder that as frontline turnover increases customers’ expectations for good service decrease?


Hourly employees greet customers, help them find what they need and accept their money. The ways in which they perform these and other services create the customers’ experiences and their impressions of your business. Great service breeds customer loyalty; poor service sends customers to competitors. When a customer has a bad experience and decides to shop elsewhere rather than return, who does that customer cite as the reason—the off-site regional manager or the frontline employee? A recent Texas A&M study illustrates the powerful effect that frontline employees have: 67 percent of those surveyed stated they changed stores because of employee indifference to their needs.

That said, focusing on "lowering turnover" is like using an empty one-pound coffee can to bail water from a leaking boat—both actions concentrate on the problem instead of the solution. The solution for a leaking ship is making it watertight. The solution for turnover is retaining good employees. Consider the problem as turnover and you focus on numbers. Consider it as retention and your focus shifts to the people you hired—and when you focus on people, you’re doing what employers of choice do in order to attract, select and retain the best.

Unfortunately, there aren't enough good frontline workers available to meet today’s hourly labor demands. Every company is seeking methods for recruiting from a shrinking labor pool, but few seem to understand how to keep their good employees on board.

The Disconnect Between Employers and Employees is Astonishing

The fact is that there’s an astonishingly huge disconnect between what most employers believe they need to do in order to retain employees and what most employees want their employers to do, as the survey data below shows.

Retaining Frontline Employees

What Employers Are Doing Percent What Employees Say They Want
More careful employee selection 57 Opportunity to learn new skills
Better compensation and benefits 50 Coaching and feedback
Tuition reimbursement 47 Type of work
Improved training programs 45 Capable managers
Better orientation programs 39 Recognition
Casual dress code 38 Respect
Flexible hours and schedules 33 Training
Providing health insurance 29 Compensation
Conducting exit interviews 28
Profit-sharing 17

When it comes to hourly employees, never before have I seen such a high number for "more careful selection"—not to mention that it’s at the very top of the list. This is the real key to retention across the board—hiring the right people in the first place. Almost everything else the employers in this survey reported doing to improve retention rates is based on tired old ideas that didn’t work before and aren’t working now.

Did you notice that compensation is at the very bottom of the employees’ list and near the top of the employers’? What employees are saying is that it’s a "retention" problem—a people problem, not a "turnover" problem. Today’s workforce wants to learn new skills, interact closely with their supervisors, have work they enjoy, be able to have faith in management and be respected and recognized for work well done.

First Published on e-BIM.